Awesome friends make life better. There’s nothing like hanging out with someone who just gets you. But, man, they can sometimes be hard to find. Or transition from hey-I-know-you-and-you-know-me-and-we-have-some-things-in-common to a true and authentic relationship. To help you take your friendships to the next fulfilling level, we have tips from Shasta Nelson, the founder and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com and the author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. As Shasta says: Friendships don’t just happen! You have to nurture and grow them, basically like you would a marriage. Here are her top tips to taking your friendships to the next awesome level.
Developing Fit Friendships
When I’m in front of an audience, I often ask, “How many of you are lonely?” As you might imagine, the inclusion of the dreaded “L” word means very few hands go up, though I do see a few heads nod.
But when I ask, “Do you wish you had more deep and meaningful friendships?” nearly every hand rises.
Indeed, many of us aren’t lonely because we don’t know people; we’re lonely because the vast majority of those relationships lack the depth and ease and intimacy that we crave. For many of us, it’s not that we need to meet new people, it’s that we need to know how to go deeper with the people we already know.
Our friendships, like our health, can often feel flabby, lethargic or even hurtful.
The Problem: Our Friendships Aren’t Fulfilling
As part of my research for my new book, Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness, I asked more than 1,200 women to rank how fulfilling their friendships felt on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most intimate and meaningful. The results? Women were twice as likely to rate their friendships a 1 or 2 as they were to give them a 9 or 10, and over half scored below a 5. The vast majority of us know that our friendships could be more fulfilling.
To ignore that wisdom means that we are compromising our immune systems, taking years off our lives and absorbing more of the damaging effects of stress in our lives. There are few contributors of our health that make a bigger difference than our sense of connection and support.
But while most of us might be able to admit that we wish our friendships felt deeper, few of us have ever been taught how to actually develop fit and healthy friendships.
The Solution: Practice the 3 Requirements of Friendships
Similar to how we have measurable metrics, such as nutrition and exercise, to help us assess and track our health — our relationships also have actions that must be practiced in order to develop optimal health. In fact, a healthy friendship has less to do with how much we like each other and more to do with how much we practice the three requirements of friendship with each other!
We all have examples of women we liked instantly that never developed into a friendship; and we also have the examples of the women we probably wouldn’t have chosen out of line-up of choices — but because we saw them regularly (like at work or school), laughed together and shared stories, we became friends.
There are three actions that when practiced repeatedly develop a friendship:
- Positivity: A friendship has to be more rewarding than stressful, where two people are both contributing laughter, words of affirmation, loving action, fun memories and peaceful reassurances. The healthiest relationships stay above the 5:1 positivity/negativity ratio.
- Consistency: A friendship has to log hours together in order to develop, and the more regular and consistent that time is, the greater we feel supported and trusting of the other. Without consistency, we don’t build momentum with new friends, build trust with developing friendships or benefit from feelings of support with our deeper friends.
- Vulnerability: A friendship has to invoke both people to take incremental steps toward greater bonding and sharing. Ideally, as our consistency increases so should our vulnerability — with both happening simultaneously. Vulnerability isn’t just sharing our insecurities though — it also includes sharing our good news, inviting the other into new activities, and increasing our communication topics and methods.
If a friendship isn’t practicing one of these three behaviors regularly then it’s not a healthy friendship. These three actions can create friendships, strengthen them, and repair them when they aren’t feeling as healthy and meaningful as possible.
Most of us don’t simply want more friendships or to just go out with a social group; on the contrary, we want to feel like we have a few really great friends who are there for us no matter what. The good news is that having close friends has less to do with meeting the right people and more to do with developing the right friendship with the people we do meet! We can strengthen our friendships and increase our friendship intimacy so that we all are experiencing the level of frientimacy that we would find most fulfilling.
How many close friends do you have? —Shasta Nelson