The great things about friendship is its an all volunteer relationship. Your friends are your friends for no other reason than they want to be. They are not obligated by work requirements, family connections, or any other bond. The relationship exists for no other reason than mutual affection.
The voluntary nature of friendship is one of the characteristics that make our friends special to us. In true friendships, there are no ulterior motives. However, this voluntary nature can also make friendships fragile. Even the closest friendships have boundaries, or should have, and once those boundaries are crossed too many times, the friendship may dissolve. Thus, while its voluntary nature makes friendship a special kind of relationship, it also requires that friendships be carefully nurtured and grown.
The care and nurturing of friendships: 2 basic concepts
1. Look at the way you bid for connection with your friends. You may remember that I talked about bids in relationships in my two part serious on Building better relationships. The bid is the fundamental building block of relationships. Bids are effectively attempts to form connections, or bonds, between people who are in relationships. They come in many different forms, some more easily recognizable than others.
The best way to deepen and grow your friendships is to become aware of the ways you give and receive bids from your friends. As a rule, the more we bid and accept bids from our friends, the deeper and better our friendships are. So, pay attention to the bidding that is going on in your friendships, and make real efforts to turn towards them as often as possible.
Some examples of bids are:
• Attempts to engage in conversation.
• Invitations do get together.
• Offers of gifts.
• Complaints – yes, complaints. Oddly enough, if a friend complains, he or she is seeking to connect in a way to discuss a problem they are having. The way you respond to this bid can have significant impact on the friendship.
• Requests for advice, or help.
Bids come in many forms, and it would be impossible to list all types. As a rule, any time a friend seeks your attention or seeks to connect in some way, consider it a bid.
2. Build the emotional bank account. Like any relationship, friendships have their ups and their downs. We are all human, and humans occasionally have disagreements, and sometimes fall out with one another. In a healthy friendship, these ruptures are short lived. In not so healthy friendships they can be permanent, and the friendship may end. The scary part is that disagreements can be over the smallest of things, particularly if one or both friends are having bad days.
So, what is the difference between a temporary rupture and a friendship ending one? In simple terms, it is the amount of goodwill that exists within the relationship before the rupture. One way to think about goodwill in friendships is to imagine that it exists in an emotional bank account. As friendships progress we make deposits of goodwill into the account, and sometimes we make withdrawals. The more goodwill that is in the account, the more we will be able to withdraw without closing it.
The way we make deposits into the emotional bank account is related to the bidding discussed in the first point. By regularly making bids for connection, and responding well to bids from our friends, we make deposits in the account. When we fail to make bids, or regularly turn away from the bids of our friends, we make withdraws. If we make more withdraws than deposits, then we eventually become overdrawn and the account may be closed.
Some ways to build the emotional bank account are:
• Show concern for your friends. Ask “How are you?” in a sincere way. Be available to talk about problems your friends may be having, or share in their successes.
• Offer spontaneous suggestions to go out or get together. Don’t be offended if your friends cannot make it, though. The offer itself shows tou are interested in building the relationship.
• Accept spontaneous offers to get together whenever you can. When you can’t accept, don’t feel bad, but offer an explanation and suggest an alternative time or plan.
• Be ready to give advice to friends, but only when they ask for it. As a rule, don’t offer advice without permission.
• Be ready to accept advice, and even criticism, from your friends without becoming defensive. Always assume a positive motive unless you have reason to assume otherwise.
• Get to know your friends. This may sound like odd advice, but learning about their past, their dreams for the future, the challenges they face in the present, their family history, etc. shows that you are interested. Ask questions, but not in an overbearing way.
• Find mutual interests and grow them.
• Show an interest in your friend’s family.
• Be active and present in the relationship. Make an effort.
These are just a few ways to deposit goodwill into the emotional bank account. Always look for others, and when the inevitable disagreement comes, the account will be healthy enough to withstand it.
Friendships can be both rewarding and complex. The most fundamental rule to building great friendships is to never take the relationship for granted. Friendships, like all relationships, take time and effort to grow and nurture. But in a good friendship, that time and effort does not really seem like work, and the payoffs of having a great friend are beyond measure.