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Love & Relationships

Make Your Friendships (Even) Stronger By Doing These 6 Things

It is actually the late and great Muhammad Ali who once said something that is super valid about friendship: “Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.”


Yeah, if you truly value what it means to have even just one true friend, you know that a big part of life consists of doing what you can to nurture and maintain that friendship — and honestly, that is a “class” that you will probably be in for the rest of your life because learning how to love well is something that you never fully “graduate” from.

My tribe? It took a lot of life lessons for me to get to the point and place where I know what they need from me, and I make sure that I don’t become — let’s go with the word “lethargic” when it comes to how I treat and honor them. Because my friends are spiritual, solid, and reliable, I make a consistent effort to do what I can to strengthen the bond. And, over the past few years, that has consisted of the following six things.

1. Plan Friend Dates

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Again, although it took me a while to figure out what a good friend looks and lives like, I am so happy to say that my circle is tight, and my understanding is now crystal clear. I think what finally shed the brightest light on it all was when my house basically blew up three days before Christmas. Nothing reveals who has you more than when you have basically nothing, and it’s inconvenient for others to take care of you in the midst of their own ish (check out “Life Taught Me That True Friendships Are 'Inconvenient'”). And now that I’m pretty “locked in for the long haul” with the peeps who I have in my world at this point and place in my life, I have learned that it’s important to “date” them.

I don’t mean random link-ups when both of us are bored; I mean that my friends and I have made the time to figure out what each of us enjoys, and then we will treat one another on a fairly consistent basis based on whatever those things happen to be. After all, isn’t a date about spending intentional quality time with another person in order to 1) learn more about them and 2) show them how much they mean to you? Why should a friendship be exempt from that type of experience?

For instance, although I’m not the biggest traveler, many of my friends are. What I am, though, is a "words of affirmation" person (check out “This Is How To Apply Love Languages To Your Friendships”). That said, a few months ago, one of my closest friends asked me to go on a road trip with her. The trip itself was kind of for her; however, at the event that we attended, she shouted me out for something that I had helped her to accomplish — and that was for me.

I know that girl loves me; she has proved it a billion times over at this point. Yet that “friend date” did bring us closer to each other in some ways because I made the sacrifice to go, and she was intentional about speaking my love language to me while I was there.

So yes, beyond just randomly getting together for drinks and/or dinner, actually get creative and thoughtful when planning an official friend date. It’s a meaningful way to let your friends know just how much you mean to them.

2. Express Gratitude Regularly

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A visual artist by the name of Alfred Painter once said, “Saying ‘thank you’ is more than good manners. It is good spirituality." Another wise person once said, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” An author by the name of G.B. Stern once said, “Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone.” With all of these quotes in mind, be honest — when’s the last time that you expressed real gratitude to your friends?

When did you tell one of them “thank you” for being readily available when you needed some quick advice and you knew they were busy? When have you mailed a Hallmark card that includes a couple of paragraphs about what another friend means to you? When have you made the time to tell someone else that you know you have taken them for granted lately, and you just want to take a moment to acknowledge how much you treasure them?

One of my friends is good at sending cards and/or flowers out of the blue. I adore that about her because it definitely makes me feel…hell, seen. On the flip, she’s a shoe person — BIG TIME. A place that is almost like crack for me is Etsy, and a couple of months ago, a pair of shoes kept on popping up in my feed. They weren’t my style or the cheapest, yet I knew she’d adore them, and so, instead of getting something that I wanted at the time, I copped her the heels instead. She was thrilled and hella grateful — and that confirmed even more that it was the right move to make.

Another friend of mine? I don’t know if anyone is more “quality time driven” than she is. One day, out of the blue, I asked what she was doing; she said nothing, and so we met up for brunch. Chile, I ended up not leaving her side of town until almost 8 p.m. I knew that was a possibility when I made the date, though. That was months ago, and she still talks about how much that meant to her. Making the time was worth it because it was important to her to have/get it.

I’m telling you, live on this planet long enough and you’ll realize that if you have even a couple of solid friends, you are beyond blessed. Also, if you live long enough, as Chris Rock’s character said in the movieI Think I Love My Wife, life isn’t really all that short; it’s actually kinda long (if you’re lucky). And so, just like a car needs fuel for a long journey, the friends who you want to keep long-term, they need your expression of gratitude. It’s how they feel recognized, appreciated, and truly loved by you.

3. Take Friendship Inventory (on Yourself)

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Any time the topic of relationships comes up and someone asks for some solid reading material, I’m almost always going to mention the bookSafe People: How to Find Relationships That Are Good for You and Avoid Those That Aren't (Cloud/Townsend). One of my favorite things about it is, that not only is it a quick read that helps you to understand who is safe in your life, but it also turns around and holds you accountable by helping you to understand if you, also, are a safe person to be around — because really, how can you be a good friend if you’re not a safe one?

To be safe is to be dependable. To be safe is to be trustworthy. To be safe means that being involved with you comes with very little risk of hurt or harm. To be safe means that you cherish others, you want to protect what you and others share within your friendships, and you will do whatever is necessary to keep them out of harm’s way (as far as you are concerned).

Y’all, please don’t get me started on how there is a huge difference between loving someone and them being a safe space for you. Growing up, I was surrounded by a lot of unsafe people, and honestly, in some ways, that caused me to be unsafe in some ways as well. These days, my friends are like, “You’re almost too damn safe” (LOL) because I’m very cautious in how I move and even disclosing who I am friends with. I have learned the hard way that who I consider to be my people, they need to feel sheltered, safeguarded, and secure in our relationship. Yours should, too.

So yes, if you want to be a better friend to your friends, at least a couple of times a year, ponder what it means to be a friend, ask your friends if you are providing them with what they need from you and, more than anything, ask your own self if you are being what it literally means to be “safe” in their lives. Friendships are too important to just assume that you are being what someone needs; taking inventory reminds you to ask.

4. Set and/or Reevaluate Boundaries. Twice a Year.

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When it comes to boundaries in relationships, Brené Brown once said, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” Adding to that, one of my favorite quotes on boundaries is, “If someone throws a fit because you set boundaries, it’s just more evidence that the boundary is needed.” Listen, at the end of the day, all boundaries are, are limits, and I don’t care how close you are to someone (even if you’re married to them or they are your children), you need to be prepared to state boundaries and respect boundaries.

Case in point. I’m not sure if it’s because I grew up in an entertainment industry home, I got my start as an entertainment journalist, I live in Music City, or all of the above, yet even though I was intentional about turning down certain opportunities to become “famous,” a good portion of my world has those types of people in it. Shoot, just due to their scheduling alone, we have to realign boundaries from time to time.

For instance, one of my closest friends on the planet, his schedule is so insane that, although we used to talk, hell, even more than once a day, in this season, we have to schedule a lunch hangout once or twice a month and maybe a text or two within the week. The boundary is I need to respect his mental and emotional bandwidth because there is so much that is currently on his plate. I need to remember that even though I have access to him in ways that many others do not, I don’t need to take advantage of that in any way. Make sense?

It's so sad and yet oh so true that a lot of friendships go through more bumps in the road than they should, and it’s all because 1) boundaries aren’t set; 2) boundaries aren’t clearly articulated, or 3) boundaries have changed and somebody has a problem with it.

Listen, it will save you a lot of unnecessary drama and completely avoidable stress if you learn to fully accept that love — all forms of love — comes with boundaries, and when you love someone, you’ve got to express love, in part, by respecting and honoring what their boundaries may be (as they do the same thing for you).

5. Forgive. Repent. Rinse and Repeat.

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Honestly, in my opinion, one of the most delusional, arrogant things that you can do is not forgive a person. From a biblical standpoint, forgiving someone puts you in the position to be forgiven by God (Matthew 6:14-15).From a health standpoint, forgiveness reduces stress and anxiety, improves the state of your mental health, boosts your immunity, gives you a stronger sense of self, and helps keep your heart strong.

From a relationship standpoint, it makes you a lot easier to get along with. Why? Because — at the end of the day, forgiving someone means that you are willing to pardon another person for their offenses because you are humble and self-aware enough to know that someday (probably sooner than you think) you’re going to need someone to forgive you. Yeah, only people who are egomaniacs believe that they won’t ever need forgiveness, and so they should withhold it from other people.

So, why do folks struggle with the concept of forgiving so much? I believe that it’s simply because of how poorly forgiveness has been taught. Releasing the pain, bitterness, and/or walls that have developed as the result of what someone has done to you doesn’t mean that you don’t provide consequences for the behavior (especially if the individuals are cyclic in their actions, show no remorse and/or prove to be toxic). However, if someone is truly your friend, you shouldn’t be hesitant, let alone afraid, to forgive them, because, at the end of the day, their track record with you has proven that whatever hurt or disappointment they caused you, it came from being human not from being malicious.

There have been some things that I have forgiven (which includes not bringing it up over and over again) and some things that I have been forgiven of — and yes, it has made my friendships stronger. Because when someone values what you bring into their life enough to pardon something that you did, how can that not make the connection between the two of you closer? You wanna strengthen your friendships? Definitely learn how to forgive…better.

6. Be Flexible

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I’m pretty sure that, at this point, we’re all super familiar with the saying, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.” And while there is a good amount of truth to that, I’ve watched enough relationships — good ones — go down in flames, and it really had nothing to do with the season being up. It was because one or both individuals weren’t very flexible with one another.

Example: say that you have a friend who you used to talk to all of the time. I mean, it could be noon or midnight; you both were on the phone for hours at a time. Then she gets into a serious relationship and you don’t chat it up as much as you used to. Then she gets engaged, and it’s even less. Flexibility processes all of this as, “My friend has other priorities now, which means that we need to find a new normal.” (And if your friend values you, they will do just that.) Inflexibility says, “I guess we’re not meant to be close friends anymore.” See the difference?

It really is beyond unrealistic to think that you can be friends with someone and that things are never going to change. The reality is, so long as both of you are growing and evolving, you’re going to have to get used to the needs within the relationship by doing the same. Flexible people adjust and keep their friendships as a direct result; inflexible folks tend to go from person to person with no real lasting friendships intact.

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A wise person once said, "True friends are great riches." When you get a moment, think about what your friends mean to you and what you can do to help strengthen your bond with them. Because if there is one investment that is always going to be worth your while, it’s pouring into your peeps — your true and always real friendships.

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