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3 Ways to Make Healthy, Sustainable Friendships as an Adult

Maintaining friendships as an adult can be tricky. Here's how to do it right.

Key points

  • As we navigate the complexities of adulthood, friendships become some of our most important relationships.
  • When we share positive news, we feel even happier when a friend’s responses are genuinely supportive.
  • When a friend makes an effort to maintain a friendship, we tend to experience higher levels of well-being.
Clarisse Meyer / Unsplash
Source: Clarisse Meyer / Unsplash

As we navigate the complexities of adulthood, friendships become some of the most important relationships we have in our lives. It’s important to choose friends carefully as these decisions can have long-term effects. Research shows that the quality of your friendships at age 30 can predict the level of well-being you experience at age 50.

A 2023 review paper published in Frontiers in Psychology examined the relationship between adult friendships and well-being and found that certain friendship qualities can significantly enhance your well-being. Here are three signs of a positive adult friendship, according to that review:

1. They Build You Up

Capitalization is the act of sharing and celebrating positive events or experiences. When friends attempt to capitalize on positive events in your life, it means they are actively engaging with you, expressing genuine happiness for your achievements, and participating in your joy.

Research shows that, when sharing positive news, we feel even happier when we perceive our friend’s responses to it as positive and genuinely supportive.

Capitalizing on positive events shows you that your friends care about your happiness and fosters a sense of connection and solidarity as you share in each other’s joys and triumphs. This allows friends to deepen their understanding of each other’s lives and create a safe and supportive space where both feel valued and appreciated.

For instance, if you share with a friend that you’ve received a promotion at work, a more neutral response would be “That’s nice! Congrats,” whereas a capitalization response may sound like “Congratulations! I’m so proud of you. You’ve worked incredibly hard for this, and it’s fantastic to see your efforts paying off. Let’s celebrate soon! I want to hear all the details.”

Research shows that friends also play an important role in meeting our psychological need to feel competent and capable. So, apart from acknowledging your own achievements, a friend who can build you up and recognize your strengths is vital to the levels of happiness and fulfillment you experience.

2. They Truly Support You

Researchers of the 2023 review suggest that friends can offer each other three distinct types of support that contribute to their well-being:

  • Instrumental support. This type of support involves practical assistance in times of need and taking action to address specific challenges or tasks, such as helping a friend move to a new apartment, assisting with childcare, or offering transportation to medical appointments.
  • Emotional support. Emotional support involves providing comfort, empathy, and understanding to a friend who is experiencing emotional distress. For instance, they may offer words of encouragement during a tough time, providing a safe space for the friend to express their emotions.
  • Autonomy support. Autonomy support involves respecting and encouraging a friend’s autonomy, independence, and self-determination. This type of support focuses on empowering the friend to make their own decisions and pursue their own goals rather than doing it for them. For instance, offering nonjudgmental advice without imposing your own preferences or values on the matter would be an instance of autonomy support.

Each type of support plays a valuable role in fostering healthy and fulfilling friendships by enhancing positive mood, meaning and purpose in life, resilience, and feelings of security.

3. They Put Effort Into Maintaining the Friendship

Researchers found that when a friend makes an effort to maintain your friendship, you tend to experience higher levels of well-being. This demonstrates their investment in the relationship and shows that they are willing to dedicate time, energy, and resources to nurture it. This fosters a sense of mutual care, commitment, and reliability, strengthening the foundation of the friendship.

Here are some signs that a friend is invested in your bond:

  • Regular communication. Your friend makes an effort to stay in touch regularly through texts, calls, emails, and/or social media messages. They initiate conversations, check in on how you’re doing, and share updates about their own life.
  • Initiating plans. Your friend takes the initiative to make plans to spend time together. They suggest activities, outings, or gatherings where you can catch up and enjoy each other’s company.
  • Active listening. During conversations, your friend actively listens to what you have to say, shows genuine interest in your thoughts and feelings, and offers support or advice when needed. They remember details about your life and follow up on previous discussions.
  • Showing flexibility. Your friend is flexible and adaptable when it comes to scheduling time together, understanding that life can be busy and unpredictable. They are willing to adjust plans, reschedule meetings, or find alternative ways to stay connected if necessary.
  • Expressing appreciation. Your friend expresses gratitude and appreciation for your friendship and cherishes you for your authentic self, acknowledging the value you bring to their life.

These signs indicate that your friend prioritizes your relationship. They demonstrate care, effort, and consideration contributing to the strength and longevity of your friendship.

Positive friendships are a key ingredient to a happier life, greater resilience, and overall well-being. It’s essential to nurture connections characterized by depth, mutual support, and a genuine desire for each other’s well-being.

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