Prioritizing Friendship: Practical Ways of Building Better Relationships
Do you remember being ten years old?
Maybe looking back that far makes you cringe, maybe you have fond memories, most likely a mixture of the two.
How about that feeling of the first day of school? Again, not something most people like to recollect but bear with me here.
Remember walking into class on the first day of school, full of a wide range of emotions and uncertainty? Where will you sit? Who will you talk to? Who will be your study partner? You know, the big life questions of a ten-year-old.
And then, all of a sudden, you see a friend across the room. And immediately, you’re confidence level soars.
Even at a young age, we had a deep desire for a sense of belonging. For a sense of friendship and togetherness.
And then we grow up. We get married have kids and settle down. And what happens to our friendships?
Don’t get me wrong, family relationships are undoubtedly the most important, but the vast majority of our relationships are everything other than romantic and family relationships.
Even though we get older, settle down, and build families, I believe none of us truly grow out of the ten-year-old desire for friendship that we had so long ago. Our priorities change, our responsibilities increase, but we don’t really let go of that desire for friendships as adults.
Why Should We Prioritize Friendships?
So why do friendships matter? I mean, they’re time consuming and not always easy to maintain. It would be nice if adult friendships were as simple as our childhood friendships but they’re often much more complicated.
I believe there are several key reasons we should put more emphasis on having friends as adults.
We’re wired for friendship.
As humans, it’s in our DNA to desire relationships with the people around us. Like I mentioned before, we all have a certain desire for belonging that we never fully grow out of. While a marriage relationship is part of it, another essential part that we tend to overlook is adult friendships. We’re meant to be in deeper relationships with our peers, no matter how old we may be.
It’s where we find our biggest personal growth.
Yes, relationships should be about building each other up, but we can’t overlook the benefits that it has for us on a personal level. Mental, emotional, spiritual, even physical health, are improved when we are in deeper relationships with the people around us.
Loneliness is a real problem.
Don’t believe me? The numbers are pretty staggering. A study conducted earlier this year found that half of Americans feel alone on a regular basis. An even higher number of people admit that they feel as if no one knows them well.
And that’s not all, it was also reported that loneliness contributes to health risks, with a 26% higher chance of death when feeling alone.
I think we tend to discount the effects that loneliness can have in our lives. In a world that has never been more “connected” technologically, people are struggling more than ever with not having true friendships. Relationships might not be able to fix every problem happening in the world today, but I think they are a great starting point for all of us.
How Can We Build Better Friendships?
I believe most people desire to have friends. I mean, the benefits of friendship are undeniable but there are certainly things that stand in the way of practically making and maintaining friends as adults.
My friend Shasta Nelson is an expert in the area of friendships and has built her career around reminding others of the importance of healthy adult relationships. Here are just a few of her tips that I have found beneficial in building and maintaining friendships.
Friendships aren’t discovered, they’re developed.
Many of us have the mentality that once we meet someone with similar interests, we can instantly build a strong friendship. In reality, friendships take a lot of work to maintain, especially as adults, and they take time to fully develop into deeper relationships.
Another part of this concept is understanding that not everyone is the same type of friend. Shasta describes friendship as a triangle, with three different “levels” making up different types of friendships. It’s important to not overestimate or underestimate the friendship you have with another person.
The key factors of a healthy friendship are: consistency, vulnerability, and positivity.
Think back to your friendships that have fallen apart or faded out. Odds are, one or more of these factors was lacking. While consistency and vulnerability are essential to growing into deeper relationships, positivity is the underlying element that boosts everything else. In order to better our current friendships we need to strive for positivity, even in the difficult moments.
Yes, friendship can be incredibly beneficial and enjoyable, but there are times when maintaining a friendship means having difficult conversations. When we enter those moments with positivity, we not only make the other person feel better, we also open up the discussion to a deeper connection.
Don’t be afraid to affirm and ask.
Shasta is a big proponent of openness and honesty in healthy relationships. Although we often here these mentioned in regard to romantic relationships, she would argue that they’re just as vital to friendships.
Affirmation is important to any relationship. Calling out the admirable qualities that you see in others is always a good idea and can be life-giving to those around you, especially your friends.
What is often more difficult is asking the tough questions that need to be brought up in a close friendship. While these thoughts are often bottled up until they spill over, healthy relationships should address these concerns right away and move on.
But, as is the case with most relationships, this is a two-way street. As a friend, you should also be willing to ask yourself the tough questions.
I believe the best leaders have the ability to start a better conversation. You might have heard me say this before in the context of the workplace, but I believe it can extend to our personal lives as well. Especially in pursuit of healthy relationships with those around us, we need to remember the importance of prioritizing friendship.
For more on this topic, listen to the Created for Experience podcast – Healthy Relationships featuring Shasta Nelson.
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