At this point in life, you probably have different groups of friends – your childhood pals, your high school girls with whom you experienced an unspoken list of “firsts,” your college besties who helped mold you into the person you’ve become today, and those adult friends you got to know through work, networking or by dating or marrying your partner.
Some of them you’ve likely become closer with over time while others you may have lost touch with altogether. If so, that’s totally normal. Experts agree that this is common as people age, especially considering how very mobile society has become.
“It’s not uncommon to have friends who are spread out across the country or even across different continents,” says Helen Odessky, PsyD, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You. “Additionally, we are increasingly working very different schedules and are no longer working the standard nine to five.” Different schedules can undoubtedly make it hard to connect, as can living in different locations.
But some of the most drastic changes in adult friendships occur during the transition to parenthood. “As values and stressors change, it’s common to feel as if your childless friends are selfish or just ‘don’t get it,’” says Caroline Madden, PhD, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of How to Go From Soul Mates to Roommates in 10 Easy Steps. “Commiserating about late night drinking episodes and overbooking with social engagements used to be something that bonded you, but now that is being said to a new mommy that hasn’t slept or showered in days.”
Understanding that friendships drift apart, but then have a way of reconnecting, Dr. Madden says, is the key to maintaining lasting relationships. Here, top experts share their tried-and-true strategies for fostering friendships that make it through all the stages and curveballs life will throw at you.
Make the friendship a priority
Just like any other relationship in life, you must consistently choose to cultivate and water a friendship or else it will wilt like a dead flower. For this reason, it’s important to decide whether or not a friend is worth your time, energy, and care. If the answer is yes, great. But this means you’re going to have to really commit in order to make it work.
Call your friends when they cross your mind
You may not talk to your friends all the time, but Marissa Nelson, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says it’s helpful to reach out to them, even with a quick text, whenever a certain something reminds you of them. “Many of us think of our friends often, but then days, weeks, and months escape us,” she explains. That’s why she suggests staying on each other’s radar by simply letting your friend know when he or she is on your mind.
Commit to a friend date at least once a month
Though it can be hard to find time in your busy schedule when you are both available to meet up or catch up over the phone, experts warn against letting too much time pass without properly touching base. Nelson suggests setting aside at least an hour once a month to dive into what’s happening in each other’s life. “It’s important that, no matter what is happening, you are intentional about staying close.”
Pipe in on social media
This should be easy. If you’re active on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or another kind of social media site, use it to your advantage. “This allows you to hit the play button on a friendship whenever you find you have the time and energy,” says Julienne Derichs, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Couples Counseling Today. For you, that might be during your lunchbreak at work or while your newborn naps.
Derichs also suggests setting up a “friend” website or Facebook page where you can share stories, pictures, your daily routine, etc. “Just knowing that you are making the effort to connect in thoughtful ways adds a great deal to friendships,” she says.
Plan a girls’ trip
If time and budgeting allow, Dr. Odessky suggests planning a trip for you and your groups of friends, be it your high school, college or hometown groups, where you share an experience like exploring a new town or celebrating one friend’s milestone. “Sometimes there’s an easy excuse, like a wedding, but as you get older, you may need to create these opportunities,” she says.
If problems arise, don’t let them fester
There may be a time when you needed your friend, and, for whatever reason, they fell short of your expectations. Try not to let this go unnoticed. Of course, you shouldn’t address every little thing your friend does wrong, but letting the bigger things go unresolved can create resentment that can push you farther apart over time.
“Approach your friend with care and let her know what you felt you needed, as well as validate that she has been a good friend to you in the past and that you still love her,” says Nelson. “You want to let her know how her actions affected you without blaming or shaming.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
That’s what friends are for, right? If you’re going through a hard time, or even if you simply had a bad day, don’t hesitate to reach out to your friend. “Let your bestie know what you need, whether it’s company, a shoulder to cry on or just listening and empathizing,” says Nelson. “Friends are not mind-readers and they want to know how to be there for you in the way that you need it, so trust and let them show up for you.”
Go hard for birthdays
You might not be up for the kind of nights you two enjoyed in your younger days, but that’s no excuse to forgo celebrating milestone events, such as birthdays, altogether. “Birthdays are a once-a-year occasion to celebrate the friend you love, so ditch the simple text or Facebook wall post in favor of a handwritten note, gift or, better yet, dinner or night out,” says Nelson. “Celebrating these markers and making your friend feel special will continue to bond you for years to come.”
You may not be able to maintain contact and connection with everyone that you once knew, and that’s okay. “Good friendships require effort and this effort is not always easy,” reminds Derichs. “You may need to let some friendships go so you can work on the ones you really want in your life.” That’s where the whole “quality over quantity” saying plays a role. It’s not easy to maintain friendships over time, so you might not always have a ton. “As we age, life gets busy and time becomes precious, so take some time and think about who you would like to talk to each day, week, month, and allot your efforts accordingly.”