Apr 212012
 

* For those of you who did not read the first article in this series, the title of this article is drawn from the slogan of President Clinton’s 1992 campaign: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

In part 1 of this series, I focused on how to establish new relationships or “connections”. In this article, I’d like to focus on how to maintain and deepen connections with your friends.

Friends are a very interesting group of people. A “friend” can be defined on a continuum from a person who is only slightly better known to you than an acquaintance to someone who may be even more important to you than members of your family. Maintaining a friendship usually takes more effort than what is required to maintain a bond with a family member. I have had numerous clients tell me that they are “stuck” with their families but are willing to work hard to deepen and expand relationships that they value with friends.

As with your ability to establish new connections, your patterns for initiating, maintaining and strengthening friendships were initially formed in childhood. You may have always had a “best friend” or a series of “best friends” as you moved through childhood. You may have developed a set of friends that you still have contact with today. Adolescents often have a sense of “us” or “our group” that is connected with a close circle of peers. However, if it was difficult for you to form and maintain close friendships as a child, you may have felt like an “outsider”, or not at-ease, when interacting with your peers. As an adult, you most likely enhanced your ability to make friends and form professional relationships as you entered your chosen profession. No matter what type of patterns you have established for making and maintaining friends, it’s always possible to improve your skills as a friend. Does the idea of having “friendship skills” seem odd? Well, regardless of what type of relationship you describe (e.g., marriage, friendship, business associate, etc.), you unconsciously employ a set of skills to make those relationships work. The key to successful relationships of any kind is to continue to broaden and enhance your skills throughout the course of your life.

Although volumes have been written about how to make friends and friendships, I’d like to focus on a few points that are often neglected:

Continuity

Do you remember the old adage, “good friends are there through thick and thin?” That is an accurate statement. A good friend is reliable. If you make a commitment to a friend, you should make every effort to keep it. Friends are also consistent. You may have a wide variety of “friends” that are drawn from the different components of your life, but you will find that “good friends” interact with each other on a fairly consistent basis regardless of whether you only see them at work or just while leaning over the fence in the backyard.

Commonalties

Friendships often begin because of commonalties that exist between two individuals. These commonalties give people a basis on which to build a rapport and get to know one another. However, the initial commonalties may be short lived (e.g., working on a project at work or at your child’s school), so it is imperative for friends to continue to establish new commonalties and find areas that will enable them to deepen and expand their friendship.

Empathy

Empathy is the ability to relate to what someone else is experiencing. Friends are good at empathizing with one another because of the commonalties upon which their relationship is based. One problem that often arises between friends is when one friend expects the other to be empathic, while not having any interest in the other person’s life problems. If you find yourself repeatedly telling your troubles to a friend without hearing any of his or hers in return, you should consider your friendship to be in danger. Now is the time to ask probing questions and determine what your friend would like to talk about or do with you. Listening to others, as well as expecting them to listen to you, is a key component of friendship.

Treat Your Friends Well

Doing things for others, in addition to listening to them, is an important part of friendship. It is the unanticipated and thoughtful gestures that friends often do for one another that will lead to a long term relationship. Bringing soup to a sick friend, sending a card to say how important someone is to you, or extending a “just drop by for a glass of wine” invitation acknowledges someone’s importance in your life much more effectively than mere words.

Be Positive

It goes without saying that I would encourage you to generally maintain onto a positive disposition when interacting with your friends. As I said before, sometimes friendships can deteriorate into a “woe is me” type of relationship. It is important that the majority of your conversations with any friend contain some positive news or ideas. This is not to say that you should not talk to your friends during troubled times, but you should also not go out of your way to be a “Gloomy Gus” if things are generally going well in your life.

Maintaining and deepening the connections that you have with your friends is an important part of having a full, rich, rewarding, and exciting life. Take time today to examine how you interact with your friends and determine what you can do to be a better friend to others!

This article (including the copyright notice) may be reprinted with the following the following attachment:

© 1998 – 2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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© 1998 – 2012 Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.