To help you have the best friendships possible, we asked members of the Tameans Community how they've learned to be a better friend, plus got some expert advice on how to improve your relationships.
"I realized I was talking too much in most of my friendships. I am now making an effort to shut up and listen to my friends more. I feel like I’ve connected more with my friends, and that our time together is more balanced."
"Whether it’s stress, a new hobby, an issue at work, always listen to them. Nothing is ever 'too small' to talk about if your friend is talking about it. Listen to understand, not to respond."
Once you do a bit of reflection, it should be obvious what changes or improvements need to be made, Andrea Bonior, clinical psychologist and author of Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World tells Tameans Health.
These are some good questions to start with: Do you feel like the friendship is balanced? Do you look forward to spending time with this person? Do you feel like you can be yourself around them? Have you expressed appreciation for this person and their friendship lately? Do you know what's going on in their life? Would you want to be friends with yourself based on how you act in this friendship?
Obviously you'll also want to work to change your behavior, but acknowledging it is a great way to validate any feelings your friend might be dealing with but have kept to themselves, says Bonior.
When you do it, make sure it's not just about how bad and guilty you feel, because that'll probably compel your friend to reassure you/make it about you instead of them. Try something like, “Hey, I feel like I've really relied on you a lot lately. I appreciate how much you've been listening to me vent, but I also feel like I haven't been asking about what’s going on with you and I want to change that.” Or like, "Wow, I've been really stressed lately and realized I've absolutely been taking it out on you — sorry for being such a cranky monster and thanks so much for putting up with it."
"Having space in a friendship is always important. Super great friendships have turned into disasters because I would see them every day. My now best friend and I are so strong just because we give each other space to breathe, hang out with other friends, and aren’t constantly hanging on to them. It then makes the special moments you two have together even more amazing."
People can be a little trigger happy when it comes to distancing themselves from friends rather than dealing with awkward confrontations, says Bonior. And while cutting toxic people out is sometimes 100% needed, a lot of the time, you just need to talk about problems and the things that are bothering you.
Yes, it can be awkward to tell a friend that lately you've felt overwhelmed with how much they vent at you without letting you reciprocate or that you've felt abandoned since they started dating a new partner. But there's a positive way to do it. "Convey your sense of hope for the friendship," says Bonior. "It’s helpful to say, 'The reason I’m bringing this up is because I love you so much and see us being friends for a long time and I don’t want that to change.'"
"Practice forgiveness. Either forgiving them or yourself. Any close friendship isn't immune from an inevitable blow up. It may take days weeks or months (possibly years) but eventually both of you will reconcile and your friendship will have a much stronger foundation because you will have learned your limits, and can continue to build from there. If you're afraid to reach out after a big fight, chances are they are just as afraid as you. If things get reconciled after some time, that's a friendship you want to hold on to."
—Lara Naw, Facebook
"Whenever I want to react right away or get defensive at someone I remember that. It's their feelings and I have zero right to say otherwise. It helps refocus my mindset in argument."
"I’ve learned that sometimes a friend just wants you to listen. If they are venting about their mom, sister, husband, etc. just let them vent. More often than not, people just want someone who will listen rather than insert their own opinions."
"(Somewhat) regularly check up on how they’re doing, even if a simple how-are-you. I personally don’t enjoy small talks, but sometimes you gotta do it just to keep the friendship alive. And with some people, the effort will be worth it!"
For some people, it's really important that their friends initiate contact half the time, and others might not give a fuck. So, speak up if you want your friend to put in more effort *or* check in to make sure they don't mind how things currently are, suggests Bonior. Like, if your friend tends to take the reins, ask them if they mind always being the one to take initiative or would they rather you pick up some slack?
Invite them to run errands with you. Take up a new hobby or class with them that you've been meaning to take anyway. Study or do homework together. Every time you hang out doesn't have to be an event. The little things you do together can help you bond even more, says Bonior.
"I was never really taught how to be a good friend. In the 17 years I've been on my own I've had to learn what people normally learn in grade school. It's been tough and I've lost some friends to bad decisions. I would say the most important part of friendship is loyalty. Don't gossip about your real friends. Don't tell their secrets to others. I repeatedly made that mistake early in my 20's and I now am sorry about it and wish I had learned not to do that a long time ago."
"It's OK if you don't always agree with each other either, and you don't have to stop being friends with someone because of that. I come from a fickle family who tends to stop talking to anyone, even their own children, if they don't agree with how you live your own life, and it's taken a lot of personal work to undo that in myself."
YOU'RE ALLOWED TO ANNOY EACH OTHER. It's human!
No one likes feeling jealous, but everyone deals with it and it's not something that has to ruin a friendship, says Bonior. See if you can deal with it on your own first — whether by venting to another friend or giving yourself a little space — but if it's not going away or starts affecting your interactions with the person, talk about it!
For example, if your friend recently landed their dream job and you've been trying to get out of a job you hate forever, you can say something like, "I am so happy for you, but I have to admit it's been a little hard for me since I've been struggling so much at work. If I seem to be a little distant, I promise I'm just working through my own stuff and that doesn't take away from how much I know you deserve this."
"At this point I know when my friends are upset and after several times of me trying to say something, I learned that being a friend is about being there for all of it because anybody can say something nice and leave but only a friends can stay and show how much you appreciate them."
"We both have very busy schedules and very different friend groups. We can go weeks even a month or two without seeing or hardly talking to one another. But we both know we will always be there for one another, and we know if there’s anything wrong we can always lean on each other in a difficult time."
"For successful friendships/relationships, you must decide whether you can accept someone exactly as they are. I have a friend who is terrible about reaching out, not out of apathy or disinterest, it's just not something she is good at...but I love her as she is and therefore I am willing to make the extra effort. She also accepts me for all of my quirks and flaws, so it's a two-way street."
—Sarita Field, Facebook
"Whether it's a big adventure like a trip or day out, or just a simple movie marathon at home...If you talk about it a lot, actually do the damn thing. It's so easy to slip into lazy habits with your friends (AKA never trying anything new, or just not hanging out at all), so doing the things you get hyped about will keep you excited to spend time together."
—Austen Wright, Facebook
If the same problems are coming up or different friends tend to describe you the same way and it’s not positive, those are patterns to pay attention to, says Bonior. Similarly, if you have trouble maintaining friendships, be honest with yourself about what role you played in that, because chances are, you need to look into what kind of friend you are — and adjust accordingly if it's having a negative impact.
"The two years following high school I drifted away from my friends. I used to think, 'Why am I the one always reaching out? Why doesn’t anyone ask me how I am?' But then I had an epiphany. I need to be the kind of friend that I want to have. So I put in the effort and stopped placing my expectations on anyone else. Now all my friendships are stronger, and I feel fulfilled."