People are complicated.
As social creatures, many of us crave the relationships and friendships that will help fulfill those social needs.
Still, it can be difficult to make and keep friends. People are busy. Many people are juggling work, family, other friends, and responsibilities that reduce the amount of time for friendships. It takes a lot of energy to juggle so many things, which makes it more difficult to create and maintain quality friendships.
But maybe the problem isn’t that other people just don’t have the time for friendships. Sometimes, we may be doing things that put other people off wanting to be friends with us. A lack of appropriate social skills or flimsy self-awareness can cause us to do things that make others want to steer clear.
The good news is that we can learn and develop new social skills! Of course, it takes some work, but if you can narrow down why your friendships aren’t working out, there is likely a solution for you.
So, what are the do’s and don’ts of keeping friendships?
1. DO make sure you have reasonable expectations.
Do you have reasonable expectations for your friendship? Do you understand what reasonable expectations in a friendship look like?
Many of us have a mental image of what we think a friendship or relationship should look like. But then, we spend our time trying to make that mental image happen instead of focusing on what we do have.
For example, perhaps you have this mental image of getting together with a group of friends every couple of weeks to party and have a good time.
Are the people you meet the type of people who want to party and have a good time? Not everyone enjoys partying. Some people just want quiet time in a peaceful setting where they can unwind. They may find the idea of that much social interaction and partying to be too overwhelming.
Mismatches in friendships can happen. It’s not always a bad thing, though. Opposites do attract, to some degree. However, that difference can be something you bond over and explore together so long as you have reasonable expectations.
2. DO say “yes” to more social engagements.
Many people have a hard time maintaining friendships because they don’t make an effort to help maintain the relationship.
Some mental health issues can make it really difficult or overwhelming to try to socialize. For example, some people struggle with depression and have difficulty finding the energy to bother responding to, let alone actually going to, a social engagement.
The problem is that when you don’t make an effort to attend, people just stop inviting you. They assume that you don’t want to be there. A considerate person won’t want to put you in a position where you feel uncomfortable or force you to do anything you don’t want to do.
That means that sometimes you have to force yourself, whether you want to or not.
3. DO take the time to reach out to your friends.
Do you reach out to your friends regularly? It’s difficult to maintain a connection with other people when you’re both busy with life.
Social media can be a good way to keep in touch with your friends, so long as you can use it in a healthy way. It doesn’t take a whole lot. Just exchange some periodic messages through a messenger or comment on a post once in a while. That will help keep you in each other’s minds.
One thing you might do is just make it a habit to check in on people once in a while. Pick a day of the week and just blast out texts and messages. “Hey, how are you doing? Just wanted to check up on you!” It can be a nice habit to develop to maintain your communication.
4. DO take the time to understand and respect boundaries.
Boundaries are a healthy part of any friendship. They communicate how you want to be treated and show you how the other person wants to be treated.
Do take the time to ensure you understand your and your friend’s boundaries. What do you find acceptable and unacceptable? Are you able to freely communicate when you don’t feel comfortable with a particular situation? Do you have the communication skills to set and enforce your boundary when you feel like it’s been pushed?
Don’t expect the friendship to start off perfect. Sometimes people butt heads as they work to figure out where their social standing is.
5. DO have the patience to build a trustworthy friendship.
Most quality friendships don’t just happen overnight. You’ll also find that not every friendship you try to forge works. Sometimes people just don’t have the right chemistry to have a good friendship. They may be too different, not have time for more friendships, or just not be interested.
You have to have the patience to find the people who want more friendships and are willing to put in the work to build it. It can take time. Don’t be in a rush.
6. DO learn to listen and communicate mindfully.
So what does it mean to listen and communicate mindfully? Simply put, you are in the here and now when you are with your friend. You’re not thinking about things you have to do, work, or surfing through your phone.
You’re actively listening to your friend, so they understand that they are important enough to have your full attention. You’re giving them the space they need to express themselves, and you’re not just thinking about your next reply.
If you struggle with conversation and small talk, think of it like a tennis game. Only one person can be hitting the ball at a time. They’ll hit it to you; you’ll hit it back to them. You do this by listening to the rhythm of the conversation to hear when they serve it back to you, so you can reply and serve it back to them.
7. DO confront and resolve disagreements.
Disagreements can poison any relationship if they are left to rot unresolved. Do confront the issue if you find yourself angry or uncomfortable about something your friend does. They may not realize that they have done something to make you uncomfortable. When forging new friendships, you may not know where your compatibility as people is.
For example, if you swear and the other person doesn’t, you’re going to have a hard time if you aren’t willing to compromise on your language. Some people are willing to compromise; some people aren’t.
But if they come to you and say, “Hey, I have a problem with swearing. I would appreciate it if you didn’t swear around me,” you have to make a choice if that’s something you want to do or if you just want to keep looking for friends who don’t have a problem with it.
8. DO make sure you have good hygiene.
Bad hygiene can drive other people away. Make sure you are bathing regularly, brushing your teeth, and wearing clean clothes. This may seem obvious, but some people don’t have the social awareness to understand that these things do matter. Other people may be mentally ill and have a hard time caring about themselves because they just aren’t able to care.
Either way, a little effort goes a long way if you can make good hygiene a regular habit. And remember, just because you can’t smell yourself doesn’t mean other people can’t. Unfortunately, we tend to be nose-blind to our own smell until it gets really strong.
9. Do NOT use your friends as an emotional dumping ground or therapy.
Many people with mental health issues are looking for friends as a means of support. Unfortunately, this is the wrong thing to do if you want to maintain and keep your friendships. Yes, it’s okay to build a support network and have some people you lean on from time to time when things are hard. However, you need to do this in moderation.
Do not use your friends as an emotional dumping ground. Do not treat them like they are your therapist. It’s okay to lean on them once in a while when things are bad, but if you constantly dump that emotional load on them, they will disappear.
Look for a support group or a therapist if you need more support for life’s problems or mental health issues.
10. Do NOT spend your time together complaining.
Most people don’t enjoy or want to be around negative people. You’re going to have a hard time if you are a complainer, pessimist, or constantly feel the need to discuss all of the terrible things in life.
Yes, there are a lot of ugly things going on in the world right now. Unfortunately, so many people feel the need to discuss them. Some people even bond over them. The problem with that is it gets real old, real quick. People are burnt out and want to get away from that for just a little while for their own peace of mind.
Do not be the person that finds fault and flaws in everything around you. “It’s too hot.” “It’s too cold.” “The waiter is taking too long.” “That person looks weird.” “This seat is too hard.” “There are too many bugs.” “That person can’t do anything right.”
You’re basically communicating to other people that you’re a miserable person. People with healthy boundaries don’t spend their time with miserable people.
11. Do NOT forget about your friends when you’re in a relationship.
It’s pretty common for people to let their friendships fall away in favor of their relationship. Sometimes it’s because of the new partner. They may want more of their partner’s time and energy.
They may also not have healthy boundaries. Insecurity and jealousy can have that person demanding that their partner cut ties with other people. People that don’t identify this as abusive behavior or just go along with it for whatever reason will find themselves alienated pretty quick.
Other times it’s just a matter of life being busy. Relationships do require a fair amount of time and energy to make them work. The couple will have life responsibilities to deal with on top of keeping their relationship healthy and interesting.
This is something to be mindful of when you get into a relationship as well. Make time to see your friends! Organize time to hang out. Don’t make your relationship partner your sole focus. Otherwise, you will find that your friendships dwindle.
12. Do NOT start or contribute to drama.
Got a problem with someone? Take it up with them or keep it to yourself. Got some juicy gossip about another person? Keep it to yourself. You probably don’t know the whole story.
People who are not into drama or gossip generally do not stay associated with people who are. They typically cause way more problems than they are worth by sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong, opining on half-truths, and stirring the pot.
So don’t expect to be or stay friends with people who aren’t into all of that.
However, people who love to gossip and love drama can usually get along pretty well.
13. Do NOT get jealous of other attention your friend gives or receives.
Sometimes when a person is lonely, they have unrealistic expectations about new friendships. They may get jealous that the other person is giving or receiving the attention they feel they should be receiving.
This is bad because no one is entitled to attention. And suppose you give off the vibe that you feel entitled to a person’s time or attention by getting jealous of other attention that goes their way. In that case, you’re going to alienate them.
Jealousy typically points to problems with self-image and insecurity, so this is the type of problem that you will likely want to take up with a therapist. They should help you get to the root of the issue and build better habits to build yourself up. The kind of jealousy that is extreme enough that it disrupts relationships is beyond the scope of self-help.
14. Do NOT rely on electronic devices to maintain friendships.
Social media and smartphones have made it easier than ever to build and maintain social connections. The problem is that electronic devices do not provide the same kind of mental and emotional feedback that face-to-face socialization does. There are a lot of different processes going on when we socialize with other people in person. The brain is picking up their cues and helping you deliver your own.
This also helps with the production of various feel-good chemicals that the brain produces for happiness and well-being. You just don’t get the same kind of thing with electronic devices.
Technology allows us to be far more social but far less connected and intimate. And it’s not always about the person on the other side of the phone either. It’s also sitting and looking at your phone instead of being in the moment with your friends in real-world social interactions.
15. Do NOT be too clingy.
What does it mean to be clingy? Simply, it’s having unrealistic expectations of the amount of time and attention you feel you should be getting from someone. Thus, you want to be in their space more often and may come off as demanding when that need isn’t met.
People with anxiety may have difficulty with clinginess because they are trying to smooth over their discomfort from this new unknown.
Clinginess can be a problem for people who do not have good social skills or feel lonely. They get a brief exposure to being close to someone and want more of that, so they try to get more of it. They insist on more time, show up unannounced, or constantly reach out. They may also make unreasonable demands like needing the other person to respond immediately to messages.
That is a surefire way to absolutely kill any friendship. You have to let things breathe and maintain reasonable expectations. It’s not reasonable to expect immediate answers or be all up in a friend’s business all the time, or even a majority of the time, for that matter.
16. Do NOT waste your limited time and energy on bad friendships.
Take some time to assess the friendships and relationships that you do have. Are they good for you? Are they healthy? Do they build you up? Do they tear you down and drain you?
Ending and discarding bad friendships makes way for good, positive friendships. The unfortunate reality is that we waste a lot of time on bad situations that aren’t healthy for us. Sometimes we do it because it’s comfortable and it’s all we know. Or maybe we are clinging on to a past version of a friend that was a much better fit. Other times, we may just be afraid of being alone.
Don’t sacrifice your peace of mind and well-being just to not be alone. It’s far, far better to be alone than to devote your time to a harmful person. If you do that, when it’s all said and done, you’ll have to take even more time to unmake and heal the damage that relationship caused. And depending on how severe the harm was, that can take years of work to move on from.
Devote your time to the good and healthy connections that you make with people instead.
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