Friendship is vital to a person's physical and emotional health, but it's easy to let relationships fade, Anna Goldfarb writes for the New York Times.
According to Goldfarb, research has shown that friendships boost a person's immune system, increase longevity, decrease the chances of developing certain chronic diseases, and help people deal with chronic pain. But around 42.6 million people in the United States over the age of 45 suffer from chronic loneliness, according to research from AARP—and that means their risk of premature death is significantly higher. "In terms of mortality, loneliness is a killer," said Andrea Bonior, a doctor and author of "The Friendship Fix." She explained that people "think of it as a luxury rather than the fact that it can actually add years to their life."
So how do you keep your friendships from fading away? Goldfarb highlights a few tips from the experts:
- Communicate your expectations. According to Miriam Kirmayer, a therapist and friendship researcher, you can stave off misunderstandings by proactively communicating with friends about when you'll be particularly busy, the best way to get in touch with you, and when you expect your schedule to ease up. "If there are certain days or weeks where you are going to be less available, giving your friend a heads up can go a long way toward minimizing … conflicts where somebody feels left out or like they're being ignored," she said.
- And if you're busy, be specific. According to Shasta Nelson, the author of "Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness," telling a friend you're "too busy" is a good instinct—but it's not enough. "When we hear somebody say, 'I'm too busy,' we don't actually know if that is true for just their lives at this time, or if that's their way of not really valuing us or wanting to spend time with us," she said. To avoid those miscommunications, Goldfarb writes you should share specific details regarding your schedule and offer a counter proposal, such as a Skype date.
- Assess your time. If you constantly feel too busy to spend time with friends, it might be time to re-examine how you prioritize your time, according to Bonior and Carlin Flora, author of "Friendfluence: The Surprising Way Friends Make Us Who We Are." As Flora put it, "If you can find the time to binge-watch TV shows and check Facebook a million times a day, you can make time for your friends."
- Invest in small gestures. You don't need a big display of friendship to keep up a relationship—rather, aim for small, personalized interactions that invite dialogue, Kirmayer recommended. "So remembering obviously big life events—things like birthdays are a given—but also maybe smaller things like: They had a doctor's appointment coming up or you know they were going to have a stressful day at work and kind of checking in to see how it went," Kirmayer said.
- Create a routine. Take the guesswork out of scheduling time together by establishing a routine, Flora and Kirmayer said—whether that be a once-a-year holiday together or shared, day-to-day errands. "The more things you can do together, potentially the more often you'll be able to see each other," Kirmayer said. "These repeated interactions are so important for keeping a friendship going."
- Make sure you're there when it's important. "Another way to cement longstanding friendships when things are hectic is to go out of your way to attend any milestone events," Goldfarb writes. As Flora put it, "Once in a while, do a big gesture to those friends who you really, really care about and then that will kind of power the friendship for a while, even if you're too busy to see each other."
- Acknowledge when an effort is made. According to Goldfarb, the efforts made in a friendship might not always be equal, but it's important to be mindful of the effort your friends are making. "If one person is consistently or chronically putting in more effort, issues can come up," Kirmayer said. "Let your friend know that it means so much to you that they're checking in so often and that you really appreciate it" (Goldfarb, New York Times, 1/18).
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