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Six Ways to Strengthen Your Best Friendships

Expert ideas to connect with the people you most want to spend time with.

In all my work centered around friendship, the discussion often focuses on avoiding pitfalls, handling dilemmas, fixing damaged relationships, and getting over a split. These are all extremely important parts of the story. But sometimes, the issue is not one of getting past a bad friendship, but strengthening a good one. Do you have solid friendships with people you'd love to spend more time with? Following are six ways to make it happen:

  1. Embrace the little things. It's easy to forget that strong relationships are not made in giant, sweeping, strokes, but in the continuity of little connections and kindnesses. Taking six minutes to pick up your friend’s favorite candy when she’s feeling low, bringing him soup—even if it's not homemade—when he's down with the flu, writing a note on beautiful stationery or sending a novelty postcard just because it's Tuesday, are all simple things that bring a spark to someone’s day—and to your own as well.
  2. Road trip. Even if it's not far, a simple getaway can bring a new level of connection to a friendship. Spending just one night at a fun hotel in a nearby but unexplored city can be the perfect change of pace that helps you strengthen the foundation of your friendship. Time away from the day-to-day will help you feel more relaxed, and the anticipation of the trip—and the memories you'll carry afterward—give the experience additional meaning and value.
  3. Take on new experiences. A long-term, good-enough friendship can sometimes take on the air of an in-a-rut marriage, with both of you needing a shot of adrenaline. Starting a new activity together—even just to laugh at yourselves while doing it—or taking a class in something you've always been interested in (a day of trapeze lessons or wine tasting, anyone?) can deliver a jolt of novelty and the shared motivation of learning something new.
  4. Get healthier together. Making the commitment to stop smoking, take power walks together, meditate, or sign up for Crossfit can have both physical and emotional benefits. Being in the same boat as you endure the highs and lows of the effort can help solidify your commitment toward each other as well. Added bonus: The social support, accountability, and "contagion" effects will make each of you more likely to reach your goals.
  5. Take feedback. Really. Try not to write off your friend’s honest complaints—or raves—about you just because they’re uncomfortable to listen to. All too often in a friendship, people give each other signals about what's really going right (or wrong), but they go unheeded or glossed over in favor of easier, more surface topics. Instead, use feedback as an opportunity to fine-tune your relationship. Listen for your friend's hints—the more that you're able to understand his or her thoughts and feelings and take his or her perspective, the better a friend you can be, and the more personalized your relationship can become.
  6. Reveal something that makes you vulnerable. Often, the strongest glue between two people is the trust that develops after one or both shares something about their fears, flaws, or insecurities. Think of the people who know you best and to whom you feel closest. Chances are, they're privy to aspects of yourself that you wouldn't exactly shout from the rooftops (or on Facebook.) If you've got someone good in your life, let them get a little closer to the real you, even if it pushes you out of your comfort zone a bit.

Copyright Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. Adapted from The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends.

I am a licensed clinical psychologist, media commentator, professor, and author of the upcoming book Psychology: Essential Thinkers, Classic Theories, and How They Inform Your World, and The Friendship Fix and the Washington Post Express's longtime advice column Baggage Check.

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