Around this time of year, we’re most likely to be thinking about ways to improve our lives, our characters and our relationships with the people who we value the most in our lives. If strengthening your friendships in 2020 is at the top of your resolution list, there are plenty of ways to not only maintain your friendships, but help them grow.
No matter how strong your friendships are, no matter how much history you share or how close your bond is, evolution and adjustment is healthy and necessary. Checking in with your friends on the state of your friendship can be the difference between growing apart and becoming closer than ever.
As Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist, tells Bustle, a strong friendship is based on “mutual respect and appreciation, bonding ideals, and time spent together.” Every healthy friendship is comprised of these elements in a different configuration, but in a strong friendship, both friends are equally engaged in supporting each other and nurturing the friendship. Meaning, there are definitely things you can do to improve the relationship from your end, but strength comes from both parties putting in equal efforts. If there’s an imbalance, there might be some heavy conversations ahead of you.
As Hafeez says, there are a few conversations you can open up with your friends directly (imbalance or not), that can help increase your efficiency. Below, you’ll find the best ways to ensure that your friendships don’t fizzle out in the new year.
Learn Your Friendship Love Languages
Though you might be close or have a long history, it’s always a good time to check in and make sure you’re both treating each other in the way you like to be treated. One easy way to do this is to take the love languages test together and have a casual conversation about your results. “Your friend might be more affected by time spent together than gifts,” Hafeez says. “Or you might be more comfortable lending service or extending an affirmation. A key trait of a strong friendship is learning how you and your friend communicate that mutual respect and appreciation and putting that into practice.”
Write A Note
Hafeez suggests writing a spontaneous note to a friend you love but don’t often express loving feelings to. “Highlight a quality you appreciate in them, your support for their endeavors, and maybe an invitation to spend time together.” Doing this randomly, without it being a birthday or holiday can be even more effective.
And though leaving your friends sweet comments on Instagram or creating birthday slide shows in Instagram Stories can make them feel special on important days, Hafeez says a physical message can have a more tangible effect on the brain.
Be A Better Listener
Strong friendships have strong communication channels both ways, and both friends need to feel like they can be honest and open with each other, even when it’s painful. “Many of us have a difficult time accepting advice or criticism,” Hafeez says, “but part of a friendship is saying, ‘I value what you have to say, and I want to have your input’,” she adds, stressing the importance of listening not just for your own benefit, but to show respect to your friend, too.
“Whether it be an idea, a problem, or an observation, letting someone know their view is wanted and acknowledged is part of making them feel important within a relationship,” Hafeez says. While you don’t necessarily have to use your friend’s advice or take their criticism to heart, Hafeez says that it is something you should consider and hear out.
Make Bolder Plans
When it seems like everyone’s busy and even the easy wine night plan is hard to honor, Hafeez says it’s important to block out time for more interactive plans with your friends to make sure your friendships are evolving.
“Attend a community festival together, a museum, or an outdoor activity like kayaking or hiking,” Hafeez says. “The key here is to give the friendship more substance than just passively drinking and consuming a film or show.” In doing something new, you’ll discover more about your friend. “All of a sudden, you are opening up the door to learning about your friend’s perspective on art, or a particular cause, or a new experience.”
Of course, wine night’s are fine if that’s all you have time for, but making a concerted effort to plan more quality time together, doing something that takes you out of your comfort zone will add new dimensions to a seasoned friendship in the best possible way.
While Hafeez offered varied suggestions for strengthening friendships, one theme prevails: shaking old or weak friendships awake. One of the best things about having long-term friends is the ability to be comfortable with them, but getting too comfortable can devalue the friendship. Make 2020 the year that you check in with your friends and breathe new life into your bonds by expressing your feelings, creating new memories, and showing appreciation.