Relationships

6 Ways To Strengthen Bonds With Friends and Family

It’s been a difficult year, and many of us haven’t seen our loved ones in quite some time. After so long, what’s the best way to reconnect? Here, experts share easy ways to melt the stress of being cooped up for months, and grow even closer to the family and friends you’ve loved and missed.

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Celebrate the silly.

Nothing says “family” like the shared quirks that make yours unique. Grow even closer by using your creativity to celebrate your tribe’s uncommon habits, says psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., author of Detox Your Thoughts (Buy from Amazon, $19) and the popular Washington Post advice column Ask Dr. Andrea. If, for example, your brood loves breakfast for dinner, consider having a pancake recipe contest. Or if a loved one is known for his eccentric socks, pick a day of the week where you all wear mismatched patterned socks. Celebrating the things that make your family yours fosters a sense of safety and belonging.

Share a good laugh.

Families that laugh together not only feel closer, they’re also more resilient. Just flex your funny bone in new ways. If, say, you share blessings as part of your dinner routine, consider shaking it up once a week and ask everyone to tell a joke instead. This shot of novelty is a powerful conversation starter — after all, few things bond us more quickly than a shared giggle.

Countdown to fun.

We’re all ticking off the days until we can see extended family again. Why not honor that anticipation with a kind of “Advent calendar”? Have your grandkids check off the boxes while you do the same where you are, and enjoy a small treat until the big day. According to expert Amir Levine, M.D., coauthor of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find and Keep Love, it’s these small moments that add up to larger feelings of closeness.

Start fresh.

When we haven’t seen our friends in a long time, it’s natural to experience a bit of awkwardness and even put our foot in our mouth, as excitement gets the better of us and we may accidentally bring up a sensitive subject. In this case, rather than try to brush past unease, just name what you’re feeling, suggests Bonior. For example, “I’m so embarrassed I said that” or “I’m sad that I made you feel bad.” Calling out your emotions shows your authenticity and lets you take ownership of what you said so that you can start fresh.

Tell your stories.

Listening to our friends deepens bonds, but you may be surprised that talking about yourself is just as vital, especially when it comes to old friendships, as studies show we tend to reveal fewer new things about ourselves over time. Just share details, like the new book you enjoyed, or how your grandkids loved showing off their new watercolors. It’s often the things we think aren’t worth mentioning that make others feel like they really know us.

Dream together.

“Talking about the future together is all about hope and potential,” observes psychiatrist Michelle Riba, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan and co-director of Michigan Workplace Mental Health Solutions. She says having shared goals lifts and inspires us. Indeed, making plans to, say, take that girlfriends’ trip you had to postpone a year ago ensures your relationship picks up where it left off.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.

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