5 Ways To Improve Your Friendships in 2010

Published: January 3, 2010 | Last Updated: January 3, 2010 By | 10 Replies Continue Reading

Whether it’s the occasion of a birthday or an anniversary, or the passing of another year or of another decade, it’s human nature to periodically take stock of things. Turning the page on the calendar means looking back and looking forward, which often brings into bold relief those aspects of our lives where we think we’ve fallen short and want to do better. Most people (and resolutions) focus on health, finances, family and career—but our friendships also warrant some thought and close examination.


Here are 5 suggested ways to go about it:


1) Take stock of your inventory and rid yourself of any excess

No one relishes having a cluttered closet or overstuffed chest of drawers filled with so much "stuff" that they don’t know what they have or can’t access what they need. It can be as daunting as facing an empty closet or one with clothes that don’t fit. Similarly, having too many friends (even good ones) or too many questionable friendships (Think: frenemies) can be a distraction that weighs someone down.

So, to start, I would suggest that you spend some time this week, perhaps a half-hour, assessing which of your friendships are true ones and decide to make them a priority. It might even help to make a list on paper. Because time is so finite, the trick to living a good life is skillfully balancing your family, career, friendships and private time so that it meets your own goals and desires. Consign the less rewarding friendships to a top shelf in your virtual closet where you don’t often go and keep the treasured ones in view where they can be enjoyed and nurtured.


2) Examine whether you’ve been spending your time and energy with emotional vampires

Do you have a roster of toxic friends or frenemies in your life? (Caution: Having just one of them may be too much.) Do you have close relationships that are filled with ambivalence and hostility and that seem to drain your energy and leave you feeling stressed? Do some of your relationships feel one-sided and simply take too much work? Is your friend judgmental or competitive, by nature?

While most research on friendship and health focuses on the positive relationship between the two, some relationships are simply too stressful to be rewarding. One study (see reference below) suggests that the stress of unpredictable, ambivalent, love-hate relationships can lead to elevations in blood pressure. According to the researchers, a relationship with a friend who is "unreliable, competitive, critical or frustrating" would fall into this category .

In her final column in the Washington Post, columnist Ellen Goodman wrote about the importance of "letting go," reiterating thoughts she had written some 30 years earlier: "There’s a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over — and to let go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance in our lives…It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving on rather than out."

Are you only hanging on to one or more friendships only because of your reluctance to let go of a shared history? Perhaps, you need to let go.


3) After you look carefully at your friendships, entertain the possibility that even with the friends you have, you may be lonely

Like our lives, friendships are dynamic and change over time. The friend you made in high school, the mom-friend you made when your children played together, or the woman you shared an office with may have little in common with you now. Each time we grow or make situational changes in our lives, it impinges upon our friendships. That’s why we need to be open to making friends at every age and stage of our lives-whether at work, at school, or in your neighborhood.

It’s easiest to form friendships with people with whom who have something in common. If you don’t come into contact with many people (perhaps you’re a new mother, in middle-age sandwiched between caregiving responsibilities, or have just moved to a new town where you don’t know anyone), create opportunities to meet friends by pursuing your own interests (creative, athletic, political, spiritual). Join a gym, a book club, or a meetup group.


4) Make sure you have at least one "best friend"

It’s far easier to acquire hundreds of Facebook "friends" and scores of Twitter followers than it is to develop a sense of intimacy and caring with a far more limited number of people that you would consider "best friends." Each of us needs at least one close friend with whom we feel open and trusting enough to bare our true selves; more than one is even better. These intimate relationships help affirm whom we are and whom we want to become.

Initially, two people "click" and feel comfortable together but a close friendship builds over time. There are no guarantees that these relationships will last forever but the risk of them withering away increases greatly if they aren’t nurtured with time and caring.


5) Resolve to be a better friend to others

Do you give as much as you ask for? We may feel so comfortable with our closest friends that we take them for granted. Or we may be so set in our ways that we aren’t sensitive to them.

I’ve been blogging about female friendships on The Friendship Blog for almost three years and have written nearly three hundred posts during that time. The most widely read post was written in February 2009 on the topic of "needy friends." Readers said they resonated to that post because they either felt that their friends demanded more than they were able to give or else that they, themselves, recognized that they were needy people who alienated others.

So perhaps a reminder is in order that in order: To have a best friend you have to be one. People need to be attuned to their friends’ needs and give as much as they get. Although the balance shifts from day to day or from year to year, overall, a relationship needs to be reciprocal to have staying power.

Best wishes for the New Year! May it be filled with precious friendships that bring you health and happiness!



Holt-Lunstad, J., Uchino, B. N., Smith, T. W. & Hicks, A. (2007).
On the importance of relationship quality: The impact of ambivalence in
friendships on cardiovascular functioning. Annals of Behavioral
Medicine, 33, 1-12.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you, thank you for this great idea! I did this once in the 4th grade, and it worked instantly. I think I will try it again, now that I’m old. Thanks, Lauri, you and Irene are the best!

  2. Kim says:

    Thanks Irene! That means a lot to us! I’ve already sent your link out to all my girls…they are loving it. We’ll be back!


  3. Irene says:

    Hi Kimmy:

    I just LOVE your blog and also became one of your Facebook fans. What a great group of women–you are truly blessed! Thanks for visiting and please stay in touch~





  4. Coach K says:

    This is such a great and insightful post. I am lucky to be blessed with what I think is a large group of VERY good girlfriends…there are at least of 8 us who communicate regularly and help each other and live life with each other. I am going through a very emotional time right now as my boyfriend was recently deployed to Iraq and I am amazed daily at how many girls come to my rescue when I’m in a bad place. I don’t know how I would be getting through this if it wasn’t for my girlfriends.
    …And it comes full circle because each of us has had traumatic or emotional experiences over the past 5 years and we have all had each other to get by. I try not to be the needy friend, but I also know that I’ve been the one to answer the call with the crying girl on the other end enough times that there will be someone to answer my call when I need it.
    …I would love to hear your thoughts on our blog, Irene…we are not Doctors or Psychiatrists but we write from experience and try to be insightful and helpful along the way. If you have the time or are interested please feel free to visit http://www.3pinkdrinks.com …we’d love to have you!


  5. April says:

    Thanks for the helpful list, I love visiting your blog. However, as I begin this year staring at a very empty “friend closet”, I’m discouraged and frustrated. I’ve tried so hard to be the friend that I wished that I had, and while I’m sure my efforts were appreciated, no friendships resulted. I have plenty of facebook friends, I’m active in my church, I work full time and I have my family; but I still wish I had just one really good friend.

  6. Lauri says:

    I’ve really enjoyed this this post. Sometimes we find ourselves in auto-pilot with respect to our friendships. We simply haven’t taken the time to do your step #1 and take stock of who is around us and who we’re giving our attention and energy to. I was at a conference once, and I remember hearing for the first time that it was okay to release friendships that were no longer serving me very well. You know the ones…you find yourself doing all of the listening or giving, or you feel negative and down after spending time with them. After the conference I sat down and literally wrote out a “shopping list” of the characteristics I was looking for in a friend. It was amazing how quickly I attracted those kinds of friends to me simply by identifying what I was looking for. Well done Irene, I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  7. Irene says:

    Well said!!

    Every good wish to you for the New Year as well…


  8. Irene says:

    I applaud your healthy start, especially if they are walking rather than lunch dates 🙂

    I still have fond memories of sitting by the Biltmore pool with you~

    Happy New Year and continued success with your book! I can’t wait to use my copy.


  9. Suzette says:

    Great post! The friendship issues between girls, and later women, just don’t change much from the problems encountered in middle school. As an almost-middle-aged woman myself, I’ve had to make a number of graceful exits in my adulthood much to my dismay – one was out of a 30 year friendship! – for the same reasons you discussed in your post.

    It’s really sad, but on the other hand, I’ve also made new and unexpected friendships, and am grateful for the ability to have room in my heart for new friends. This is a blessing!
    Happy New Year!

  10. Good post, Irene. I especially want to work on #5. Without even thinking about it much, I’ve already had one friend date each day since the new year began. It’s a healthy start. I won’t be able to keep that up once I go back to work tomorrow, but I do already have some dates scheduled in the days ahead, so I do think I’m making this a priority. I’ve also set up a regular schedule with a best friend to walk together every weekday morning, so we can get in better shape together. And I’m really enjoying getting to know her better. It’s been a great way to both end and begin a year.

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