Psychology: You’ve got a friend

When a good friend does not come through, some people may feel hurt and others may feel angry.

PEOPLE WALK past a cafe in Tel Aviv (photo credit: SHARON PERRY/REUTERS)
PEOPLE WALK past a cafe in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: SHARON PERRY/REUTERS)
Did you ever think about who your friends are and why you like this or that person so much? Close your eyes for a moment and think about one of these individuals. What is it about that person that you like and makes you look forward to seeing or speaking to him/ her? I met my best friend Jeff when we were children and we have maintained a deep friendship ever since. Although he lives in the States and I am in Israel, I continue to feel the same old excitement whenever we have the opportunity to see each other. So, what makes a friendship work? University of Winnipeg sociologist Beverley Fehr, author of Friendship Processes, writes, “The transition from acquaintanceship to friendship is typically characterized by an increase in both the breadth and depth of self-disclosure.
In the early stages of friendship, this tends to be a gradual, reciprocal process. One person takes the risk of disclosing personal information and then ‘tests’ whether the other reciprocates.”
Fehr notes that reciprocity is the key. Jeff and I have always had the reciprocity of sharing and disclosing things. However, it is not just the reciprocal process of give-and-take that makes you like someone, but your personal evaluation of these moments.
Often friendship is kindled by having things in common, sharing experiences and telling stories about what is happening, exchanging your dreams and plans, describing your personal feelings, fears and hopes. Friendship is a give-and-take experience.
I know the friends with whom I can really open up and share things that I would not tell other people. I may choose to share a problem or a concern that I have, or at times I may just want get something off my chest and be heard and understood.
Friends are the people who really come through when the going gets tough. They are the ones whom you can rely on and who can rely on you. I know that my best friends feel they can expect the same from me. Reciprocity is the crucial element that cements a relationship and helps it grow from a casual acquaintance to a true friendship.
When a good friend does not come through, some people may feel hurt and others may feel angry. Often, people build up expectations that good friends are always there for you when you need them. Some may mistakenly ask themselves, “What did I do wrong that my friend isn’t coming through for me?” However, friends are not perfect; they have lives of their own and other commitments they need to attend to, and sometimes they are dealing with their own pressing problems that do not allow them to respond the way that you hope they will. In reality, it is not perfection that characterizes a good friendship, but an overall feeling that this person, most of the time, is reliable and there for you when you need them.
According to psychologist Debra Oswald’s Maintaining Long-lasting Friendships, there are four basic behaviors that are necessary to maintain a very good friendship, and they hold true whether we are 17 or 70. Communication facilitates the first two: self-disclosure and supportiveness, both necessary for intimacy.
We must be willing to extend ourselves, to share our lives with our friends, and to keep them up-to-date with what is going on with us. Similarly, we need to listen to them and offer support.
Interaction is the third behavior that is essential to nurturing a good friendship. Call, email, text, and reach out in any way that you choose and try not to let too much time go by without interacting. There is nothing better than an invitation to go out for coffee to catch up on what is happening in your lives.
The last and most elusive behavior necessary for keeping friends is being positive. Although social psychologists describe the necessity of self-disclosure, a person should be thoughtful of how much and what to share.
Endless venting can sometimes overwhelm even the best of good friends. At the end of the day, the intimacy that makes a friendship thrive must be enjoyable.
The human need for friends is universal and has always been a part of every society throughout time. Having good friends is associated with good psychological health. It is best to remember that you should never take a good friendship for granted; it requires work. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson says it best, “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”
The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. ;