Lasting friendships require thoughtful attention, just as romantic relationships do. And yet, we rarely put much maintenance into our friendships, simply assuming that they will last on their own merit… for the rest of our lives. On the contrary, friendships can be just as deep (if not more so) than romantic partnerships; and, for that reason, they require the same healthy relationship habits: presence, connection, priority, and perhaps most importantly, great communication.
Much as with a significant other, friendships can be fraught with misunderstandings and miscommunication.
But perhaps because we have such high expectations for the innate health of our friendships, it can be that much harder to ask for what we need when things aren’t going so well. According to life coach, Thais Sky: “Psychology tells us that being attached to one another is a core human need that goes beyond childhood and into our adult lives. When we can recognize that, as social creatures, we are programmed to rely on each other, it paves the way for us to understand that interdependence is a sign of strength.” It’s imperative that we learn how to communicate what we need in our friendships — and any partnership — not from a place of neediness, but to create the healthy, strong, mutually reliant relationships that truly last.
Here are five tips to help you do that well:
Get Clear On What You Want
Before you can communicate your needs, it’s important to be clear on what they are. As Thais shares: “We cannot expect that the people in our lives can read our minds and show up the way we want.” And you can’t explain to your friends how you want them to show up until you get clear on that first. This may sound simple — of course you already know what you need, right? Maybe. But often what we want from a friendship and what we actually need can be two different things.
Consider this: If your friend consistently bails on the plans that you’ve made, you may think that you need them to stop being so flaky. (And that’s a fair request!) But your needs will never be based on someone else’s actions. Instead, think about how their flakiness makes you feel: neglected, unimportant, or even abandoned. Perhaps, instead, what you need from your friend is to know that you’re a priority in their life, and that they want to spend quality time with you. So consider what it is you think you need from your friendship, and then go a bit deeper. Get clear on what it is you really want before you try to communicate it.
Communicate From a Place of Calm
Conversations that have the potential to become emotional or heated should always be approached with intention. When you’re communicating what you need (assuming that those needs have not been met), your chat can easily turn controversial. And it makes sense, right? If you’ve been feeling unsupported, you might also understandably feel resentful, irritated, or even angry that your friend hasn’t been showing up for you the way you need them to.
That being said, it’s not likely that you’ll effectively communicate how you’re feeling or what you need if you try to converse with your friend from that negative headspace. Instead, have an intentional (and perhaps, scheduled) conversation when you’re both calm and prepared to discuss something deeper. Let your friend know what you want to talk about, so that they don’t feel blindsided and can perhaps prepare some talking points of their own.
Avoid Being Accusatory
It’s easy to want to blame your friend for every instance that they didn’t or couldn’t give you what you need. But what if they were dealing with their own issues? What if they didn’t realize you were distant or hurting?
What if they wanted to help, but they didn’t even know what you need?
As with any healthy relationship communication, avoid putting unnecessary responsibility on the other party and take responsibility for your own feelings and needs. Try to avoid blaming statements if your friends haven’t yet identified or supported your needs; instead, use “I” statements to take responsibility for your feelings. Instead of saying, “You never make time for me!” try telling them: “I feel like I’m not a priority in your life. I need to feel that you want to spend time with me.” This approach empowers you by allowing you to take responsibility for the only thing you can really know and control: your own feelings.
Include Steps to Support You
You’ve already gotten clear on what you need; now get clear on the actions your friend can take to support you. “Being clear with people around what we want is a form of kindness and allows the relationship to blossom from a place of boundaries and intimacy,” says Thais.
Of course, it can feel frustrating when your friends — the people who are supposed to know you best — can’t read your mind or magically know what you need. But guessing correctly how to support you is not the sign of a good friendship anyway.
A friend who actively listens to your requests, then intentionally implements the best steps you’ve asked them to take is the true sign of a friend who cares.
Think about the needs you identified in the first step, then list 1-3 actionable ways your friend can best support that need. Be honest with yourself and with them about the tangible steps that will meet your needs.
Offer to Return the Favor
Now, it’s time to turn the tables: Encourage your friend to share their needs with you, and express your willingness to support them too. In openly expressing your needs, you’ve also shown them that this is a safe and welcome interaction to have. That being said, be very clear that the conversation is two-way, and that you are open to receiving requests from them as well.
This is what makes a relationship a relationship after all; it’s the careful dance of managing each other’s needs, supporting each other’s desires, and learning and growing individually and as unit because of your willingness to hear from and support one another.
“Asking for what you want from a friend, whether it’s for them to show up for you in a certain way or to stop doing something that hurts you, is hard and asks us to directly confront what it means to take up space and to feel worthy in that space,” says Thais. If you haven’t yet fully developed that sense of worthiness — the confidence to identify what you need and believe that you deserve to receive it — give yourself grace and look at each opportunity to express your needs as an opportunity and a practice. Remember that the friends who are right for you will always be able to receive that.
Photos by Summer Staeb