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4 Reasons Best Friends Stick Together (or Come Apart)

What are your chances?

Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock
Source: Eugenio Marongiu/Shutterstock

As a parent of an adolescent, I know that my daughter’s best friend today may not be her best friend forever (BFF), or perhaps even tomorrow. As most of us look back over our lives, best friends have entered our lives, but they’ve also exited them. What determines if your best friend today will be your best friend forever? Here are 4 key factors:

1. Similarity.

A soon-to-be published study of adolescent friendships supports a well-known finding about interpersonal attraction best summarized by the old saying “birds of a feather flock together.” In the case of adolescents, what breaks up friendships are dissimilarities , such as differences in academic achievement or commitment. A general principle is that the more similar people are, the greater the attraction. This is clearly displayed in studies of romantic attraction and love, but it applies to all kinds of relationships.

2. Relationship Maintenance.

Friendships are like any other relationship: They require maintenance in order to survive. That means that friends need to see each other on a regular basis and spend quality time together. What determines how frequently best friends should see each other? That varies from person to person, and certainly from female-female to male-male BFFs—research has found that female friends tend to see each other more frequently than male-male friends. (See more on the differences between male and female friendships here. )

3. Relationship Balance.

Relationships involve giving and taking—providing social support to your BFF and getting support in return. Imbalanced relationships, in which one friend is always giving and the other always taking, are doomed to dissolve. It's important in a friendship to stop and take stock of the balance: Are you offering a lot to your friend and the relationship but getting little in return, or vice versa?

4. Conflict Resolution.

As in all relationships, conflicts will arise, but it is how you deal with conflicts that is important. Rather than taking an adversarial approach (a “win-lose” perspective), try to compromise (in which both parties give up something for the sake of resolving the conflict), or try to collaborate to reach a win-win solution. Avoiding or ignoring obvious conflicts, or delaying conflict resolution, are typically bad strategies if you want to keep a relationship together.

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