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How to build a Better Friendship

Updated on May 3, 2013

It's a constant struggle in our chaotic hectic lives to maintain friendships. It seems that most of us barely have enough time to shower and fee ourselves, let alone put in the work to maintain a good friendship. Throw in the natural complications of the differences of individuals and you have a task that can seem monumental.

I struggle with friendships. I always have. I am a very outgoing, passionate spunky person and people seem to have a lot of fun around me. But that seems to be about where it always ends. I am a good friend to go have some fun with, but when things get touchy, or emotional, or complicated, everyone seems to scatter like cockroaches. What gives?

I have spent years and years playing the victim card. Whoa is me, nobody loves me, everybody hates me, think I'll go eat worms. You know the saga, the weeping and crying and complaining that my phone never rings, no one invites me anywhere, why do I always have to be the one to make the first move, and on and on and on it goes. My focus has always been on what the other person was doing that was wrong and never on what I was bringing to the table.

The past few years, I have been walking a very eye opening journey in my marriage and it has begun to spill over into the other relationships in my life. Through some very painful instances, it has been brough to my attention that I kinda suck as a friend. I don't mean that I thought I was this awesome person and anyone would be lucky to have me as as friend. I knew I had faults and shortcomings, but I didn't realize the extent to which I have harmed some of my closest friends.

I have very recently come to this realization that a key element to fixing my marriage can be used in all my relationships. Stop pointing the finger at "them" and start working on me. About three months ago a friendship was almost lost because of some of my choices, as well as some of their own choices. Another great friendship was very recently put under great strain because of choices that I could have done so much differently. I had not thought of things in this light before and it was so amazing to me when it "clicked".

There was a main theme to a statement that both of these friends said that made me realize what I was doing. The word "expectations" played a big role in my epiphany. I was creating an environment that lacked patience, grace and invoked feelings of high expectations to behave a certain way. I had NO idea I was doing this. Let me share with you what I have learned, maybe it can help you unlock your own relationship struggles.

What do you find most difficult to do in friendships?

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Things to Ponder On

  • STOP making decisions for others based on what you "think" they will do, say or feel. What they think or feel is none of your business anyway and is not in your control to change. If you need help with something -- ask. Don't assume that they are busy and won't be able to or won't want to. Let them have the chance to tell you that themselves.
  • Do not assume anything. Ask.

These next few were huge for me and I felt like smacking my own head with a "loser" symbol when it came to me.

  • Do not expect someone to behave in a way that is not natural to them simply because it is natural to you. Let me explain. If I am the "vocal" one in the relationship it is probably not smart to expect the quieter one to frequently be able to speak up when they feel their toes are being stepped on.

I cannot believe I did not see this sooner. I just had this conversation with a girlfriend of mine last night and walked away from this realizing what I needed to do. I was angry with my friend because she had not told me that I was being snappy and rude to her. She had instead left the subject alone, but then later lashed out a little. I felt so wounded and wronged because she did not come to me when I thought she should have. But then I made a huge realization. If I am the vocal and brash one, I need to take steps to open the door to safe sharing for my more calm and quiet friend, I cannot expect her to do what is not natural to her, especially given that I am quite aggressive. I need to play my strengths and come to her and open the door to that conversation.

Choose a time when you can truly sit and listen. Go to that friend and let them know that this friendship is important to you. Tell them that you want to check in with them and make sure there isn't anything that you are doing that is bothering them. If there is, you would like to hear about it and that you will honor their feelings by sitting quietly and listening without interrupting. Now hopefully, this initiation does not continue to fall on your shoulders. The goal of this is to foster safety for the other person and help them be okay in coming to you first. If this doesn't start to happen after a while (6 months) it would be fine if you started to lessen the frequency of going to them. You cannot carry the relationship yourself for long as that will develop resentments on your part. Of course, voicing these things in a healthy respectful manner is always a good idea as well.

  • Remember that nearly all of us are "good-willed" people. We do not wake up in the morning and think to ourselves, "How can I be a horrible friend to Jane today?" Life gets in the way and things happen that we don't intend. Please try not to assume the worst of someone when you do not hear from them for a while -- get in touch with them and let them know that you miss them. Give each other the benefit of the doubt about altercations, arguments, differences of opinion, or a few cancelled hang out times. It is amazing what happens when we approach one other with the compassion of believing the other is "good-willed". The victim mode that ensues when we view others as "ill-willed" is damaging to ourselves and our relationships.

I do this a lot when I don't hear from friends for a while. I start in with the, "Why do I always have to be the one to call? Why do I always have to ask people to go out? How come no one ever calls up me?" I am still working on being brave enough to ask others to hang out. I am still working on believing people do not get up in the morning and purposefully find ways to leave me out of their lives. It bothers me a great deal when I am in a bible study with 6 different women and I hear stories of them getting together to hang out throughout the week and not one of them called me. I wonder why? I wonder if there is something wrong with me, then I wonder what is wrong with them. The victim mentality of viewing those women as "ill-willed" is in full swing and I am now locked in an unhealthy cycle of thinking that keeps me from connecting the way I so desperatly want to. I need to be willing, as scary as it is, to reach out myself, instead of always blaming someone else.

  • Respect boundaries, do not judge boundaries. This can be hard, a person can feel like they are being "punished" when a friend places a boundary, Just remember that boundaries are more about that person doing what they need to function on a daily basis than it is about you being a bad person. Every once in a while a boundary is placed because a person is extremely harmful to another's well being. But I like to look at it this way: If they didn't want to work on the relationship, they would just ignore me and never speak to me again. BUT if they are placing a boundary, this is an opportunity for me to grow, to show them they matter enough to respect it, and to foster a deeper relationship. Most of the time though, a boundary is not aimed at one specific person.

Final Nuggets

The last few things I want to leave with you are this:

  • Feelings are not fact, so be careful before you act on your feelings.
  • Feelings are not wrong even if they don't match up with someone else's.
  • The way you choose to treat someone else when feeling hurt is what becomes the problem.
  • Grace, patience, and love above all else can make the difference between a broken friendship and a flourishing friendship.
  • Love is not a feeling -- it is a choice. It is a choice to act with dignity and respect when your feelings tell you that you have the right to act like a butt.
  • Do not give so much of yourself that there is nothing left for your family or yourself. An unbalanced friendship can be a slow death, and every one who lives with you suffers the consequences.
  • The minute a wrong you have done against someone is brought to your mind -- amend it, it whatever way possible. If direct contact is not possible (and in this day and age that won't happen often) then at least sit down and write a letter either by hand or by email. Unless doing so would cause harm to them or you. (Such as in the case of infidelity and a family is involved, it is not your place to out the other)
  • An effective apology/amends does not include the words: but, in my defense, you should have, you could have, or it's no big deal. An amends is your apology, your sincere expression of regret and the means by which you hope to make it right and that's it.


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