Friendship may be almost as important to human life as food, clothing and shelter. Friends provide emotional support, a sense of belonging, practical help and silly jokes when you need them most. Friendship can even reduce your stress level and boost your immune system. Sometimes, friendship seems like a mysterious force that's beyond your control, but the truth is there are steps you can take to help your friendships grow and flourish.
Stay in touch. Experiment with modern technologies to find the best way to communicate with your friend, especially if you live far apart. Don't forget the value of face-to-face conversations, hugs and other ways to literally stay in touch. Exchanging details about everyday life is important, but make time to share your most intimate hopes and dreams as well.
Celebrate your friendship. Acknowledge the importance of your friendship in words and deeds. Even if you're not comfortable expressing your feelings, find a way to tell your friend what the friendship means to you. It could be simply finding a birthday card with exactly the right message. But if you can think of a quirky way to honor your friendship's unique history, go for it!
Perform "preventive maintenance." The closeness that makes a friendship valuable also creates opportunities for petty bickering, sarcastic remarks and slips of the tongue that can turn toxic over time. Be quick to apologize for thoughtless comments, but only if you can do it with sincerity. If you find yourself doing this on a regular basis, it might be time for a major tuneup.
Cultivate other friendships. Relying on one friendship to fulfill all your emotional needs can overburden it. Having a few well-chosen friendships creates a sturdier foundation. An assortment of "intercultural friendships" with people of different ages, social classes, races and ethnic backgrounds is an especially good approach.
Respect boundaries. For example, if your friend is clearly not comfortable discussing the details of her marriage, don't push it. If your friend resists invitations to attend your church, take the hint. Be alert to signs that you're overwhelming your friend with too many text messages or that dropping by unexpectedly is not appreciated.
Seek balance. Don't use your friend as an unpaid counselor. It's fine to unburden yourself to your friend about problems with your marriage, your job, your children or your finances. But if that's all you ever do with your friend, something's out of whack. Give your friend equal time. Ask your friend about her life, and then give her your undivided attention.
Grow with your friendship. For your friendship to flourish, you and your friend must help each other mature as you share the inevitable changes that life will bring. For example, if you stick with your friend through her cancer treatment even though the sight of needles makes you queasy, your friendship will grow stronger -- and so will you.