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3 Tips to Improving Your Friendships

What is Friendship?

Friendship is a mutual affection between people. A bond is built and there is trust and respect. It is a stronger and more intimate form of an interpersonal bond than an association, and has been studied in a variety of academic fields such as communication sociology, psychology, anthropology and philosophy. The aim is to have a balance - give and take - whilst remembering that this is subjective.

History of Friendship

Aristotle said there are three types of friendships: Friendship of Utility, Friendship of Pleasure, and Perfect Friendship.

In other words, the purpose of a friendship can be for usefulness, pleasure, or goodness.

Friendship of Utility - This friendship is where people love each other because of something they get which is typically useful or beneficial; the focus is what one gains from the other. In a utility based friendship, friends do not love each other for the sake of love itself, but for the good one gets from the other. A business friendship would fall into this category. Young people may also fall into this category, as the friendship ends when one no longer finds the other useful.

Friendship of Pleasure - A friendship where people are friends because of the pleasure they get from one another. This type of friendship does not flourish because when one party is no longer useful or pleasant to the other party, the friendship ends. There wasn't a connection so much as mutual pleasure.

Perfect Friendship - The friendship which is most ideal because the love between the friends is based on who someone is as a person, and vice versa. In this friendship neither party needs to worry about satisfying or impressing the other person because each is loved just the way they are.

Why do we want or need friendships?

Human nature leads us to require connection. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, and prevent loneliness and isolation. Friendships have a huge impact on your mental health and therefore on your happiness. Developing close friendships can also have a powerful impact on your physical health. Lack of social connection may pose as much of a risk as smoking, drinking too much, or leading a sedentary lifestyle. Friendships have a proven connection to longevity.

How do we get friendships?

When we are young we meet many people and friendships just seem to happen. Usually a friendship comes about because of something in common and a mutual respect. As a child we don't think about this - we make friends and then often we break friends without looking for solutions. We start to learn how to get along with people but often without much thought (as such we don't know how to fix an issue).

As we get older we start to become more discerning about who we become friends with. We also tend to find it more difficult to make friends - this can be because we meet less people and/or we are more clued up as to who makes a good friend for us (either consciously or subconsciously). Close friendships don't necessarily just happen. Some people struggle to meet people, or they struggle when they do meet people - often due to personality, shyness or past experiences.

Your personality and past experiences will determine how the friendship builds. Although some people can feel an instant connection to someone, it can still take time to build a mutual trust.

What do we want friendship to be?

As mentioned, we are aiming for a balance. Finding an ideal balance between 'give and take' rather than one sided, is crucial, however can be subjective. Do not expect people to change to meet your needs, instead accept people for who they are and take it at face value.

Who makes a good friend?

How do you know if someone will make a good friend for you? I have been looking at this with my clients and the first step is get to know yourself. You need to know who you are and what your core values are. My clients used this app to rank their top five positive core values. Then we looked at the core values of our friends, such as what are the values of our friends, and where do their core values overlap.

What are our patterns?

We may find we have patterns between our friendships. My husband and I met a couple and became friends. The lady often talked about her ex friends and I knew then that I was destined to, at some point, be an ex friend. I never heard about why her past friendships ended so I never got to find the reasoning behind this pattern. Sure enough, a year or two later, I became an ex friend. She and her husband just ghosted us (this was before the term ghosting was invented and I'd never had such a thing happen). However, our time was evidently up. I wasn't upset, I knew it was coming and I didn't take it personally. It was her pattern. This made me think, what's my pattern? It is good to take some time to think about our friendships and figure out our patterns. What's yours?

What if we change?

As humans, we expect to change, grow and develop, therefore, an interesting situation is when one friend changes and grows but the other doesn't. This can upset the dynamic of the friendship. What are your options here? You can cease the friendship - either temporarily or permanently - or you can make attempts to work through the change and renew the friendship. You may feel that your friend has changed - this could be that either you have got to know them more, or they truly have changed. It is okay to reassess the friendship and adjust it in view of this newly discovered information. We have to expect that nothing stays the same. All relationships will inevitably change.

How do we overcome issues?

Do you think about a friendship as it's happening, or do you not think about it until it goes wrong?

Often it is not until it has gone wrong that you wonder what happened. This is a good time to reflect back on events. What was the mutual connection and trust? When it all goes wrong what do we do? Do we just walk away, do we discuss it, or do we moan to someone else but do nothing? When we are young we make friends and then break friends, but we don't really stop to think about this. It isn't a problem really because as children we are always meeting more people - we have a lot of choice. As adults, if we have fewer friends, each can become more precious and more important to us. This is why it's important to take the time to reflect over the events of the friendship and how everything unfolded.

Losing a friend

Some friendships aren't permanent and are not expected to last forever. Never get upset if a friendship ends, it just means the dynamic no longer works. It's not a bad thing, it's just about being a good match. Sometimes one person has more of a clue, or picks up on this sooner than the other. Do not take it as rejection (I don't believe in this word) - it just means that one party thinks/knows you are no longer suitable. Don't choose to get hung up about the end of a friendship, but use it to evaluate your own patterns.

3 Tips to Improve Your Friendships

1. Current Friends

Create awareness of your current friendships:

How did they come about - through a mutual interest or a connection? Did you build trust or did it never develop? (some friendships don't progress which is totally normal).

Determine what you value in yourself and what your boundaries are. Likewise, be aware of your friends' qualities and boundaries.

Consider what connects you and consider your differences. Don't expect your friend to be the same as you in all areas. Instead, value what they can offer to you - different opinions, support. Each friend offers something unique to you, and you to them. Becoming aware of these means you can value this much more.

Consider what, as well as how much, you get from the friendship. Then consider what and how much you give to the friendship. Determine whether this is balanced, then decide on an ideal balance if the friendship has value to you.

2. Making New Friends

Tips when you are making new friends:

Know your core values and assess what their core values may be. Understand that these may differ, but ensure there is some overlap to help form the mutual bond, respect and trust which is required for a successful friendship. Similarly, check for mutual interests and what you have in common.

Consider your boundaries and if they are likely to cross these boundaries or respect them. Figure out where they fit into your life - for activities, for conversation, for fun, for support. Consider what you might offer to them as a friend, consider what you can gain from them as a friend, can this be balanced? Know what it is you respect about them, and likewise, make sure they respect you.

3. Overcoming Issues

If you have an issue, consider your options:

Has this issue highlighted some major differences between you, and would you like to discuss the issue with them directly?

If you want the friendship to continue, take into consideration your new view of them, and look at it from their point of view.

Consider talking to a third party first to get an independent and hopefully unbiased view. Talk to yourself; ask yourself how you can move forward from this, for example, if it is a trust issue - do you change your view of the relationship and adapt the friendship so you no longer put your trust in them, but stay friends at a different level?

In Summary

Ensure you have awareness of yourself and your friendships, assess your friendships as they evolve, and take action when the balance no longer suits you. Know that relationships will inevitably change, and this is often out of our control.

It is important to create awareness of yourself and of your friendships. Whether assessing your current friendships or considering new friends, discover and figure out your patterns, then use your knowledge of these patterns to be aware and learn.

Expect that you will not always find perfect friendships, that some will fall into the utility or pleasure category rather than the perfect friendship. You will be more likely to find a perfect friendship when you consider the person's core values, as well as your own, as you become acquainted. Ensure there is some alignment between your values. Consider your boundaries and your restrictions, will or does this person respect and understand these?

Always be prepared to reassess the friendship as it, or the person, changes. When there is conflict within the friendship take the time to uncover what kind of friendship you have, and whether it is worth holding on to. First consider if this friendship should remain, do you gain and do you give, is there balance? Once decided, move forward by assessing what category the issue and friendship falls into. Is there an issue because of your differences, or is it due to change? Perhaps you've overreacted and the issue has arisen due to your own patterns, or is this the other person's pattern?

The whole point of this assessment and awareness is to make sure you feel good about your friendships and they bring meaning to you. After all, friendships exist to bring happiness and value. Take this knowledge and use it to be aware of your friendships. Uncover the factors and determine whether the people in your life bring value to you and whether these social connections are positively impacting your overall health and happiness, or whether its best to let them go.

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