How to Make Your Friendships Last

For many women the bonds we share with our female friends are the ones that we rely on to get through life's ups and downs, but between new jobs, growing families and long distances, keeping those friendships isn' t always easy.

Psychologist Dr. Michelle Callahan, a contributor to Women's Health magazine, appeared on "The Early Show" with co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez and Rodriguez's best friend Tami Frymark, to give some tips for how friends can keep bonds strong through all of life's changes.

Read the Health Magazine article on friends

Callahan said, for women, friends are often what keep them going through life.

"The friendships are an important function to their day to day lives," she said. "When we're with friends, we talk, we laugh, we're active, we hug, we have skin contact. All of these can increase endorphin and serotonin production and lower blood pressure, encouraging better health and longevity."

Callahan cited a 2008 study, in which Harvard researchers found that strong social ties protect against memory loss as we age. In post-college years, though, those benefits are harder and harder to come by, she said. In a recent survey conducted jointly by Duke University and the University of Arizona, sociologists learned that women today report having an average of only two close confidants, down from three in 1985; nearly a quarter of the women surveyed reported having no one at all in whom they could confide.

"A lot of times it's hard to put in the work to keep these relationships going," she said. "The resulting social isolation can lead to depression or worse. In another study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that among women with breast cancer, those with a large circle of friends were four times less likely to die of the disease than patients without close pals."

So how can you make those friendships last?

Don't Let Her Drift Away

Callahan said, "We're often drawn to people based on common interests and circumstances, and when life changes, the friendship can become vulnerable. Try to think of these 'friend shifts' as a temporary setback and give each other some extra TLC. Be willing to put the overall time and effort into it."

Part of what happens, Callahan said, is women assume that because they change, they can't be friends. For example, say post-college one friend becomes a mom, the other becomes a career woman, even though the interests have shifted, it's important to know you can still bond.

"Don't look at it as we don't like all the same things, you actually have the opportunity to expose yourselves to different things," she said, adding, "Yes, It can be difficult to relate to other people. Maybe you don't like their kids but they have to bring their kids because that's their world. People change over time, so women have to get over that and adjust."

In a lot of ways, Callahan said, women have defined friendships from similarities.

"At the end of the day, you don't need the person who has the most in common with you but when you have a horrible day you want to know there's someone you can talk to who knows you, who can talk you off that ledge," she said. "You have to learn to accept each other's changes and take advantage of the new opportunities."

Stop obsessing over the past.

Callahan says that rather than grasping at the past, the way things use to be, reconnect by accepting your new lives and roles within the friendship when they change.

"The key is taking the time to find out what's important to each other now," she said. 'It's something within yourself. Something we each need to realize is that the person can still be your friend, even though that person has changed. Stop thinking about how they were, accept them as they currently are. Try to show enthusiasm, be curious and supportive of whatever they're doing now."

Stop Making Excuses

Make a firm commitment to find some time for each other, even if it's a phone date, Callahan said.

"When you make vague plans and don't follow up, you run the risk of weeks turning into months and months turning into years, and suddenly you're strangers," she said.

Callahan said friends should suggest a specific date to get together.

"Ask what works better for you, breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Sometimes when you're coming from out of town, it's so easy to get involved in so many other things so you just have to make that commitment," she said. "You really have to work at this."

Don't Let Facebook replace face time.

"Facebook should really complement the time you already spend together," she said. "It's a way to stay even closer, but it can't be your primary way of contact. It's the icing on the cake, but you have to still have that foundation."

Callahan said friends should think of texts and e-notes as supplements -- not replacements -- for-person-to-person interaction.

"As humans, we're innately wired for in-person socializing, not electronic mini check-ins," she said. "There's not that much can go into a wall post that can really connect you. You have to pick up a phone or you have to get together."

Be There When It Counts

Callahan said, "Even if you can't spend a lot of day-to-day time with that person, you need to make sure that at times when it's really most critical, you make yourself available. Just try to make sure whatever significant life events happen with your friend, you're in contact at that time, even if you're not in touch all the time."

She said, when the pressure is really on at work, your boss knows you'll drop everything and stay late to finish that project. When one of your friends is going through a rough time, Callahan said, she should know that you'll offer her the same kind of dedicated support.

She added, "It's less about the words you say, and more about being there for someone you love when she needs you most."
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