Saturday, October 15, 2016

What Do You Want From Your Friends?

Photo credit: Shannon Pifko

When do you feel most fulfilled or happy in your friendships?

Is it when you receive compliments from your friends, or when they help you solve a problem?  Perhaps you like to shop or watch a film with them, or hang out at the playground while your children play?  Do you just love a hug from your friends?  Are you most blessed when your friends help you in some way?  Do you enjoy receiving frequent text messages?

For me 'intense conversation' is what I love best.  It could be in person, by phone, by email, or messenger.  For me, there's nothing like a deep chat with a friend, probably discussing the issues in our lives.

It took me a long time to realise that this isn't the case for everyone!  Although I think most people enjoy spending time with their friends, I've eventually realised that not everyone gets the same joy from uninterrupted conversation that I do.  Not everyone values so highly each minute or sentence of one-on-one communication. 

I liked this blog post, which shows how Gary Chapman's 'Five love Languages' relate to friendship and gives examples of things that people with each preference would appreciate or would struggle with.  I found myself nodding in agreement to the 'avoids' in the 'quality time' section.  I struggle when planned times to talk with a friend are cancelled or changed into a different kind of event.  I can find it hard when I don't have opportunities to talk or communicate online to my close friends. 

So how do I respond to all this?  Do I demand that all my friends love me in the way I want to be loved? 

I hope not! 

One thing I've realised is that I can love my friends in ways that might not feel too special to me, and I can acknowledge the ways that they are trying to showing kindness to me. 

Instead of dwelling on how unfulfilled I am, I want my longings to spur me on to loving others in ways that's meaningful to them.   How can I encourage a friend who loves to hear positive words?  What can I do for a friend who appreciates receiving help?  Can I arrange a night-out for a group of friends who would enjoy wanting a film together? 

If I'm going to love others as I love myself, I'll sometimes need to choose activities that are more meaningful to the other people than they are to me.

It's helpful to recognise when a friend is showing love to me in her words or actions, even if it's not in a way I would choose.  I'm not a 'gifts' person.  I don't get too excited about receiving gifts unless it's something I really want.  But if a friend chooses to give me a present, it's good for me to stop and think about the love that is being shown to me, even if the actual act of receiving the gift isn't particularly thrilling. 

If I'm expecting my friends to always meet my felt needs, I'm going to be disappointed.  But if I'm willing to give and receive in ways that don't come naturally to me then my friendships will benefit.

Another things I've been considering is that it can be helpful at times to state my own preferences.  I can't just assume that my friends know what I like, as the things that seem so important to me might not seem like a big deal to my friends. 

Here's an example from years ago that's stuck with me:  I was taking a walk with a friend.  She asked if I'd be ok with stopping to talk to another friend.  I was polite and agreed.  But I ended up feeling very frustrated: I'd been expecting to be able to have a long chat with my friend, but it didn't happen.  (I got over it, realising that it had been my choice to agree to this!)   A while later we were out walking again.  My friend asked if I'd be happy to stop in on someone else.  I remembered the last time, and answered honestly (as my friend would want me to) that I would rather keep walking. 

I do seem to have an advantage, having a friendship preference that's easily instigated.  It's not too hard to say, 'Do you want to come over for a cup of tea?'; however, if my love language were 'words of affirmation', I couldn't really say, 'Please pay me a compliment now'.   But whatever we most value, we can let others know how much we appreciate these things, and not assume that they already know this.  I think there's a big difference between demanding things of our friends and loved ones, and of gently sharing information that they would find helpful as they seek to love us and deepen their relationships with us.

Although I am not responsible for the happiness of my friends, I do want to love others in a way that is helpful to them.   I also know that being aware of both my own preferences and those of my friends can help me to understand the dynamics of my relationships with others: this understanding can lead to more realistic expectations, and help me to express my own desires in a way that considers the preferences of others too.