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Committed Friendships

"When the satisfaction, security, and development

of the other person is as significant to you as your own,

a state of love exists."

Harry Stack Sullivan

In order to sustain relationships with your best friends, put a check by those commitments you want to fortify first.

1. I want to be a friend. List all the qualities you want in a friend. Then ask yourself which of those qualities you have or need to develop further. Commit yourself to improving those qualities.

2. I will consciously act on Harry Stack Sullivan's classic definition of love or affection. Acting on this principle destroys barriers between people and builds a closeness that generates a delightful sense of connection.

3. I will make adequate time for friendship. If you would like an acquaintance to be one of your best friends, you will need to spend time together. Where will you find the time? Ask yourself, "Can I reduce time I spend on social media or the Internet in order to spend more face time with close friends?" Friends need time together to develop mutual understanding. Emotions need time to become clear and expressed. Thoughts need time to be collected, sifted, organized, and articulated.

4. I will enjoy the uniqueness of my friend. True friends affirm each other's distinctiveness in contrast to our common tendency to want to duplicate ourselves. We see our friends not as copies of ourselves, but as complements who add to rather than detract from our own identity. If you want to build strong friendships, do three things consistently: a) allow for habits and temperaments unlike your own, b) cut the other some slack, and c) choose to see differences as a challenge to your skill at achieving cooperation.

5. I will avoid criticizing, condemning, and judging my friends. This commitment is so huge that it's worth writing on a sticky note and putting it on your mirror as a daily reminder. It's sensible because none of us is perfect and it's necessary because our viewpoints and actions aren't always right nor others' always wrong. Check your body signals, tone of voice, and words. Do they convey judgment or acceptance?

6. I will look for opportunities to give sincere compliments. The "law of mutual exchange" works in a positive way when we give compliments that draw out the best in each other. Others are motivated to look for the best in us. Compliments such as the following decrease emotional distance.

* I like the way you care for yourself.

* Your views on this topic show sensitivity to nuance.

* You put a lot of good thinking into this project. It shows.

* You seem to know just when to say the right thing.

* Your friendship means a great deal to me. You make me so


7. I will try to understand a friend's feelings. I remember when a trusted friend made time in his schedule to sit down and listen to what I was feeling. It made a huge difference in my own sense of well-being. Can you be that kind of person to your friend?

8. I will focus my attention on the other person. To understand your friend is to appreciate your friend's perspective, even if it's different from your own. It means you listen at least as much as you talk. Commitment to listening and asking questions for clarity closes the gap between two people. The better we understand, the greater the opportunity for acceptance and appreciation, which are building blocks for a sustainable friendship.

9. I will fight for closeness. When most disagreements occur, the pattern is familiar: two different worlds of thought and feeling colliding, then an explosion of hostile words or actions, followed by hurt feelings and psychological distance. You can choose to model a different style of disagreement. A conflict-resolution model gives you the opportunity to pursue greater closeness instead of destroying your relational bridge. Because it's possible to "fight" in a way both participants win, I want to stress again these simple rules of good interpersonal relationships:

* I will not yell, insult, lie, or call the other names.

* I will repeat the other's feelings to that person's satisfaction

before presenting my own point. For example, "You think I

don't care about your folks. Is that right?"

* I will try to understand my friend instead of dominating the


What a difference these three simple habits could make in our disagreements! Of course, there still might be hurt feelings, defensiveness, insecurity, anger, and a need to change behavior. But consider the benefits: the really damaging punches would be eliminated; getting on the same page would supersede one-up-manship; listening carefully would dominate. How could anyone lose this kind of fight?

10. I will ask the greatest healing question. One question, when asked in sincerity, produces remarkable healing in relationships: "Will you forgive me for my contribution to the problem?" It's worth writing it down and committing it to memory.

Notice that by asking this question, you are not assuming all the blame or passing on the blame. In fact, you are not trying to assess who is most at fault or who is "right" and who is "wrong"-all deadend objectives. You are simply acknowledging that you contributed something (even though it might be only 5 percent) to the problem: a judgmental tone of voice, an unfair criticism, bringing up a negative action from the past. But if you want healing, percentages of blame do not matter. You can say, "I'm sorry for my contribution to this problem. Will you forgive me?" When I honestly ask this question, I find that mountains of bitterness disappear. Miles of psychological distance vanish. Wow!

What commitment do you want to improve first?

God Bless,

Paul W. Swets

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