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If you're dealing with problems in your current friendships or feeling the need to expand your social circle, you might be in a friendship rut. These practical tips can help you fix your friendships.
1. Go somewhere new with your friends
You adore your pal but are bored (and broke) from sharing dinner and a movie every time you meet. What can you do? "It's great that the relationship itself is a good one; this doesn't have to be a stressful discussion," says Megan Sutherland, a therapist at Willow Tree Counselling in Vancouver. Suggest activities that you might like to try and ask your friend for ideas, "things they, or you, have always wanted to try, but are afraid to do alone, something interesting but just outside your emotional comfort zone," says Sutherland.
2. Call a pal instead of texting her
In our unrelenting digital world, it's still nice to get a phone call from a friend instead of a hasty text or email. Next time you have good news to share, or even just want to describe something that will take more than a few typed-out sentences, give your friend a shout on the phone. There's still something special about hearing a friend's voice, sharing laughs and confidences, and connecting in the back-and-forth of real conversation.
3. Meet someone new
You're settled with a busy job, kids, a spouse, a mortgage... and you haven't made a new friend in 10 years. Sutherland calls this the over-30 rut. "When we're young adults, we often find ourselves in situations and settings where it's easier to meet people," she says. "Friendship is also seen as a priority in our younger years, as we have fewer adult pressures on us." Then when we're in our 30s, our friendship networks are usually well-established, which can be a comfortable thing, but can also make it difficult to meet new people outside of those networks, she says. "It's particularly hard if you are establishing yourself somewhere new geographically."
Her advice? "Get out there as much as possible, choosing activities with an interactive component. A silent walking club may not be your best option!" she laughs. "A number of people find success with meetup.com, which offers information about a multitude of activities happening in your city."
4. Let go of your frustration in initiating communication
Are you always the one to get in touch, gather the troops and organize get-togethers?
This is a common frustration, says Sutherland, and whether you try to break out of this rut depends on how much it bothers you. Some people find it tiresome, but others don't mind.
"It really depends on how much you want this friendship to continue, how bothered (or not) you are by being an initiator, and if there is enough trust in your friendship for you to bring up this concern and trust that your friend will listen to your concerns," she says.
5. Allow your friends to help you when they offer
If you are going through a crisis or a life-changing event, friends often offer to help, and we reflexively tell them we don't need any. Good friends really do want to help, but don't want to be presumptuous or intrude.
When we're dealing with major life issues, we barely have the energy to start doling out responsibilities. In that case, just say that you could use a hand, though you just don't feel organized enough to figure out how. Lots of friends will offer up ideas, and if they don't, they're there for you when you come up with something.
6. Stop playing referee among your mutual friends
We've all been in the uncomfortable situation of one friend complaining about another. But you don't have to play referee. While you want to be empathetic, helpful and supportive, if it's stressing you out, find a way to end it respectfully. "Sometimes people will become very defensive at the hint of any perceived criticism," says Sutherland.
Use humour to deflect the beginning of a negative conversation when you feel it's about to start, or just be honest about how you feel. "Keeping the focus on how you feel, using ‘I statements' is always a better move," she says. For instance, you could simply start a conversation with "I feel caught in the middle of you and Sam," and take it from there.
7. Accept that friendships can come to a natural end
"Friendships have seasons and, in some cases, lifespans. This is often a natural thing," says Sutherland. "This is not the same scenario as a person who has had a conflict with a friend and no longer feels that there is anything left to say, therefore the relationship can't go on," she adds. "People change, evolve and sometimes this is in different directions. There is no right or wrong here. It just is."
Check out expert tips on how to make your friendships last despite your busy schedule.