How to Keep Adult Friendships

Your friends help you live a healthier, happier life.

Healthy friendships are linked to good things like lower stress, a positive sense of well-being, improved memory, better heart health, and a longer life.

“Friendships affect our mood, sense of security, life experiences, and health,” says Mac Stanley Cazeau, LMHC, a couples therapist in New York City.

As you get older, you may find that you have less time to nurture friendships. Work, family, and other responsibilities can get in the way. But it’s a priority that’s worthwhile, Cazeau says. “Whether that’s meeting for lunch, responding to texts in a timely fashion, or scheduling a Zoom happy hour, it’s important to set aside time to connect with one another,” he says.

Quality Over Quantity

It’s not about how many friends you have; it’s about the quality of those friendships. Being with people who love and support you helps you live a healthy, happy life.

“As I get older, I definitely subscribe to quality over quantity, devoting my time to the friends that really matter and have the same values,” says Rachel Koller Croft, a 35-year-old writer in Los Angeles. “Time is precious, and I’d rather spend it with the friends that bring out the best in me, make the effort to stay in touch, and are supportive of me.”

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Try these tips to stay connected:

Check in. Even if you’re busy with work and family, take a short break to check in on a friend. It doesn’t have to be a long talk. Simply asking “how are you?” shows that you’re thinking of them.

Schedule a gathering. Set aside time for a weekly or monthly meetup. Go to lunch or dinner. Plan a video call. Catch up on what’s happening in your lives to reconnect and keep your bond strong.

Plan a trip. “I love picking an Airbnb and inviting friends from different parts of my life,” says Sheila McCrink, a 36-year-old public relations professional in Carlsbad, CA. “With my closest group of friends, we do a yearly reunion trip where we can let loose, laugh hysterically, and get some much-needed time together.”

The trip gives everyone something to look forward to and keeps their friendship strong, even though their lives are busy.

How to Be a Good Friend

To keep your relationships strong and healthy, be a good friend. Healthy friendships are reciprocal, with plenty of give-and-take. “Be as good to your friends as you want them to be to you,” Cazeau says.

Try these tips to nurture your friendship:

Be a safe space. Give your friend the freedom to express themselves. “Being a safe space where your friend can share and vent without any judgment can be vital to their mental health,” Cazeau says. Try not to jump in with solutions to their problems. Your friend may simply want to talk about something that’s on their mind.

Be present. Make the time you spend together count. Put away your cell phone. Avoid distractions. Ask questions, and be an active listener. Engage in the conversation. Use good eye contact.

Be kind. Small acts of kindness add up. Tell your friend how much they mean to you, Cazeau says. Celebrate their wins. Remember their birthday with a card or a gift. Try to avoid criticism and negativity, which can pull a friendship down.

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Open up. Sharing feelings and experiences brings friends closer by creating intimacy. Show your friend that you trust them by talking freely about what you think and how you feel. This can make your connection deeper.

Be reliable. When your friend knows that they can count on you, it keeps your relationship strong. If you flake out on plans or don’t keep their secrets, it will suffer. Show up on time when you have plans. Do what you say you’ll do. And keep confidential information to yourself.

Curb competitive feelings. “Try not to compare yourself to your friends,” McCrink advises. “This can be really tough, but it’s poisonous to friendships.”

In her 20s, when many of McCrink’s friends got married, she started to feel uncomfortable about being single. “It consumed me to the point where I rushed into a marriage that wasn’t right for me,” she says.

Instead of making comparisons, be your friend’s cheerleader. “Embrace where you are in your own journey and lift your friends up to keep the relationships strong,” McCrink says.

Casual or Long-Distance Friendships

You can nurture all the different kinds of friendships in your life:

Work friends. Try growing friendships at work by greeting people in a friendly way, supporting co-workers, and going to lunch or happy hour together.

Casual acquaintances. Even if you don’t know them well, ask an acquaintance how they’re doing. Congratulate them on their accomplishments. Send a quick text or message. “Social media is perfect for this,” Croft said. Leave a comment or send a direct message to set a starting point for a friendship.

Longtime friends you don’t see often. “Try reaching out more often,” Cazeau says. Plan a call or a visit to catch up. Reminisce about the old days. Talk about what matters to them and to you.

When Things Go Bad

Sometimes, friendships hit a bump in the road. If things go bad and you had a role in it, take responsibility for what you did and apologize, Cazeau says. An open conversation can get you back on track with a solid friendship.

“If you have no desire to rekindle the friendship, take the time and steps to grieve your friendship, and then move on,” Cazeau says.

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