Relationship counsellor explains how to retain strong friendships throughout your life

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By Fournine

Jan 17, 20225 mins

Relationship counsellor explains how to retain strong friendships throughout your life

As the old adage goes, friends are the family we choose. If this rings true for you, the importance of holding on to a good friendship should be self-evident.

The truth is, close friendships are some of the most fulfilling aspects of our existence - and for good reason. Our platonic pals play an “important role in allowing us to feel validated, valued, and understood,” counsellor Pete Tobias tells Four Nine.

And it goes a lot deeper than, say, being able to bend someone’s ear over a boozy brunch. According to Tobias, connecting with other people is an “essential part of our survival.”

Now, establishing meaningful friendships is one thing, but retaining them is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Typically, the further we go in life, work and family commitments will gradually take precedence over a girls' night out or catch-ups over coffee.

While there’s an argument to be made that we should accept the changes that life has in store for us, it certainly isn’t impossible to hold on to the things we value most.

And if your closest friends are high up on the list of things you value, then do read on for some useful tips on how to retain these friendships throughout your life.

1. Connection and laughter

Credit: Jacob Lund / Alamy

While we should be able to confide in our friends and vice versa, it’s important that we are also able to laugh with them. 

“Laughter strengthens connection and creates a bond of joy that leaves a lasting imprint on the mind and heart,” Tobias says. “When we laugh, we love the person we are laughing with, and that bond becomes stronger.”

Try not to get too bogged down in all the downsides of life. Instead, find humour in them. Amuse your friends with anecdotes about, say, that loud neighbour who lives across the hall from you, your overbearing, micromanaging supervisor, or your judgemental, ultra-uptight parents.

There isn’t a soul on planet Earth who doesn’t love a giggle, so if you and your buddy are constantly roaring with laughter in each other’s company, you’re likely to value the relationship even more. And it goes without saying that the more you value something, the more time you will make for it.

2. Maintain healthy boundaries 

Credit: Jacob Lund / Alamy

You’ll want to avoid getting to the point where you begin to resent your pal because there are too few boundaries in your relationship

“Learning to listen to your intuition and saying no is an important part of a friendship,” Tobias explains. “Boundaries ensure that everybody is accountable for their own emotions and thus helps preserve the relationship.”

To prevent your friendship from going sour, establish boundaries around things you don’t feel comfortable doing. If you’re not a big drinker, make it clear to your friends that you will not be pressured into, say, doing shots. Or if a friend is dying to watch the latest Marvel movie with you, don’t feel you have to appease them if it isn’t really your thing. 

If you’re constantly doing things you don’t enjoy, or perhaps even things that make you anxious - over time, you may begin to associate this feeling with the person you’re doing these activities with.

It’s also important not to overwhelm your friendship. Getting a healthy amount of space from your friend is as necessary to the friendship’s longevity as spending time with them. That way, you’ll be reducing any potential friction between the two of you.

3. Rupture and repair

Credit: Ammentorp Photography / Alamy

You may be very good friends with someone; you may even be like two peas in a pod, but that certainly doesn’t mean you’re always going to agree on things. We all have our own particular views, sensibilities, and boundaries so it’s important to establish mutual respect for one another’s differences.

“Learning how to disagree and not walk away from the friendship is an important skill,” Tobias says. “Being able to share your feelings and clear up any misunderstandings allows the friendship to endure.”

Of course, if you feel your friend has wronged you in some way and has a habit of doing so, it may well be best to go your separate ways. But don’t spoil a perfectly good friendship over nothing more than a difference of opinion or a frivolous remark.

4. Evolve with your friendships

Credit: Stefan Dahl Langstrup / Alamy

You may have to accept that the friendships you forged as a youngster won’t look quite the same later on in life. With more responsibilities and less free time, friendships are in danger of being put on the back burner. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Yes, you may have other priorities in your life, but that doesn’t mean your friendships have to fizzle out. You’ll just have to learn to adapt your friendship to whatever life stage you happen to be in.

Tobias acknowledges that “life changes” can impact friendships particularly when there are “other competing priorities, such as kids.” His advice is to “make space for each other's availability, however limited it may be.” 

This, according to him, will take the “pressure off and allows for quality versus quantity.”

5. Be a friend to yourself 

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It’s important that you learn how to enjoy your own company because the truth is, as you go through the various stages in your life, you may not see your friends as often as you once did at school, university, or before starting a family.

So, be your own best friend, your biggest fan. That way, you won’t feel as hard done by if your pals constantly cancel plans with you. And you won’t feel aggrieved enough to give up on the friendship altogether.

Again, it’s healthy to have space from your friends, and meeting up for dinner or drinks will be all the more special once you do find the time to get together. 

Being your own best friend also means showing yourself love and compassion. Stop giving yourself a hard time over trivial things or overanalysing your performance in certain social situations. You’ll be a much freer, happier person and more likely to want to spend time with other people as a result.

“Learning to give yourself the same consideration you give to others keeps you healthy and happy,” Tobias advises. “It's often easier to be kind to another and less so for oneself.”

Featured image credit: Ammentorp Photography / Alamy


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