Want To Keep Your Adult Friendships For Life? Be More Intentional With Your Communication.

For so many of us, life can get in the way of a lot of good things, especially friendships. Between moving to a new city, getting a new job, and starting a family, there are many factors that make staying in touch with our besties a real challenge. But that's no reason to let those platonic partnerships become secondary in our lives. Who do we turn to when we need to vent? Who's there to catch us in heartbreak? Who's there to cheer us on and support us as we pass milestones, be they weddings, childbirths, birthdays, or loss? Our friends.

How many friends should one have as an adult? The answer, of course, varies from person to person. An introvert may be content with a very small number of kindred spirits, while an extrovert might genuinely need a wider circle. Vox asked the question and, based on psychological input, came up with three to five close friends. The number might seem small, but this is because friendships take time and continuous investments. It's one thing to be intentional about a partner, but the unwritten guidebook of adulthood can be a lot more murky when it comes to maintaining friendships. So as we think about the significance – and arguably need – for friendship, here's how to keep your friends for life (and it has everything to do with communication).

Communicate through action

Ever heard of the phrase actions speak louder than words? That may be the defining mantra when it comes being intentional with our communication. We can tell a friend we care about them constantly, but do we actually show up in their lives? When they reach out to make plans, do we respond? Are we willing to experience an inconvenience to help them if they need it? It seems straightforward that we'd want to be there for our friends, but a disconnect between what we say and do refers to what Psychology Today calls the "true goal of people's behavior" as opposed to their spoken goal. Allowing it to become repeat thing is likely to cause your friendships to dwindle over time.

Meaning what you say and following through on it is essential to any friendship, no matter how old you are or far away you live from each other. Friendships are a two-way street that require effort, and sometimes, it takes one person making the first move to show they care. Instead of waiting for your friend to check in on you, try taking initiative and be the one to check in on them first. The simple gesture shows you're actively invested in their well-being and care to be an active presence in their lives.

Be adaptable with modes of communication

The unfortunate reality of growing up is that many of our friends will move, making it inevitable that in-person contact becomes less frequent. But that's no excuse to let communication fall to the wayside. We're living in an age with so much technology that makes it possible to maintain closeness despite physical distance. In fact, one study published by the Journal of Cyberpsychology found that people who maintained contact with friends over video chat were more likely to feel a stronger connection to each other than those who communicated over text or email only. 

Of course, while tech can be a great help, be mindful that every friendship is dynamic and unique, and not everyone is going to be down for the same communication style. To keep you and your friends' bonds strong, pay attention to what works for you. Does the friendship feel nourished by fewer, longer phone calls? Or does the friendship require briefer, more frequent calls? Each relationship is dynamic and unique and what works for one friend might not work for another. Is FaceTime an experience that recharges both of you? Or is it awkward and laborious? Texting and meme swapping, as silly as it seems, can be a delightful way of reaching out frequently without the intense pressure of a timely call. For those who are busy, using the voice memo tool on a smart phone can be wonderful, more personal way to connect without the pressure of a full-on phone call. 

Make memories together

While conversations are great, perhaps the most vital part of keeping a friendship strong and healthy throughout a lifetime is to put in the effort of doing memorable things together. When we're lucky enough to live near our closest friends, this is much easier. Something as simple as getting a meal together can be enough to create a rich setting worth remembering. But for our friends who live further away, this can be tricky. How many of us have ever replied to an Instagram story declaring, "Let's hang out soon!" only to never follow through?

Although it requires more effort to actually see friends who live farther away, it's worth planning something in order to spend quality time together. Depending on schedules, finances, and other demands, try to see each other as often as possible, even if it's once a year or every few years. One way to make active plans is to structure them around an event. Maybe there's a three-day weekend or a concert you can both attend? It gives you both something to look forward to so you'll both commit. As Psychology Today points out, going to new places stimulates different parts of our brains and the novelty of a new experience strengthens the bond between people. It'll also change the nature of the friendship. In later contact, a trip or shared experience will give you something to reminisce about or fuel an inside joke. Even normal hiccups that inevitably come with travel and adventure can lead to a deeper bond. 

Be selective about negativity

For many people, a big part of friendship is the mutual lamenting of life's annoyances and hardships. Who's a better listener than our friends? However we have to remember our friends, generous as they are, only have the capacity for so much. This is especially the case as we become older and deeper in our careers and family lives. While it would be totally unrealistic to pretend things are good all the time, making sure a friend is in the headspace to hear our gripes can go a long way. Asking, "Do you mind if I get something off my chest?" before going on a rant can be a great way to gauge if someone is able to listen. It also shows you respect their time. If they feel overwhelmed by their own struggles, be prepared to accept a "no" without judgment. Other pointed statements and questions can also help. "I just need to vent for a minute," can show there's no pressure to give advice. 

Gossip is a tricky one. On its most simple level, gossip gets a bad rap, when it's actually more complicated.  According to Dr. Frank T. McAndrew, gossip is actually an evolutionary trait that keeps us safe and bonded in our social groups (via NBC News). "Good" gossip can actually function to protect people by offering warnings: steer clear of this situation or person. "Bad" gossip just tears other people down, and makes us look bad. So gossip away, but do so judiciously.

Be liberal with words of affirmation

For some reason, giving praise can come across as awkward. We don't want to appear fake or ingratiating, so we instead steer in the mute direction. But with friends, it's completely worth overcoming any awkwardness in favor of learning to dish out the love. Give praise and affirmation often! The best way to avoid awkwardness is to choose authentic compliments. And by the way, they don't have to do with outward appearance. If a friend is going through a tough time, let them know how proud you are of them for handling it, pointing out specific examples. This shows our that we're paying close attention and making a point to admire them at the same time. It can also be good for your own self-esteem, too. Compliments and words of affirmation also boost the giver. Professor Nicholas Epley told the BBC, "Compliments are the easiest way to make other people – and, as a result, ourselves – feel better. But when a kind thought comes to mind, people often don't say it."

Another powerful thing you can do is remind your friends of what they mean to you and how they make your life better. "Hey, I just wanted to say how grateful I am that you're in my life." Something simple, yet honest can go a long way. Don't we all love hearing we're important to other people? If the core of friendships is feeling like we belong, let friends know in plain language that you appreciate having them in your inner circle.

Always prioritize honesty

It's inevitable that we'll have things in our lives that we don't want to share with friends, out of embarrassment or fear of judgement. While there may be a reason to legitimately keep certain things private, bottling up emotions doesn't help our bond. It's also terrible for anxiety. Let's say we don't want to tell a friend about financial struggles out of shame, or we avoid venting about relationship problems because we don't want to dump on them. Psychology Today points out that to keep friendships strong, we need to combat this kind of thinking. If someone is a true friend, we can trust them to hear our concerns. 

The same goes for difficult conversations. We may have to confront a friend about something they've said or done to upset us. Hey, it happens. Interestingly, confronting friends can sometimes be harder than confronting a romantic partner, counselor Elena Jackson told NBC News. To prevent something from turning into a fight, we need to be intentional about how we face conflict. Keeping quiet is not the answer if we want the friendship to last. Before approaching a friend about an issue, plan what you're going to say, and keep anger out of it when you do finally talk to them. "It's important to be very specific and address only one incident at a time so that your friend has clarity," therapist Ibinye Osibodu-Onyali said to NBC News. If the friendship has a solid foundation, it can make it through these occasional bumps. Heck, the honest communication will make the friendship stronger.