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Tips: Fulfilling Friendships
Dr. Dale V. Atkins, June 2006

Life is Enhanced with Friends
Everyone needs someone to be there for them; to listen and NOT give advice or judge. Someone to have fun with, who knows you, whom you can trust to NOT say what you have told them to ANYONE unless you specifically say itís okay. These are people from whom you can ask for what you need or want. They are people who are there in times of need and with whom you can share your desires, thoughts, dreams, and mistakes. They accept you unconditionally even though they can and feel okay with disagreeing with your choices. In short, when you are with them, you can be your authentic self.

Friendships Combat the "Lonelies"
Within families, people may be emotionally or physically distanced (or both.) In these cases particularly, it becomes essential to develop friendships. There is nothing like being able to rely on a friend to be there in the way you need; to be your ally, or partner; someone with whom you can share your innermost thoughts, feelings, hopes, or fears, and who feels similarly toward you. If you donít have quality friendships, it is possible you could you be shielding yourself with a protective covering to keep you out of the realm of competition and judgment. On the other hand, if you have great friends, is your life so busy that you donít find the time to give to your friendships which prevents you from experiencing that kind of nurturing, support, opportunity to give to someone else, and fun in your life?

Ask for What You Need
Redesign your friendships so you can give as well as reap the benefits. We all need to know that a good friend has our best interests at heart and that this feeling is reciprocal. For some of us, our friends are the ones who help us tackle major challenges and changes and are our support systems. Without them, we know we could not make it. However sometimes your "old" friends may not know how to relate to what you are going through or may feel threatened or scared by your situation and either back off or are not available. Try not to take it personally as people react to change differently. This may be a good time to enlist a whole new group of people who also have similar issues and with whom you can be "vulnerable" for a sense of safety, understanding and nurturing.

Friendships Go Through Transitions
Remember, friendships can go through periods of closeness and distance. Sometimes, it is important to put limits or boundaries and other times there need to be no restrictions. As we go through our own transitions, so will our friendships ebb and flow. Some friends stay in our lives throughout our own personal journeys (and theirs) while others donít. As the saying goes, some people are in our life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

Here are ways for YOU to be a better friend:

1. Like Yourself - What do you like about YOU? If you are feeling awful about yourself, other people are likely not going to find you terribly attractive. When you are content with who you are and not solely self focused, you will have time, energy and interest to cultivate meaningful friendships and attract positive relationships into your life.

2. Be There - In the ways you can for the people who mean something to you. Select who is in that group. The group may be one or two people with whom you want to develop or maintain a close connection. Work on being a good listener, loyal, trustworthy, and a true supporter. Have your friendsí interest at the forefront of your heart and mind.

3. Take the Time and Put it on Your Calendar - When you are together, keep the distractions to a minimum. ONLY answer your cell phone if it is REALLY important. Time with friends goes by too fast. The fun, the focus, the feeling is what you want and having the flow interrupted really hurts the chances of that happening. It also makes your friend feel he or she is not so important if you are answering your phone, text messaging someone else or focusing on something other than your time together. Demonstrate the value and esteem for this person by your actions as well as your heart.

4. Donít Stand on Ceremony; Be Forgiving - At some point, every friendship will have some type of disagreement or misunderstanding. A good friend, especially one who has been in your life a long time, who has helped you weather lifeís storms, with whom you have a shared history, is worth considering holding onto. You need to be willing to let things go. If your friend is usually a few minutes off schedule, donít expect perfect punctuality. Be realistic. Try and work through the bigger clashes. Learn to agree to disagree. Donít ever keep score.

5. If You Say Youíre Going to Call, Do It! - Be sure you are as kind and considerate to your friends as you expect them to be to you. Listen to them and keep in your head what is important in their lives. Is their child working on a major school project? Has someone close to them been in the hospital? Whatís new in the job market? Pay attention and follow up. If you have too much in your mind or on your schedule, write yourself a reminder note to check in with them.

6. If You Forget to Follow Up, Fess Up - Donít make a thousand excuses about what has been going on in your life. Take responsibility for your inaction and then ask, "How is your mother? I am so sorry I did not call for the last few days. I know she is in the hospital. How are you doing?"

Friendships and Your Health:

ē Social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. Friends help us live longer.

ē People who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

ē Friends are also helping us live better. The more quality friends you have, the less likely you are to develop physical impairments as you age. In fact, studies show that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

ē Widows or widowers who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality.

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