> Spirituality > Personal Growth

Seven Ways to Strengthen Your Friendships

December 8, 2019 | by Judy Gruen

Good friends are essential for your emotional health.

Late last night, I was getting ready to watch my favorite show on Netflix when my phone rang.

“I’m sorry to call so late,” my friend apologized. “But I’m so upset about what happened at work today. Can you talk?” I spoke with “Lisa” for a half-hour, listening and looking for opportunities to rebuild her confidence, which had been rattled by unprofessional colleagues who treated her dismissively.

I couldn’t fix the work dynamics in Lisa’s office, but by the end of our talk my friend felt stronger and reassured. I felt better, too. It was gratifying to have offered a listening ear, as well as some advice gained from my longer experience in our shared career. Sharing, listening, and offering support: this is what friends are for.

I have made a few distraught late-night calls myself. A few years ago, my husband had to stay overnight in the hospital to undergo some tests. I was very anxious as I walked to my car in the dark, and pulled out my phone to call a friend who I knew was a night owl. I started crying when she picked up. She offered to come over, but just unburdening myself to her and listening to her reassuring voice got me through.

In Hebrew, two words are used for “friend.” One is chaver, from the root word chibur, or connection. The other, yadid, is spelled yad-yad, or “hand (in) hand.” I find this imagery profound and elegant, and true to my experiences.

I am blessed with my friendships, but many people don't have enough close friends. This sad trend was highlighted nearly twenty years ago, when researcher Robert Putnam published a groundbreaking book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The book demonstrated the disastrous results of our society’s increasing disconnection from family, friends, neighbors, and even involvement in civic life. Based on nearly a half-million interviews conducted over a twenty-five-year period, Putnam showed that Americans belonged to fewer organizations that meet in person, knew fewer of their neighbors, socialized less with family and friends, signed fewer petitions, and even bowled alone, as opposed to bowling in leagues. More alone-time translates into fewer friendships. Fewer friendships leads to unhealthy, even dangerous isolation.

Dr. Amir Levine, a psychiatrist and a neuroscientist and the author of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love, was recently quoted in a New York Times story on friendships, saying, “Social connections are the most powerful way for us to regulate our emotional distress. If you are in distress, being in proximity to someone you’re securely attached to is the most effective way to calm yourself.”

True friendships are important for us at every level. The Mayo Clinic notes that adults with a healthy social support system have lower rates of depression, high blood pressure, and obesity. Older adults with a rich social life often outlive their more solitary peers.

You can’t have fifteen best friends, let alone 150.

Yet many aspects of modern life conspire against friendships. The emphasis on self-promotion, and earning social media “likes” and “friends,” has seriously distorted our understanding of what friendship really means. No one has 150 real friends, let alone 5,000 of them. Yet when we are “unfriended” by someone else, perhaps for having stated an opposing view on politics or culture, we still may feel hurt or diminished. Hollywood also feeds us storylines featuring intensely self-sacrificing, “take-a-bullet-for-you” friendships that set up unrealistic expectations.

We also laud career and financial accomplishments, often at the expense of promoting community-building, family-building, and friendship-building. Even telecommuting, a wonderful gift for millions of workers, also reduces interpersonal connections and in-person camaraderie.

Elizabeth Shatzkin, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, has seen an increasing number of her patients bemoaning their lack of friendships. To help them, she advises that they begin by thinking about what friendship really means.

“It’s not about the numbers,” explains Shatzkin, who is also a Diplomate of the American Psychotherapy Association. “You can’t have fifteen best friends. A best friend is one. If you think you have fifteen best friends, you are probably not protecting appropriate boundaries about what you share. Friendship involves building trust, feeling safe and willing to be vulnerable. This builds relationship intimacy one step at a time.”

Shatzkin observes Shabbat and turns off her phone and computer for Shabbat; she has also recommended that her patients, regardless of religious affiliation, do the same for some part of the weekend. “Close the TV, computers, phones, and risk getting real with each other.”

Here are 7 ideas to build friendships that will enrich your life in many ways:

  1. Be proactive. Brand new friends won’t simply show up on your doorstep like an Amazon package delivery. Look for openings to upgrade an acquaintanceship into a friendship by inviting them to lunch or just coffee. Sign up for a class: dance, photography, singing, improv, or anything else that interests you, and where you’ll meet people who share your interests.

  2. Take a self-assessment of your friendship chops. If you want your friends to be consistent, responsive when you reach out to them, and good listeners, ask yourself how well you score in these same areas. People who excel in these interpersonal skills become highly valued friends.

  3. Establish trust. Close friends encourage one another to grow into who they can still become, without judging them for who they are now.

  4. Be there fully. When you are talking to a friend, or anyone else, for that matter, give them your full attention. That means not only having your phone on “silent,” but also out of sight. Try to clear your mind of whatever else is weighing it down. Give the gift of your full, undivided attention.

  5. Get involved in a faith community or another group with shared values. Studies consistently show that people who are part of faith communities are better off physically and emotionally. There are built-in support systems in communities, and those based on a shared value system also tend to emphasize giving over taking, a foundational mindset for friendships.

  6. Be respectful. You may think you have a great solution to your friend’s problem, but are they ready to hear it? Don’t charge forward with your “fixes” when all they may need or want is to be heard and understood. Otherwise, they will feel that you weren’t really listening to them in the first place.

  7. Add “make a new friend” to your goal-setting list. Many people make it a goal to find a professional mentor, but how often do people make it a goal to find a new friend, or enhance the friendships they already have? Few things in your life will be as significant or as important as nurturing your friendships.

In Ethics of Our Fathers, we are encouraged to “acquire a friend for yourself.” Few things in life pay bigger dividends.

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram