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How to Be a Better Friend + Make New Ones: Experts Share 6 Ways to Boost Your Bonds

Here are heartfelt ways to deepen your connections

Friendship is a vital part of living a happy and healthy life, but maintaining friendships often becomes more difficult as we age. Keeping these essential bonds going can help to slash stress, boost resilience and improve our overall wellbeing — having likeminded folks to bond with not only makes us feel less alone, it also gives us a sense of purpose and joy. If you want to find out how to be a better friend, read on for smart, expert-approved ways to deepen the bonds that matter most. These tips will ensure that you and your friends stay close for years to come.

1. Nurture existing friendships

Know that friendship is love

On the hierarchy of relationships, our bonds with friends tend to take a back seat to the ties with have with our partner or husband. But to get more out of our friendships, we need to change that mindset, says Marisa G. Franco, PhD, psychologist and author of Platonic. “Romantic love has monopolized our conception of what love means — and that diminishes our imagination,” she says, adding that we need to open our minds to the truth that friendships can be every bit as meaningful.

Related: Feeling Unappreciated? Here’s How To Feel More Valued by Those Closest to You

Senior female friends

The next time a friend asks you for a favor, Dr. Franco recommends reflecting on whether you would do it for a romantic partner. When a friend asked Dr. Franco to pick her up at the airport at midnight, she did it exactly because of that. “Going out of your way for a friend is a clear way to deepen that relationship. What hurts them hurts us and what benefits them benefits us.”

Don’t be shy with your affection

Research shows we tend to underestimate how much our friends value our expressions of love and admiration. But simply telling your friend how much you mean to her goes a long way toward bringing you closer. “Try to be really intentional about it,” encourages Dr. Franco, recalling how she brought her best friend to tears (in the best way!) simply by thanking her for going through this crazy journey of life together and telling her: “I don’t know who I’d be without you.”

The number one thing both men and women look for in a friendship is “ego support,” says Dr. Franco. That means just letting your friends know that they matter and that we value them. It’s especially important to check in with our friends during peaks and valleys of life.

Related: Experts Share How To Forgive Someone and Give *Yourself* the Gift of Healing

Two women sitting at table and chatting

“When we experience a high emotion, we remember things better, so congratulating a friend for a recent success like nabbing a promotion will really stick with her,” explains Dr. Franco. The same can be said about the other side of that coin: “If your friend is going through a tough time, check in with her or bring her soup — it’s so important to be there for the highs and lows.”

Practice positivity, consistency and vulnerability

If there were a friendship formula, it would boil down to three keys: positivity, consistency and vulnerability, observes Shasta Nelson, social relationships expert and author of Frientimacy. She says every healthy relationship revolves around them, and encourages jotting down your friends’ names and asking yourself if one of these areas is lacking.

Related: How to Get Along With Your Adult Children: 6 Expert Tips That Will Boost Your Bond

“If it feels good when you talk to your friend, but you feel like you’re not doing it often enough, consistency may be the area you want to focus on by, say, putting a standing coffee or phone date on the calendar,” she says. “Or if you find that wish your conversations or interactions were more meaningful, that could mean vulnerability is lacking and you might consider asking her deeper questions or letting down your own guard and revealing something more about yourself.”

Two women laughing outside
PhotoAlto/Dinoco Greco/Getty

And if you find you simply want your friendship to be more enjoyable? “Positivity often scores the lowest in our relationships, so pay attention to increasing positive emotions by sharing verbal affirmations — you might say, ‘I so appreciate you called — it means so much to me; call me anytime.’ Being verbal like this is a really big deal; positivity makes people gravitate toward us and want to share their lives with us.”

2. Make new friends

Tap the familiarity effect

“Making new friends has less to do with where we meet them and much more to do with how often we meet — it’s about consistency,” says Nelson, adding that this makes sense because we’ll never feel close to someone until we’re able to foster familiarity with them. “The most important question you should ask yourself is, ‘Where am I willing to keep showing up?’”

Related: How to Comfort Someone Who’s Grieving or Sick: Experts Share Best Ways to Show Support

Start with your interests, whether that means volunteering, signing up for a book club or joining a religious organization. Just pinpointing the activities that you want to do more of will help create the regularity and consistency that ensures new friendships take root and flourish. 

Be the inviter

It sounds simple, but so few of us put ourselves out there and initiate new friendships — that’s why being the “inviter” is so important. “I have been the ‘new girl’ many times, and I’ve learned how important it is to extend yourself and then follow up,” says Julie Fisk, faith-based speaker and co-author of The One Year Daily Acts of Friendship devotional.

Related: How to Get Out of a Rut: 6 Expert Tricks That’ll Help You Feel Less Stuck and More Inspired

Three women outside with one shaking the other's hand

Fisk recalls how when she and her husband moved to a new neighborhood, they were the ones who made cookies and knocked on doors. “It’s so important to be brave and be the person who carries the mantel to invite others — I met two dear friends just because one day I invited them out to lunch.” Deep friendships, in other words, often start with small gestures.

Just let yourself listen

One of the fastest ways to transform an acquaintance into good friend is through an ancient artform: listening. “Rather than try to come up with a response, ask questions to stay in their story,” advises Fisk. “You might say, ‘What are you do you think you want to do about (X dilemma)? Or ‘Tell me more about that.’” We can’t always solve our friends’ problems — and they don’t always want us to. But we can be there for them and hear them.”

Read on for more about boosting your happiness:

Embrace JOMO — The Joy of Missing Out — to Take Your Happiness to The Next Level

The Swedish Secret to Better Sleep, a Healthier Heart and More Joy: Letting Yourself Off The Hook

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