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Top Relationship Pros Reveal the 7 Keys to Deeper, Happier Friendships

Plus, easy ways to make new connections and transform acquaintances into confidants! 

Enjoying strong ties with the families we choose (a.k.a. our friends!) is proven to slash stress, boost resilience and even improve our health and well-being. But fostering these relationships can be tricky — and making new friends as adults is trickier still. That’s why we asked the experts for their science-backed bonding tips. Keep reading for a few sweet, simple strategies to grow closer to your pals

How to make friends and foster deeper bonds

1. Ask yourself the ‘Cupid question’

On the hierarchy of social connections, friendships are often lower and feel less important than romantic partnerships. It’s a mindset that needs to change, according to psychologist Marisa G. Franco, PhD, New York Times best-selling author of Platonic and sought-after friendship & belonging expert. “Romantic love has monopolized our conception of what love means — and that diminishes our imagination,” she says, explaining that we can all benefit from opening our minds to the fact that friendships can be every bit as meaningful as love matches.

In fact, the next time a friend asks you for a favor, she recommends reflecting on whether you would do it for a significant other. When a pal asked Franco to pick her up at the airport at midnight, she asked herself that very question and made the extra effort to collect her. “Going out of your way for a friend is a clear way to deepen that relationship.” Indeed, such gestures trigger a kind of reciprocity effect, ensuring your friends will step up for you in return when you need it. As Franco puts it: “What hurts them hurts us and what benefits them benefits us.”

Related: These 10 Friendship Quotes Show How Important Girlfriends Are (and Why They Become Our Chosen Family)

2. Don’t hold back your affection

Research shows we tend to underestimate just how much our friends want to hear that we appreciate them. But simply telling them what they mean to us goes a long way toward bringing us closer. “Try to be really intentional about it,” encourages Franco, recalling how she once brought her best friend to tears (in the best way!) simply by thanking her for always standing by her. “I said, ‘I don’t know who I’d be without you’— it meant so much to both of us.”

how to make friends: Portrait of senior friends embracing at home
Frazao Studio Latino/Getty

In fact, the number one attribute both men and women look for in a friendship is “ego support,” says Franco. Just like it sounds, it means being there for your friends and letting them know how much you value them. It’s especially important to check in with friends during the peaks and valleys of life. “When we experience a high emotion, such as joy or exhilaration, we remember things more clearly, so congratulating a friend for a recent success, like nabbing a promotion, will really stick with her,” explains Franco. The same can be said about the other side of that coin: “If your friend is going through a tough time, check in with her or bring her soup if she’s sick — it’s so important to be there for the highs and lows.”

3. Boost bonds with three keys

If there were a friendship formula, it would boil down to three keys: consistency, vulnerability and positivity, observes social relationships expert Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy and keynote speaker on belongingness. She encourages jotting down your friends’ names and asking yourself if one of these areas is lacking in your dynamic. “If it feels good when you talk to your friend, but you want to connect more often, consistency may be the area you want to focus on by, say, putting a standing coffee or phone date on the calendar,” she suggests. If you wish your interactions were more meaningful, vulnerability may be lacking, and you might consider asking her deeper questions about her goals in life or letting down your own guard by revealing something more personal about yourself.

how to make friends: Two women sitting in armchairs and talking. Woman psychologist talking to patient woman. Coach giving hands to smiling woman. Therapist's gestures. Female talking in coworking office

And if you find you simply want your friendship to be more enjoyable? “Positivity often scores the lowest in our relationships, so focus on ways to increase uplifting emotions by sharing verbal affirmations,” encourages Nelson. “You might just say, ‘I so appreciate you called — it means so much to me; call me anytime.’” She says being open and verbal is crucial. “When you’re positive, people gravitate to you and want to share their lives with you.”

4. Show ‘em you know ‘em

Your friend wants to quit her job and move to Bora Bora? While that may not be your cup of tea, you know she’s always had an adventurous spirit and you encourage her to chase her dream. Recognizing and supporting our friends’ values, even when we don’t share them, is called “identify affirmation” and it’s proven to enrich friendships. “Just tell them, ‘I really want what’s best for you,’ or ‘I’m so happy for you — I know this is something you’ve always wanted,’ notes Franco. “This signals to your friends that they’re safe with you and they truly can be themselves.”

How to make friends easily

1. Tap the familiarity effect

“Making new friends has less to do with where we meet them and much more with how often we meet — it’s about consistency,” declares Nelson, adding that this makes sense because we first need to foster a sense of familiarity with potential friends before we can grow closer. “The most important question to ask yourself is, ‘Where am I willing to keep showing up?’” In other words, start with your interests, whether that means volunteering, signing up for a book club or joining a religious organization. Just pinpointing the activities that you want to do more of will help create the regularity that ensures new friendships take root and flourish. 

Related: How to Make Friends After 50: 5 Easy Ways To Get The Ball Rolling and Expand Your Circle

2. Be the ‘inviter’

how to make friends: Young woman using cell phone on a couch at home

It sounds simple, but few of us put ourselves out there and initiate new friendships — that’s why taking on the role of the “inviter” is key. “I have been the ‘new girl’ many times, and I’ve learned how important it is to extend yourself and follow up,” says Julie Fisk, co-author — with friends (naturally!) Kristin Demery and Kendra Roehl — of The One Year Daily Acts of Friendship devotional.

She recalls that when she and her husband moved to a new neighborhood, they were the ones who made the “welcome cookies” and knocked on doors. “It’s important to be brave and make the first move — I met two dear friends just because I invited them out to lunch one day.” Deep friendships, in other words, often start with the smallest of steps.

Related: 7 Movies About Female Friendship to Watch With Your Pals

3. Just let yourself listen

One of the fastest ways to transform an acquaintance into a good friend is through an ancient art form: listening. “Rather than try to come up with a response as they talk, ask questions to stay in their story,” advises Fisk. “You might say, ‘What do you want to do about (X dilemma)? Or ‘Can you tell me more about that?’” We can’t always solve our friends’ problems, but we can be there for them and hear them.”

For more on relationships, click through the links below!

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The Simple Question That Helps You Outsmart Patronizing People — And Take Back Your Power

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