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We all have those friends we can call out of the blue and re-connect as if no time has passed. But what about the rest of your relationships? Are you feeling guilty for letting a valued bond lapse? It can feel overwhelming when we remember all of the people we owe a call to when there are so many other obligations in our lives. However, nurturing your friendships and family ties is integral to keeping your social life healthy. Let’s examine why investing in this part of your life is crucial.
Why Social Connections Are Important
Whether you’re extroverted and the life of the party, or more introverted and cherish your solitude, having strong social connections is an essential part of life. The Mayo Clinic points out that feeling tied to a community gives you a sense of belonging that can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Having several close friends available to listen or help in times of need makes struggling through obstacles easier. At the same time, having friends who share your joy and make you feel appreciated can improve your sense of self-worth and contentment. A growing body of research suggests that social connections can directly impact physical health. A robust social network could improve everything from our cognitive function to our immune response. This “social connection creates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional, and physical well-being.” So, prioritizing your network of friends and close confidants is crucial.
Passive vs. Active Relationships
We all have friendships and family ties that don’t receive much of our attention. Perhaps you see someone every few years at a reunion, run into a friend at the grocery store, or gather with a group on special occasions. These relationships are still valuable in your life, especially since they usually stand the test of time and last for many years. Still, they aren’t active relationships – they’re passive. These connections aren’t making the most significant difference in our mental and emotional well-being. While they’re meaningful, they can’t be all that you have. Active relationships require investment — time, emotions, resources — and provide noticeable benefits. Run through your list of connections and consider how many are active and passive, then try to increase the active side of that list.
Photo: Javier Sanchez Mingorance via 123RF
How to Nurture Your Connections
Keeping your relationships active (or moving away from passive ones) takes effort, but fortunately, it shouldn’t be too painful. With a little bit of work and some expert tips, you can nurture the active relationships that are most important to you.
It may seem obvious, but communication is the best way to nurture any relationship. This route doesn’t have to mean talking on the phone daily. Develop the method that works for you, but ensure it includes frequent two-way communication and timely responses. Even a quick check-in can go a long way in maintaining a connection.
Remember important details
Consistency and depth are more important than the frequency and abundance of connections: quality over quantity! Show your friends that you care by remembering and referencing essential details. The friend who has a fun date coming up? Ask about the particulars afterward. Is someone worried about the stray dog in their neighborhood? Make sure to ask for updates. These little nods to small details can strengthen the depth of your connection.
Develop a routine
We sometimes confuse routines with rigidity and compulsion, thus shying away from scheduling time to connect with friends. We think, “if I/they truly cared, this wouldn’t have to be scheduled, it would just happen.” Unfortunately, this framework isn’t accurate and can lead to many missed connections and starved relationships. Making purposeful time for the people you care about and consistently adding them to your calendar is one of the best ways to show that you prioritize your connection.
One of the most important ways to maintain a close relationship is to show a willingness to be open and vulnerable. This openness can look different depending on your personality and specific relationship. But sharing emotions, difficulties, and triumphs signals that you trust and value the person on the other end of the phone. Sharing your inner world, even just a little bit, with someone else can deepen a bond and keep it thriving over time. If you’re nervous about opening up, start with something small and make a big deal out of sharing it with your friend. They’ll feel special and want to reciprocate, beginning a tradition of connection you can strengthen.
When you take the time to nurture your relationships, you’ll find even more fulfillment in the social network you’ve created!