To find out more we turned to Dr. John Townsend, a clinical psychologist and author of How To Be a Best Friend Forever: Making and Keeping Lifetime Relationships (Worthy Publishing, 2011). "Just like your home needs maintenance, so do your friendships," he says. "They suffer from lack of care and upkeep. Keep putting energy and time into them, and you will reap the benefits." Here Townsend shares five strategies for improving your bonds with your friends.
1. Make a self-assessment
The first step toward becoming a better friend is to look inside and assess how you have been doing so far in your relationships with others. "Think what it would be like if you were your own best friend, and give yourself a report card on how you're doing as a friend," Townsend suggests.
It might seem strange to rate your friendship ability, but doing so can make a big difference in how you interact with others and can help improve the strength of your relationships. "When we look at ourselves from the outside, it helps us become more loving and caring," he explains.
2. Be supportive
Being a good friend means more than just accepting invitations to go shopping, meet for drinks or have brunch on the weekend. Those are perks to having a social circle and they're fun ways to spend a few hours, but friendship means being there when things are good -- and also when they're not.
Townsend advises putting in the effort to be there for your friends in an unconditional way, whether they're doing well or not, and especially if they're struggling or in need. "If we are there for each other, then we are providing the fuel that a good relationship needs," says Townsend.
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3. Be honest
No matter what type of relationship you're dealing with, honesty is always the best policy. It might be tempting to gloss over the truth or keep certain feelings to yourself, but doing so can only harm a friendship. "Be honest with your friend, even if it's uncomfortable," says Townsend. This is especially important when you can see that someone is about to make a mistake. "You don't want your friend to make a choice that will hurt her, so you must be honest," he explains.
4. Be accepting
No one is perfect. We all have quirks, make ill-informed choices or act in ways we later regret. A good friend knows this and doesn't turn away when a difficult situation arises. "Accept your friend's failings, even if they're hard for you to hear about," says Townsend.
It might be difficult, but if you truly want to be there for someone, you need to accept all of them, not just the parts you like. "When you can accept your friend's dark side -- even if you don't agree with it -- you help her to move past it," he says. Ignoring an issue won't make it go away, and being a good friend means doing what you can to help someone going through a rough time.
5. Ask where you can improve
The simplest, most direct route to becoming a better friend is to ask how you're doing and how you might be able to improve, says Townsend. "Ask your friend how you can do better as a friend," he advises. It may seem unconventional, but verbal communication is the best way to keep all relationships running smoothly. "Your friend should have a say in your impact on her," he says. It's much easier to be a better friend if you know exactly what you can do better and how you can enhance the relationship.
Every relationship requires a certain amount of effort to maintain. It might feel like you don't have time to put more work into your friendships, but being a better friend isn't hard. It just takes a few small changes and a willingness to be more honest with and supportive of the people you love.
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