No man is an island (or woman for that matter).
Creating quality relationships is vital to our happiness. It’s how we find more meaning in life. And friendships are a big part of that.
Many friendships will come and go throughout our lives. A rare few will stick around.
But how do you keep a lifelong friendship?
Let’s take a look at 10 secrets of people who maintain lifelong friendships.
1) They strive for quality time over quantity
As we grow our lives change, priorities shift and we can drift apart
As we get careers, families of our own, and other big commitments, we may not have the same amount of time as we once did for our friendships.
It’s unrealistic to think that you can hang out as much when you’re 45 as you did when you were 15.
But the amount of time isn’t as near as significant as the quality of time.
The closest of friends often say that they have the ability to pick up where they left off, no matter how long it’s been since they last saw one another.
When they get together, they make it count.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s still not important to make time for each other. All relationships need nurturing.
Those that aren’t will quickly fall by the wayside.
2) They check in with one another
It takes two seconds to send but can make all the difference.
Often connections that don’t survive the test of time have just one thing against them:
One or both people in the friendship didn’t commit to keeping that connection alive.
Because it needs feeding.
Often we don’t lose touch because we no longer like someone or we outgrew them. It’s way more practical than that.
We simply stopped checking in. We no longer make that person a priority.
Life gets in the way, and before you know it, you haven’t spoken in years.
No matter how well you get on, or how close you are, if you don’t make an effort your friendship will die out.
It’s about finding ways that work for you. Whether that’s sending a text, writing emails, or even going old school by sending letters or cards in the mail.
Personally, I’ve found technology can be a wonderful tool. Especially as I now live in a different country to many of my oldest friends.
A one-hour Skype or Facetime drink is a great way to stay updated about what’s happening in each other’s lives.
3) They resolve disagreements and conflict
An inability to work through conflict has cost me a couple of close friendships in my time.
And I’ll be honest, some I very much regret.
It can feel easier to brush disagreement under the rug. It can be undeniably uncomfortable.
Many of us find it far easier to get past fights with family or partners than we do with friends.
But unfortunately, when ignored, these tensions have a habit of resurfacing after silently simmering away.
Just one bust-up can wreck many years of friendship if you’re not prepared to swallow your pride and find a way of resolving whatever went wrong.
People who maintain lifelong friendships don’t have a non-stop rosy connection.
They can still get annoyed at one another and they may argue. But importantly, they don’t let it stew.
Instead, they put their love and care for one another first and try to swiftly resolve discord when it arises.
Part of that also involves learning to forgive and forget, as well as not sweat the small stuff.
4) They overlook one another’s natural human flaws and have realistic expectations
A lot of the same secrets to a happy and successful romantic relationship apply equally to friendships.
If we want to create lasting friendships, we have to be realistic. Because we’re all human.
That means we are bound to mess up from time to time.
We will make mistakes, we will have bad days, and we will speak out of turn.
It’s a part of life. And as an old friend once said to me:
The moral of every story cannot be: ‘then I behaved appropriately and felt good about myself’.
If we cannot show compassion and kindness towards each other’s inevitable failings, the friendship is unlikely to last long.
Of course, that’s not a license to behave in shitty ways. It’s not to say a good friend is going to let you get away with anything.
But a good friendship that lasts a lifetime allows people to be themselves, and that will always mean accepting someone’s weaknesses along with their strengths.
5) They allow each other to be fully themselves
This next secret is about the power of authenticity.
Because lifelong friendships tend to feel unconditional, almost in the same way family does.
In order to show up with vulnerability we must feel safe to be ourselves.
Without vulnerability, it’s hard to ever truly know or trust one another.
That means lifelong friends don’t judge each other, they strive to accept one another. Even when they don’t get it.
They create a safe space for one another to be truly seen and heard for who they are.
They allow each other to always feel enough by refraining from judgment, offering support, and listening.
6) Their personalities may differ but their values are the same
The reality is that opposites don’t attract, either for romantic connections or friendships.
Research shows the overwhelming majority of us like people who are like us.
It makes sense. It can seem easier to find common ground.
But it’s also true that differences in personality alone don’t define whether you will get along.
What matters way more is that your values match up.
You may be a chatterbox whilst your bestie is super shy. You might even find these sorts of differences complement one another.
But mismatched values are never complementary.
They strike at the heart of what is most important to us.
People who maintain lifelong friendships have values and belief systems that match up.
7) They don’t take each other for granted and value what they have
I bang on a lot about gratitude.
But for good reason.
Because it’s a bit of a magic tonic in life. It has been scientifically proven to bring with it a whole host of benefits.
Thankful people are happier and healthier. They experience more positive emotions and less stress.
And significantly, they also enjoy stronger relationships.
Basically, research has highlighted how expressing gratitude releases oxytocin (aka the “love hormone”) which builds a greater connection and bond between two people.
When we take the time to truly appreciate our friendships it does two important things:
- Helps us reflect on how lucky we are so that we can feel appreciation for how a friend enriches our life
- Allows that friend to feel appreciated and valued
People who maintain lifelong friendships don’t take one another for granted.
They let each other know how important they are. And they show them how thankful they feel.
8) They grow together instead of growing apart
My sister has been with her partner for almost 30 years, and they met when they were just 16 years old.
At their wedding, her best friend remarked about the couple:
“In a world where many people grow apart, it’s incredible to see two people who have grown, yet together”.
I think the same can be said for lifelong friendships too.
Because it’s inevitable that over the years you will change. Nobody stays the same.
Some of those changes can be quite sweeping. We can shift our outlook, our priorities and even our personalities.
It’s all part of the evolution of life.
But lifelong friends are adaptable.
They don’t seek to punish each other for not staying the same. They encourage growth in one another, rather than stifle it.
9) They confide in each other
Yesterday, I had a picnic with a friend.
She told me how she’s been making more of a conscious effort to network, mingle and meet new people.
After explaining how she’s always felt pretty awkward about putting herself out there throughout her life, she shared with me how she suddenly had an epiphany:
“Connection is a choice.”
She is 100% right. And the exact same thing goes for intimacy too.
Although it can feel scary to show vulnerability, these key ingredients for making healthy relationships and friendships are ultimately down to us.
Lifelong friendships choose intimacy and connection.
They make conscious efforts to share and confide in one another.
They don’t stick to polite chit-chat; they dig deeper and decide to open up.
10) They aren’t afraid to let go of friendships that have run their course
It’s a sad fact of life that certain connections have a natural expiry date.
When I was a kid, my dad had an (arguably quite cruel) rule about stuffed animals and toys.
For every new one we bought, we had to throw one away.
Harsh, I know!
Whilst I suspect this was more about space and clutter management, perhaps it’s also a powerful life lesson.
Research shows that we only have room for a certain number of close connections in our lives.
The more we cram in, the more the quality suffers.
Imagine if we continued to collect friendships throughout life (like stuffed animals and toys) and never let any go.
We would have cluttered lives, and our friendships would be put under strain.
Not all connections can last. We will change and no longer align with some people.
It’s not anyone’s fault, it can just happen.
Knowing which friends to let go of and which to prioritize is actually an important part of maintaining lifelong friendships.