Is it just me or is it sometimes hard to make really good friendships as an adult?
And if that alone isn’t hard enough, there’s the added pressure to make sure your spouse clicks with theirs, the kids all get along, everyone’s schedules line up… Even the thought of setting all that up is exhausting!
I know you feel me on this one; adult friendships are not always easy, but they’re so worth it. When times are tough, you need a little support, or are looking for advice from someone in a similar life stage, your friends are your network and your community.
Let’s talk about some practical ways to build and maintain solid, lasting friendships at any age.
What kind of friendships do you have?
Think about your current circle or network: Who is in it? Who do you talk to regularly? Who is important to you?
They say you’re most like the top 5 people you spend time with, so these people are key. Are they living lives you admire?
If this close circle is made up of people you admire, respect, or click well with, you’re likely on the right track. Making new friends is awesome, but also remember to keep these people close to you and appreciate them if they are relationships you want to maintain.
Make a note to call or plan a coffee date with them; texts and social media interactions are great, but nothing can replace a good conversation. Making time for this not only strengthens your friendships, but also fills your cup energetically.
Humans are hardwired for connection. Investing time in relationships is not frivolous, it’s necessary!
Making new friends as an adult
Maybe you scrolled right on down to this part, because honestly this is the ultimate question for so many. Gone are the days when you could just plop yourself down next to another kid in the sandbox and become instant best friends. Now this stuff takes some work!
Some questions to ask yourself: Who do you wish you had more contact with? What type of person would you love to meet in this season of life? What are your current priorities, and where might a friendship fit in well?
Maybe there’s someone you lost touch with and you’d like to reconnect. Maybe you’ve picked up a new hobby and you’d like somebody to go to yoga class with you. Maybe your pre-teen is going full-on teenager mode and you want to find another parent with kids of a similar age to just talk through all the changes together.
You’d be surprised how many new friends are probably waiting for you to find them and initiate the conversation. That old connection might still have the same email address. Someone at church might be curious to try yoga with you. That parent ahead of you in line at the school drop-off might want to swap parenting secrets over lunch.
When you open yourself up to new friendships, they just might start to appear.
Why bother making and keeping friends?
Solid friendships are a two-way street: there’s effort and reward on both sides of the equation. Good friends will help keep you accountable on your goals, comfort you when life is rough and lift you up when you are ready to quit. Having and being a good friend is essential to living a full life.
Friendship is so important, it’s one of the 7 Oola pillars for a balanced life. Oola has been such a blessing to me in a million ways, but one of the best has been the lasting friendships it’s brought me! They’re strong men and women who are in my corner, and also going after their own OolaLife.
If you’re ready to take charge of your life, too, and start finding balance in all 7 areas, let’s talk! I became a Certified Oola Life Coach because I saw the positive impact it had on my life and the lives of those close to me. I can’t wait to help you create that in your own life, too!earn more about Oola
“Friendship takes work. Finding friends, nurturing friendships, scheduling face time, it all take a tremendous amount of work. But it’s worth it. If you put in the effort, you’ll see the rewards of positive friends who will make your life extraordinary.”Maya Angelou
Saying “I love you” to your family as often as possible is very important! It turns out there’s actually more than one way to say it. Dr. Gary Chapman theorized in his book The Five Love Languages that there are five ways people give and receive love. Read on to learn what the love languages are and how they can apply to you and your family:
What are the Five Love Languages?
Here is a description of each of the Five Love Languages:
- Acts of Service: To a person with this love language, actions speak louder than words. Essentially, it means completing tasks for a loved one or helping complete a task. Examples might be a husband doing a household chore he knows his wife dislikes, an older child helping a young sibling with a school project, proofreading a resume for a friend, or helping a neighbor move into a new house.
- Quality Time: Quality Time means more than just occupying the same space. People who value this love language especially appreciate attentiveness and good listening skills. Planning to participate in fun activities together, ensuring you eat meals together, or even working together can count as Quality Time.
- Words of Affirmation: This involves giving compliments, encouragement, or words of appreciation. Examples might be: “You look sharp in that outfit!” or “Thanks for always making us feel so welcome” or “You are such an interesting conversationalist!” You can simply say these compliments aloud or write your loved one a note telling him or her what you appreciate about them.
- Receiving Gifts: Gift-giving doesn’t have to be reserved just for Christmas and birthdays. People with this love language enjoy receiving gifts that show people understand and are thinking of them. Gifts don’t have to be anything elaborate. Bringing home treats from the bakery for the kids, sending flowers to your grandma, or bringing your wife her favorite Starbuck’s coffee to her office are all simple ways you can show love to someone whose love language is Receiving Gifts.
- Physical Touch: People with this love language feel the most loved through physical touch that can include hugs, kisses, holding hands, or massages.
The Five Love Languages and Your Family
It’s a good thing there’s more than one way to say “I love you” because you can creatively express your love and appreciation to your family in many ways. However, it can create some confusion if your family members have differing love languages and don’t recognize your efforts. For example, if a wife’s love language is Quality Time, she may appreciate flowers from her husband but will feel much more loved if he plans a night out participating in her favorite activities. Learning someone’s love language can also help you avoid creating circumstances that would be particularly hurtful for them. For example, while hearing criticism or verbally expressed disappointment isn’t pleasant for anyone, it can be especially painful for someone whose primary love language is Words of Affirmation.
Chapman noted that most people give and receive love using the same love language, but this isn’t always true. Also, some people have more than one. A survey based on 10,000 responses indicated that the most common love language is Words of Affirmation.
So which is your primary love language? You may already know based on your life experience. If you’re not sure, you can take the official quiz online here. It can help you determine what your primary love language is. The quiz can also help you figure out the love language(s) of your child(ren). “Children receive love emotionally,” Chapman said, “but because they are all different, we must pay attention to their individual needs. We must learn to speak our children’s [love] language if we want them to feel loved.”
Additional Love Language Resources
“I never said she stole my money.” If you say that sentence aloud, it means something different depending on which word you emphasize. For example, “I never said SHE stole my money” means something completely different from “I never said she stole MY money.” Communication is tricky. Even with the best intentions, we can fall flat on our faces when trying to effectively communicate with parents, spouses, children, and other family members. Here are five principles of family communication.
The 5% Rule
When we communicate during a disagreement, most people pick apart the other person’s argument, seeking comments and statements to disagree with. Then the other person usually responds in kind, creating a verbal ping-pong match of negativity featuring no common ground. The 5% Rule challenges the listener to instead identify 5% of what the other person is saying and agree with it. After you’ve chosen a small piece of what the person is saying to agree with, point it out and affirm it. Wait for the point to settle, and be sure to genuinely discuss the point of agreement before trying to assert your own opinion. Saying the equivalent of “Yes, but…” will just seem disingenuous. If you wield the 5% Rule effectively, the person you’re dialoguing with should feel heard and be more open to also hear what you have to say.
The love and respect conundrum
This principle applies specifically to husbands and wives. Men and women communicate differently and have different needs. In his book Love and Respect,Dr. Emerson Eggerichs posits that men, in general, need respect, and women, in general, need love. Of course, men need love, too, and women need respect, too. But Eggerichs research indicates that when 7,000 respondents answered the question “When you are in conflict with your spouse, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” 83% of men said they felt disrespected, and 72% of women said they felt unloved. In light of this information, “to effectively communicate a wife must learn how to communicate her feelings of being unloved in way that sounds respectful to her husband, and a husband must learn how to communicate his feelings of being disrespected in a way that sounds loving to his wife,” Eggerichs writes.
Practice precision and avoid exaggeration.
We can’t change how people understand what we say, but we can try to be as clear as possible. Before you say something important, think about how to phrase it so that it is as clear and precise as possible. Don’t leave important words or details out, even if they are difficult to discuss. Your family, especially your children, is simply not going to understand what you are not saying. Another common mistake is to say things that you do not really mean; in particular, avoid exaggerating. Usually, sentences that begin with “You always…!” or “You never…!” are good examples of exaggeration. Say what you actually mean, or you will upset and confuse the listener. Eventually, your family and other listeners will begin to distrust you if you keep saying things that are not really what you mean and what is true.
The Principle of Mirroring.
Imagine that someone handed you a book written in Icelandic and asked you to form an opposing argument. Unless you’re in the very small percentage of the population that speaks Icelandic, you’re probably not going to be able to understand the book well enough to create a counterargument. When we disagree with members of our family, we may not actually be speaking different languages, but we might as well be if we do not understand each other. Mirroring can help us ensure we understand what the person is trying to communicate. Practice saying, “What do you mean by that?” to clarify a statement and ensure that you understand. When people feel like you’re trying to understand them, they generally become less hostile anyway. Also, you can try repeating back what the other person has said using different words. That way they can correct you if you have misrepresented what they said.
Understand first; be understood second.
“If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” Steven Covey wrote. Most people fail to listen to the other person, only hear parts of what is said, or hear it but see it through only their own frame of reference instead of from the other person’s perspective. In short, most people listen so that they can reply, not so that they can understand. Do not do this. Instead, seek first to understand what your child is saying to you, what your spouse is saying to you, what your mother is saying to you. That way, you can formulate a response that demonstrates understanding and clearly gets your point across.
When you were a child, your parents probably taught you to say “thank you” to be polite to another person who offered a gift, helped you perform a task, or gave you a compliment. But expressing gratitude doesn’t just benefit other people; it’s for you, too. Harry A. Ironside, Canadian-American teacher and theologian, once said, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”
In fact, feeling and expressing gratitude can actually be good for your health. Keep reading to find out more about the surprising benefits of gratitude, recognize what an impact it can have on others, and learn a new way to express thankfulness to others who have positively influenced your life.
The Benefits We Get Thanks to Gratitude
Saying “thanks” isn’t just a perfunctory action that keeps us in the good graces of other people. Here are just some of the many ways feelings and expressing gratitude can improve your life.
- Being thankful might help you sleep better. “[Gratitude] can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and facilitate more efficient sleep,” saidRobert A. Emmons, a psychology professor at UC Davis. A 2011 study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being indicated that those who spend 15 minutes before going to sleep writing down things they are thankful for sleep better and longer. Instead of counting sheep before bed, try counting your blessings.
- Gratitude improves relationships. Showing gratitude can positively impact your relationships both at home and at work. One study indicated that employees perform better at work when their supervisor simply takes the time to say “thank you” when they do well. Another study showed that finding reasons to thank new acquaintances makes them more likely to stick around and be your friend in the long run. Lots of research supports the idea that gratitude strengthens and grows romantic relationships as well.
- Gratitude can reduce depression. As the old, anonymous saying goes, “If you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness.” It turns out that feeling and expressing gratitude can actually ward off depression. Eastern Washington University clinical psychologist Philip Watkins “found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls.”
- Thankfulness can reduce stress. Another key health benefit of thankfulness is decreased stress. “There’s a number of studies showing that in the face of serious trauma, adversity and suffering, if people have a grateful disposition, they’ll recover more quickly,” Emmons writes. “I believe gratitude gives people a perspective from which they can interpret negative life events and help them guard against post-traumatic stress and lasting anxiety.”
- Thankful people tend to also be empathetic. Interestingly, practicing gratitude not only improves your personal health but also helps you understand other people. A 2012 study conducted by the University of Kentucky showed that participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were more likely to be empathetic toward others and less likely to seek revenge when others were unkind to them.
Gratitude Impacts Others More Than You Think
If feeling thankful can benefit your physical, mental, and psychological health in such amazing ways, imagine how your expressing gratitude can positively impact other people. When you tell people what they mean to you and thank them for how they’ve helped you, they appreciate it a lot more than you imagine, according to studies by Amit Kumar of the University of Texas at Austin and Nicholas Epley at Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.
Kumar and Epley conducted a study that required participants to write a thank you email to an individual who greatly impacted their lives. After sending the notes, participants were asked to guess how the recipients would respond. Then, the researchers asked the recipients for their responses to the thank you emails. “The senders of the thank-you letters consistently underestimated how positive the recipients felt about receiving the letters and how surprised they were by the content,” Christian Jarrett writes for The British Psychological Society.
Sometimes we just assume that people know how much they mean to us or how much they’ve helped us. The reality is, they probably don’t know. And even if they do, there’s little that’s quite as inspiring as receiving a reminder that something you’ve done has made a lasting impact on another person’s life.
Learn to Deliver a “Power” Thank You
In his book Just Listen, psychiatrist and business coach Mark Goulston recalls a time when his daughter unwittingly sent him one of the most valuable notes he’s ever received. In her email, she explained that she was talking with her friends about how confusing and scary the future can be, and she brought up advice that her father had given her. “I am so lucky to have such a wise dad, even if he does live 3,000 miles away,” she wrote in the email to her father. “See you in a few weeks. Love, Lauren.” Her simple acknowledgment of her father’s influence on her life meant so much to him. Goulston said he keeps the note in his wallet and wouldn’t sell it for a million bucks.
Goulston called the note from his daughter a “power” thank you. While it’s great to simply remember to say “thanks” when someone does something for you, a power thank you can mean even more. Here’s how to write or speak a power thank you:
- Recount a specific action the person took to help you, remembering all the details.
- Acknowledge the effort and care the person invested in helping you, noting that they went out of their way and did not have to do what they did.
- Explain how their actions made an impact and a difference in your life.
For example, maybe you had a high school teacher who made such an effort to ensure you succeeded that you were inspired to become a teacher yourself. Maybe you have a friend who went above and beyond to support you during a time of illness or financial difficulty. Perhaps as you’ve grown older, you’ve started to realize how many sacrifices your parents made to give you the best life possible. Coaches, mentors, siblings, grandparents, old friends, neighbors, professors, and bosses are all great possible recipients of power thank yous.
The bottom line is, people don’t really know what an impact they’ve made on your life unless you tell them. Who do you want to send a power thank you to today?
“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say,” wrote Bryant McGill, thought leader and international bestselling author.
How true this is. Listening plays a crucial role in building and maintaining healthy relationships, especially in families, which often include multiple kinds of relationships. For example, one person in a family might maintain relationships with parents, grandparents, siblings, children, step-children, and extended family.
When we think of communication, we probably first think of speaking. But listening plays an equally—if not more important—role in our efforts to communicate well with others.
Listening: The Under-appreciated Aspect of Communication
At its most basic, communication simply involves a sender, a message, a channel, and a receiver.
- Sender: This is the speaker, the person who is delivering the message.
- Message: This is what is being said.
- Channel: This is the medium through which the message is being delivered. For example, the message could be spoken, texted, emailed, telephoned, etc.
- Receiver: This is the person who is listening to the message.
Sometimes you are the sender, and sometimes you are the receiver. In other words, sometimes you’re talking, and sometimes you’re listening. We spend years teaching our children how to talk, and then they go to school and learn how to write and deliver speeches. When was the last time you heard of someone taking a class on listening? We spend just as much time listening as we spend talking—or, at least, this should be how it is, so why don’t we spend more time learning how to do it right?
The Benefits of Listening
Listening is so important that it is even in the Bible. James 1:19 mentions both aspects of communication: the sender and the receiver. It says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” What if we all sought to listen first and speak second? Wouldn’t that be a more peaceful world to live in?
Before we talk about how to listen better, let’s talk about some of the benefits of focusing on the listening aspect of communication in your family.
- Listening builds trust. When people feel that you really care about their needs, they’re more likely to trust you. Trust is another foundational aspect in healthy families. When children feel heard, they have the time they need to sort through their thoughts and feelings. When they don’t have this space and trust to process their needs, they might act out or lose their tempers because they’re inexperienced in dealing with emotions.
- Listening shows interest and respect. Like the McGill quote at the beginning of this post suggests, listening to people makes them feel respected. How do you show your spouse that you respect him or her? Maybe you support their professional goals, put up with difficult in-laws, or tell them what about them impresses you. But have you ever thought about listening as a form of respect? Showing genuine interest in someone by really listening to what they have to say with the intention of understanding him or her can sometimes communicate respect and honor better than any words you could say.
- Listening reduces the opportunity for conflict. Most arguments and conflicts begin as simple miscommunications and escalate from there. Listening with a genuine intent to understand reduces the chances of these unfortunate miscommunications from happening.
- Listening helps resolve conflicts. If a conflict or argument has already started, most people’s first reaction is to try to get their own point across. Instead of seeking first to be understood, try seeking first to listen and understand the other person. Your family member is much more likely to listen to your point of view if he or she feels heard by you. And once you understand where he or she is coming from, you will be much more equipped to explain your own point of view in a way that will make sense.
- Listening sets an example. “My children don’t listen to me.” Have you ever said this or heard someone say this? Think about this for a moment: as the most important influence in your child’s life, he or she learns the most from you. How you listen to your children teaches them how to listen to others. In other words, if you don’t listen to them, they won’t know how to listen to you. Ouch!
Types of Listening
If you do a simple Internet search, you’re going to find thousands of articles describing the difference between passive and active listening. There is actually another even more advanced form of listening that most people do not know about. However, let’s start by defining passive and active listening just in case you’re among the few who haven’t read about them.
- Passive listening is basically just hearing. A passive listener probably realizes someone is trying to communicate with him or her and may hear the words. However, this type of listener may not pay attention or remember what is being said, and he certainly doesn’t understand all the meaning the speaker is trying to convey. Therefore, he will probably not be able to properly convey interest, respect, and empathy in his or her response.
- Active listening involves genuine effort to understand what the speaker is saying. This means maintaining eye contact, nodding, not interrupting, repeating part of what is said to show understanding, ignoring distractions, and deferring judgment. An active listener‘s response will probably convey respect and understanding to the speaker.
In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey calls active listening “attentive listening.” Most people believe active or attentive listening is the highest form of listening, but he describes another level: empathetic listening.
Empathetic listening involves listening with the intent to understand both the message being conveyed and the emotion behind it. “Empathetic (from empathy) listening gets instead another person’s frame of reference,” Covey writes in his book. “You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel.”
How to Implement Empathetic Listening into Your Family
Covey writes that there are three levels of empathetic listening. He uses a conversation between a father and a son to demonstrate the three levels. The dialogues below are taken from his book.
1. The first level of empathetic listening is mimicking, which essentially involves repeating full or partial phrases back to the listener to indicate he or she is being heard and at least partially understood.
Son: “Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds.”
Father: “You’ve had it. School is for the birds.”
2. The second level of empathetic listening is rephrasing. This means repeating the information back using different words. This indicates understanding of the message.
Son: “Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds.”
Dad: “You don’t want to go to school anymore.”
3. The third level of empathetic listening is reflecting feeling. This involves rephrasing the content and reflecting the feeling.
Son: “Boy, Dad, I’ve had it! School is for the birds.”
Dad: “You’re feeling really frustrated with school.”
In summary, empathetic listeners show that they not only understand what that the speaker means but also understand how he feels. This is a very simple example, but the concept of empathetic listening can be applied in more complex situations and conversations. When your children, spouse, sibling, or parent speaks to you, try listening with the intent to understand the meaning and of the words and the feeling behind them. Then watch how your relationships grow.