6 Steps To Establishing Healthy, Long-Lasting Friendships

I once met a woman who wanted to grow in the area of her passion and asked for my guidance.

I recommended that she first contact her family and friends to let them know about her new commitment to her passion. (I had found that the support of family and friends was essential to my moving forward with my novel.)

But the woman replied that, for her, going to her “friends” for support was not an option. In fact, the entire idea of friendship just filled her with painful memories of past hurts, disappointments, and betrayals. The only person she felt she could truly trust and confide in was her husband.

Other than him, she said, she had no real friends.

I was taken aback by her response.

This had not been my experience with friendship.

When I announced to my friends that I was writing a novel, for instance, they immediately responded with their love and support. (It would have been incredibly challenging for me to have gone forward without their support.)

But this encounter finally made me realize just how blessed I was to have really great friends, and just how challenging it was for others to establish a similar type of friendship.

My Friendship Journey

Now, I wasn’t always good at establishing healthy friendships.

In High School I remember I had a group of friends who consistently put me down, made fun of me, and got their kicks from saying very mean things about people who were different from them.

I was friends with them for years because I was afraid no one else would be my friend if I left them.

But after several years, I just couldn’t stand being around them anymore. So, by the end of High School, I ended up leaving this group of friends and starting a relationship with the group of friends I have now.

What Is Friendship?

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn in High School was that a friendship shouldn’t make me feel bad about myself.

So, now that I know better, I would like to make it clear what a “friend” really means for those who struggle with friendship:

  • A friend does not put you down. A friend lifts you up.
  • A friend does not ignore your needs or your worries. A friend is sensitive and is willing to listen to you if you have an issue you want to address.
  • A friend does not try to thwart or sabotage your best efforts at achieving your happiness. A friend wants what is best for you, and is happy when you achieve it.
  • A friend does not try to control you or put you in a box just for their own personal comfort. A friend is open to grow with you as you grow, or at least tries their best to set you free.
  • A friend does not harm you physically, psychologically, emotionally, or verbally. THIS IS ABUSE, NOT FRIENDSHIP. On the other hand, a friend is your cheerleader who inspires you, reminds you of your best and brightest qualities, and encourages you to keep going forward.
  • Even though a friend supports you, a friend does not “suck up” to you. A friend gets real with you when your ego needs to be checked or when you have done something wrong and you may need to apologize or make amends for it.
  • (That said, a friend is humble and is willing to swallow their pride and apologize when they realize they have done something wrong.)
  • Friendship is also a journey. And part of that journey is learning what friendship means for you, and what your own rules and boundaries are when it comes to establishing a healthy friendship.

6 Steps To Establishing Healthy, Long-Lasting Friendships

Now that I know what healthy friendships are, I can share with you the steps it takes to establish a long-lasting friendship:

1. Leave Poisonous Friendships

Some people stay in unhealthy friendships for years just because this is all they know and they don’t want to lose that connection. But sometimes we have to sum up the courage to leave a friendship that may be poisonous to us in order find the type of friendships that will nourish our great potential.

2. Be Yourself

When you are yourself, you’ll attract people who are just like you. So go out and join clubs or organizations that you are passionate about. Attend events, or take classes that are of interest to you.

These places, events, and organizations are a fertile ground for you to discover future, long-lasting friendships.

3. Invest Time In The Friendship

This step may seem obvious, but due to today’s busy work schedules sometimes people can easily forget that friendships need to be a priority on par with work and romantic relationships.

You need to invest time in your friendship for it to grow strong. You can’t continually blow a friend off and expect them to be there when you’re ready to meet up with them.

You need to set a time aside for your friend often, and make them a priority in your life so that the friendship can thrive.

4. Expect That Your Friend Reciprocate Your Investment

Friendship is a two-way street.

If  you have tried your best to make the friendship happen and the other person has been M.I.A. for way too long, you might need to reconsider this friendship.

First of all, you want a friend who really wants to hang out with you. So if this person is not trying hard enough, you might want to question whether they really want you to be their friend.

If you’re having trouble with your friend’s lack of reciprocation, this is probably something you’ll need to discuss with them, which leads us to:

5. Communicate

This is possibly the most important step in establish a strong friendship.

I’ve noticed that when people refuse to follow this rule, the friendship will begin to break down.

Unfortunately, friendship isn’t all sunshine and rainbows: you must be willing to have the ugly, awkward conversations with friends in order for the friendship to survive through the challenging times.

Conflict is part of friendship.

You may find that talking about a thorny issue with a friend actually makes the both of you feel better afterward. When you communicate, instead of bottling up all that resentment, you express the emotions and so the conflict has trouble getting worse.

Often times it is uncovered that the conflict is not due to malice but simply to a misunderstanding or an unintended mistake.

So, if you’re upset with a friend, try talking to them first before you end it.

The simple act of communicating the issue might be the very thing that saves the friendship.

6. Change and Grow Together

The key to making a friendship “long-lasting’ is that you allow your friend to grow and change.

Not allowing a friend to grow is like telling a bud not to become a tree. Any attempt at forcing or controlling a plant will cause it to wither. The same thing will happen to a friendship.

But when you do accept your friend’s ever-evolving nature, and they accept your constant growth, you both allow that friendship to bloom and grow stronger.

The Truth About Friendship

One morning I was taking my regular jog around my neighborhood when a stray dog came up behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the dog was small, mangy, and black. At first I pushed myself forward, afraid the dog would try to bite me. But, to my surprise, instead of biting me the dog quickly ran up beside me with a smile on his face.

Suddenly, I was jogging on this path–a path that I usually take alone–but now I was accompanied by this dog I’d never seen before. That dog ran beside me for a good fifteen minutes or so until it ran off somewhere and disappeared.

That was the last time I saw of him.

Now, he may have left me in the end but, at the moment he was running beside me, that dog made me fee less alone.

In that moment that dog was a true friend. He didn’t want to bite me. He didn’t want to bark at me. He didn’t want a treat. He didn’t want me to throw him a bone. He didn’t want to jump out ahead of me, as if to beat me in a race. He didn’t want to fall right behind me, as if he depended on me to guide him to the next point.

No, he just wanted to be with me.

And I think that’s what true friendship is.

Friendship is an old, mangy dog who joins you on your morning jog simply because that’s what you’re doing, and it gives him great joy to share the ride.

much love,

Ollin

What do you think makes a good friend? What tips can you share on how to develop of healthy, long-lasting friendships that are supportive of your writing career? Please share you thoughts with us in the comments below!

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15 comments on “6 Steps To Establishing Healthy, Long-Lasting Friendships

  1. Wow. You’ve hit it. But that all high school kids could read your experience at their age. My daughter had a similar experience, but managed to leave her snarky group of friends for a better one and that made all the difference in her future. One of those brave moves. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Brenda says:

    i liked this post so much I copied it to keep it. I have successful relationships with my immediate family but have been unlucky in friendship. I must say that I live in a city that many complain about as being unfriendly. People open their garage door, drive in, and close it. People don’t usually know their neighbors. I grew up in smaller mid-western towns and did have friendships there. It feels that here people don’t possess the skill of knowing what it truly is to be a friend. I wish this entire city could read your post.

    I mostly end up being taken advantage of. As in I try to be there for them as a friend which they take full advantage of but they end up not being there for me. I have heard that “we teach people how to treat us” and so yes I take responsibility because I didn’t try to communicate and just let things go. Then things end up ending badly. But they also didn’t have proper friendship skills. I also think I didn’t have enough common interests with them. I like your idea of joining groups or clubs where you might meet people you can share things with. Thirty years of living someplace with no lasting friendships is pretty disappointing. I will keep this post in the back of my mind for the future.

    • Ollin says:

      I’m sorry to hear your city is not conducive to great friendships. Yes, maybe if you try joining groups or clubs of interest to you that may change. Good luck to you!

  3. I’ve always found that just being open is a big part of it; everything flows from there. One of my best friends I met when I caught his frisbee as I was walking by him on the way to class, and by unspoken agreement we took turns “missing” when pretty girls walked by.

    My other best friend from college is an archetypal tall/thin/pretty blonde girl, who pretty much everyone we’ve ever known has mistaken for my girlfriend at one point or another–and for the first three months after we met, we hated each other. That could be because I got her written up twice and almost arrested once during the first week we knew each other–but that’s immaterial. Anyway, my point is that really good friendships tend to grow out of unexpected places, and you should never close doors without taking a moment to actually look for what you have in common.

    • Ollin says:

      What an excellent point Connor. Yes, I’ve had many friendships develop unexpectedly: the people who I thought would be my friends at the beginning of college, for instance, didn’t turn out that way–and the friends that became my friends by the end were a surprise to me.

  4. Christina says:

    Hi Ollin:)) Thanks for another wonderful post!!

    Isn’t high school great?? I had the same experience you did, then changed friends.

    One of those friends is still my best friend even though we’re a continent apart, lost touch after school, then picked back up like ten years hadn’t gone by.

    I’m forwarding this post to him, to thank him for being a great friend.

    And dogs truly are humans’ best friend. Sadly, I think we’ve let them down.

  5. karenselliott says:

    In the true spirit of friendship, I’m going to share this post. Well done, Ollin

  6. Mara Rose says:

    Olin,

    Your comments on friendship are so helpful, I too will save them. I am in transition after a huge life challenge. During this time, I learned who was a genuine friend–and who was not.

    It takes a special kind of person and a deep commitment to stick with a friend who is going through hell. Not everyone is up for it.

    I also learned that I had “friends” who were in my life for the wrong reasons. I learned I was too “loyal” to people I needed to let go of because of old outdated patterns and the length of time invested.

    My best friends, no matter what, are my dog and my horse.

    • Ollin says:

      Hey Mara, thank you for sharing you thoughts. I love your definition of a friend and I am glad you were able to let go of friendships that were not helpful to you. Good luck to you going forward!

  7. This is a great post and great lesson — friendship is sometimes hard for me because I’m pretty introverted and traveled a lot as a child so had little continuity with people. But it’s such an important part of a rich whole life and I seek out friends more and more now. (However, I have certainly learned the hard way to cut out toxic people; that step and your others are so important!) I laughed at (but agree with) the mangy dog example. Too funny but too true! (I would also add that the friends I’ve made while blogging and on Twitter have been the best surprise I’ve had since I started blogging 6 months ago!)

  8. Excellent points ,Ollin about the fine art of discerning who a true friend is.It seems we usually have to learn the hard way as you have shown here with your high school experience when we feel everyone has to like us.Bullying seems to have gained momentum over the years so this is an important topic. I do hope your high school readers will take notice. I have found it to be so freeing to be able to choose who I share my space with and who I need to protect myself from. I also like your point about being open to new relationships. We all deserve a chance to be known for who we are.

  9. Jim Hamlett says:

    I read your guest post at Jane Friedman’s, so I stopped by for a visit and found this stunning post on friendship. I recently published my first novel, Moe, and the theme addressed this subject.

    When a couple of my friends made some bad choices, their families and lives fell apart. I felt guilty. Perhaps if I’d spent more time with them, I might have been able to “see” the trouble coming and helped them avoid it. Their tragedies became the impetus for the novel.

    Despite the hectic pace of life, I now try to spend more time with my friends. As you point out, it is a two-way street that requires work. But the rewards are worth the time. Many thanks.

    Jim Hamlett
    Author of Moe — “…woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Eccl. 4:10 ESV
    http://www.gracefulword.com

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