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How to Keep Your Friends

jacketMost adult friendships end not with a bang, but with a whimper.  They peter out through unreturned messages or promises that “we’ll get together soon.”  And sometimes that’s because the relationships have simply run their course.  But sometimes, it’s a sign that we haven’t been attending to them.  People might not come out and say they’re feeling neglected, or that their feelings are hurt; they might just disappear from your life.

All relationships require care.  The common comparison to plants is apt: Relationships, too, need their own version of sun, water, and food.

So how do you keep your friends?1)  Make your friends feel valued.

Even if you don’t have time to call, text, or e-mail very often, when you do, make it count.  Say things that are specifically meaningful to that person.  No one likes generic.

2)  Be spontaneous, or be planned.  But be in contact.

Some people like to connect when they find they have the time, while others like to schedule their in-person dates or even their phone calls.  But you don’t want to assume that what works for you is what works for the other person.  Figure out a system that works and allows you to feel connected to your friend, and for your friend to feel the same connection.

Recently, a friend of mine confessed that our system was not working for her.  I hadn’t realized that while I dash off my e-mails in just a few minutes, hers were painstaking and time-consuming.  We were able to figure out an alternative, and I have to step up my phone calls (scheduled and even–gasp–spontaneous.)

3)  Be thoughtful.

When Facebook says your friend’s birthday is coming up, acknowledge it.  If you know your friend is struggling, increase your contact (by whatever means works for your schedule.  Remember the olden days, when we didn’t have such a plethora of ways to stay in touch?)

Of course, the flip side of that is that people can have high expectations that we’re supposed to always be able to stay in touch.  Which leads to my next item…

4)  Manage expectations.

If you know your next few weeks are incredibly busy, express that, while still making it clear that the other person matters to you (see #1.)

5)  Perhaps most importantly, sync up your expectations.

Too often in a friendship, we assume that the other person can intuit what we’re feeling, and that they would (or do) feel similarly.  Therefore, we don’t have explicit conversations about what it is we expect in the friendship, and whether those expectations are being met or thwarted.  That can lead to lots of hurt feelings, and the assumption that the other person simply doesn’t care or is too self-involved to continue the friendship.

Checking in with your friends can make all the difference between whether you lose them, or keep them for life.

Men friends image available from Shutterstock.,

How to Keep Your Friends

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2013). How to Keep Your Friends. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Nov 2013
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