What makes a friendship strong? The six secrets

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Everyone wants to know the secret to forging strong friendships that stand the test of time. We are as a species, after all, wired for connection – and it has been scientifically proven time and time again that strong bonds aren’t just vital for our emotional wellbeing: they can actually prolong our lives, too. 

In our fast-paced and frenetic world, though, it can be hard to make time for friends. Which is why it’s so important to press pause sometimes. By taking a beat to forge the habits that keep social ties healthy, you’ll find scope to develop the kind of quality friendships that put life into vibrant multicolour – time and again. 

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What makes a friendship strong?

Strong friendships lift us up, inspire us, and buffer us when we need it most – and all it takes is trust, mutual respect, effective communication, support and empathy (as well as common interests, of course). These are the ultimate ingredients for a happy and successful friendship that will stand the test of time and enrich your life in countless ways. Here’s how to ensure you never find yourself (or your friendships) lacking.

The six secrets of strong friendships

There are six forces that fuel friendship and transform it into something truly meaningful. So, if you want to forge the sort of deep-rooted relationships that last the distance and hubbub of everything life throws at you, these are the insights to bookmark:

Growth over time

According to a study from social scientist Jeffrey Hall, it takes around 40-60 hours to move from mere acquaintances to casual friends, 80-100 hours to be friends, and over 200 hours to become truly close friends. Essentially, great friendships do not just happen overnight. Instead, they’re the result of time and effort, which means you need to consistently put the work in if you want them to flourish.

Attention and intention

Making friends in your 30s and beyond is hard – particularly when you’re balancing work, family, and endless other obligations. That’s why it’s so helpful to be intentional about how you spend your time and relate to others. This includes being more open to friendships developing where you least expect it, such as on a solo travel trip. Be the friend you want for yourself, take the initiative, and reach out and see if a potential new friend might want to catch up or spend some time together. Even if they say no, you’ll get into the habit of being brave by asking.

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Sharing a routine

Our lives are busier than ever, so it’s little wonder that people find it easier to maintain friendships if they build them into their personal routines. Whether it’s a weekly coffee date or walk, a monthly meet-up, or getting together to share your hobbies (a cooking or pottery class, perhaps, or an adrenaline-fuelled fitness class), there are plenty of ways to add a sense of routine to your friendships. It could even mean just setting up time for a phone call a couple of times a month with your long-distance pals.

The imaginative touch

Of course, you don’t have to follow the status quo when it comes to keeping friendships alive – especially if you’re one of those people who’s happy to go with the ebb and flow of life. From meeting up each week in a different co-working space to taking on regular challenges together, or planning a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, sharing unique and unforgettable experiences with your loved ones is a brilliant way to strengthen those all-valuable bonds.

Mutual respect and acceptance

When lift gets hectic, our friendships are often the first thing to suffer – not least because we might not have the time and energy to give our loved ones the attention they deserve. In times such as these, it helps to behave with empathy, grace, and acceptance – towards the friend who forgot to text or call, or toward yourself if you find yourself unable to keep up. 

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Remember: boundaries are important in friendship and you shouldn’t be a people pleaser, otherwise you risk putting other people’s needs before your own. Instead, be honest with your friends about your busy schedule, set up a group chat if you’re short on time (it’s a great way to keep in touch with a few friends at once), and perhaps plan something special to do together a few months down the line. Having something to look forward to together acts like a glue in keeping a friendship strong and thriving.

Trust, support and empathy

Our friends aren’t just our best cheerleaders and champions – they’re also the people we turn to in times of hardship, too. That’s why feelings of trust, support, and empathy are vital. Offer help when they’re feeling under the weather, ask them how they really are when you sense they’re struggling, or take the time to show up and be available for them when things get rough. To listen without judgement and to be their person is to show your people the true value that comes with the unconditional love and support of friends.

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How to build friendships

It was so easy when you were a kid: you went to school, or the playground, or the local leisure centre for the afternoon, and you came away with a brand new best friend. As we grow older, though, it can be harder to form friendships – but loneliness isn’t inevitable. In fact, there are plenty of practical ways we can go about building a dynamic that matters…

Accept the invitation and return the favour

While you should always take time to tune into your own needs, you can also bolster emerging friendships by giving them the opportunity to grow – and what easier way to do so than by saying yes to invitations? Whether it’s a quick lunchtime drink, an impromptu dinner, or even a hiking weekend, creating a sense of intimacy is best achieved by spending time together. Be sure to extend a few invitations of your own, too.

Be open

Talking to strangers might be a sentence that initially fills you with dread, but striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know can also be unexpectedly rewarding. So the next time you find yourself face-to-face with someone you’ve not met before, try chatting to them. Doing so will make you happier (according to science) and it could even signal the beginning of a beautiful friendship…

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Show interest

It’s far easier to create connections by being interested than interesting – which means giving your friends the space and opportunity to open up and talk when they need to. Pay attention to their non-verbal cues, their body language, and ask questions that show your desire to better understand what they have to say. Don’t be afraid to get vulnerable yourself, too: it’s the best way to promote open and honest communication, which is vital for forging strong friendships.

Small acts of kindness

You don’t have to rely on lavish and over-the-top gifts and gestures to strengthen your friendship: in fact, micro-acts of kindness – such as checking in with them, remembering significant dates, taking the time to celebrate their successes, or even making them a cup of tea just the way they like it – will actually make someone feel more loved than any expensive bouquet of flowers ever could.

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Schedule regular hangouts

According to researchers at The University of Oxford, we should be scheduling time for friends at least twice a week – which is easier said than done in our fast-paced online world. It’s useful, then, to book in regular meet-ups with the people you love most, from in-person wine dates to online Zoom catch-ups. Pop an amazing adventure in the calendar for once or twice a year, too – and if your friends are busy, do it anyway. You never know what amazing new would-be friends you might meet along the way.

Stay in touch

When all’s said and done, the number one thing you can do to strengthen your relationships is simple. Touch base with your friends whenever and wherever you can. And this doesn’t have to be anything major: in fact, some of our favourite advice from solo travellers about maintaining long-distance friendships is to book in some low stakes catch-ups. For example, the occasional video call, daily text messages, or pinging over a meme or two via social media. Wherever possible, it’s also a great idea to try and meet up with long-distance friends at least once a year – organise a trip,  or simply spend the day together.

It’s never too late to seek out new connections and adventures by expanding your social sphere. Join a group solo travel tour with Flash Pack to meet like-minded individuals and explore the world together.

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