I often see articles on how to have successful relationships, but these are almost always focused on romantic and/or sexual relationships, which is odd because we have so many other relationships in our lives. We have relationships with family, friends and colleagues, but there is nowhere near as much general advice out there on how to maintain those types of relationships. Are friendships supposed to be easier than other relationships? Only in need of guidance when a very specific disagreement makes things tricky? When you’re a child, and friends are made due to proximity – living next door, same class at school, same after-school club – it’s relatively easy to start a friendship and keep it going. As an adult though, it can be really tough to work out how to make new friends and also how to navigate these strangely diverse friendships.
We might not always realise it but the key to a successful friendship is clear communication; understanding what each other wants from that friendship and always aiming to deliver on that. For some pairings it might be all about mutual interests – a love of craft beer, good food, shopping for clothes, going to gigs, or sharing in the joy of finishing a great book – while for others it might be about having someone to talk to about life’s ups and downs. Some don’t have to meet up that often any more because they’ve built up a strong bond, but will agree that they will drop everything if their mate needs help. Some friends may not have to explicitly talk about this, but others may find that having a chat about what friendship means to them is really useful. Is one of you reaching out to check in so that you don’t lose touch, but the other doesn’t know why they’re messaging so often? Is one friend under the impression that the other is a BFF who’ll be on call 24/7, but actually that person is wishing they’d call on someone else for a change because it’s exhausting?
It’s important to remember that friends aren’t just there to provide something for you, and they are also not just there for you to support them without receiving anything in return. Think about your interactions with friends and ask yourself if any of them are a one-way street. Like any relationship, there should be give and take so make sure you take a good look at any areas of inequality and address them. If you feel that a friend is demanding too much of you, remember that it’s important to have empathy but don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. Be honest and perhaps demand something from them once in a while. It may be the case that they didn’t realise they were leaning on you a lot and never seemed to give anything back because, well, you didn’t ask. If you realise that you’re the one asking too much, perhaps try asking your friend how they are and what they’d like to do next time you meet up. Small gestures can make a big difference.
You and your friend are both equally important; even though at times one of you will need the support of the other more, in the end it’s all about balance. Even when you’re too busy or going through a tough time, there are things that you can do to let your friend know that they are still on your mind. Something as small as a like on a social media post lets them know you’re still thinking about them, and a comment can show them that you still care. Drop them a WhatsApp message to say hi and ask how their day is. Send them a gif or a meme that you think they’d like. But, most of all, keep the lines of communication open and be honest. If you love your friend and would really like to meet up but just don’t have time right now, tell them exactly that, and remember that a good friend will understand.