7 Steps To Build Close Friendships & Keep Them Strong
There are few things more fulfilling than having a close friendship with someone. Whether you're bonding with your college roommate or catching up with an old friend you've known since childhood, there's something unique about having a strong relationship with a person who makes you feel seen and heard. Research has even shown that prioritizing friendship is associated with better health and well-being1 and that feeling connected to others can reduce your stress levels.
While it's no secret that friendship matters for our health and happiness, maintaining close friendships isn't always easy. Maybe finding your social circle in college was seamless, but making friends as an adult feels overwhelming. Maybe you're super busy and struggle to find time to socialize, or you recently moved and you miss feeling close to your friends back home. No matter what your circumstances, if you're craving close friendships in your life right now, you're not alone.
Here's what makes a close friend and how to get closer to a friend, according to licensed therapists.
What makes a close friendship?
A close friendship is characterized by mutual trust, respect, and emotional intimacy, according to clinical psychologist Annia Raja, Ph.D. "It's a relationship where you can feel comfortable being yourself and sharing your innermost thoughts and emotions without fear of judgment or rejection," she tells mbg. "Research has shown that people with strong friendships are happier, healthier, and more resilient to stress."
According to Shani Gardner, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Soulful Grace Therapy, close friendships also involve honesty, support, and understanding. "Close friends provide safety, comfort, and a deep sense of alignment and intimacy," she tells mbg. "Close friendships are important because we are social beings, and we are wired for connection with others. We have a natural desire to be seen and understood; close friendships allow that desire to be satisfied."
In that sense, the psychology of close friendships comes down to our very human nature. Jennifer Chain, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of the group therapy practice Thrive for the People, says humans have thrived as a species because of our interdependence on each other. "Therefore, having meaningful and close friendships meets one of our foundational needs for connection and belonging."
Signs of a close friendship:
- You have a mutual sense of respect, trust, and support.
- You can be open and honest with each other.
- You're comfortable being vulnerable and sharing your struggles with them.
- You can trust that your friend will have your back.
- They make you feel safe, valued, and understood.
- You can be yourself around them without judgment.
- You feel good spending time together and enjoy their company.
- They accept you for who you are and have your best interests in mind.
- You can repair any conflicts productively with healthy communication.
- Even if you haven't seen your friend in a long time, you feel like you can still pick up where you left off.
Types of friendships.
There are many types of friendships, from people you met during childhood to your college roommates to the work friends you casually grab drinks with on weekends. It's common to have different types of friends during varying seasons of your life, with each friend serving a different purpose. Here are a few of the most common types of friendships:
- Social friends: A social friend is someone you tend to see and socialize with regularly. You most likely hang out with a social friend to have a good time and engage in fun activities, though you may not necessarily confide in or seek deep emotional support from them.
- Group friends: A group friend is someone you may see or talk to regularly as part of a friend group, though you may not necessarily spend time together one-on-one.
- Situational friends: Some friendships exist in the context of certain situations—for example, you may have work friends, yoga friends, college friends, gaming friends, or even a neighbor or roommate. These friendships tend to serve a specific role or purpose and may or may not be as intimate as other types of friendship.
- Lifelong friends: A lifelong friend is someone you've known for most or all of your life. Maybe you grew up together or met them in middle school, and your shared experiences created a strong foundation. You might grow apart or not see each other as often the older you get, but you still have a positive friendship with them and catch up every once in a while. Lifelong friends are also people who see you through different stages of life and can keep you connected to your roots, past, or history.
- Life-stage friends: Whether you're a student, recent grad, single, newly married, or becoming a parent, life-stage friends are people who connect with you based on being in a similar stage of life. They understand the chapter of life you're in and are going through it alongside you.
- Best friends: These are the most intimate and important friendships—the ones where you have a strong social and emotional foundation and feel like you can be honest and vulnerable with them. Similar to close friends, best friendships aren't necessarily about how much time you spend together but more about the quality and depth of your connection.
7 small ways to get closer to a friend.
Opening up and getting closer to a friend can be tough, whether it's someone brand-new or a person you've known forever. Maybe you get anxious meeting new people or aren't sure how to build a connection over text. No matter what your goals are, here are some expert-approved ways to get closer to a friend:
First, be brave and reach out.
When seeking a closer friendship, sometimes, you have to make the first move. "Whether it's reaching out to an old friend, going to an event where you don't know anyone, or talking to someone you don't know, I think the hardest part is starting," says Nicole Sbordone, LCSW, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Surviving Female Friendships: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. "Everyone gets nervous putting themselves out there and being vulnerable. Worst-case scenario, the person isn't receptive, and you know you tried. Otherwise, if you really want closer friendships, you have to put in the work and effort—and most of the time, the benefits outweigh the risks."
Aim for frequent, quality interactions if you can.
If you want to get closer to a friend, Chain recommends reaching out on a regular basis. "Studies have shown that proximity and frequency make a big difference in relationships," she explains. "If you and your friend live down the street from one another and see each other every morning for your morning walk and coffee, the chances are high that you will become close organically. However, if you and your friend live in different countries and want to create deeper intimacy in the relationship, you would need to be intentional about how often you reach out to connect."
Send them a thoughtful text, email, or voice memo.
If you don't see your friend in person often, let technology help—a call, text, voice memo, or old-school email can go a long way! "I suggest reaching out and letting [your friend] know that you enjoy spending time with them, you care about them, or you're just thinking of them," Gardner says. "These kinds of messages make the other person feel cared for and can increase the chances that they'll extend the same care to you."
Carve out intentional time to catch up.
Life is busy, and it isn't always possible to hang with friends 24/7—but making an effort to connect is crucial if you want to get closer to someone.
"Prioritize spending quality time together," Raja suggests. "Close friendships can take time to develop, but the investment is well worth it."
Maybe you meet up for walks together every Sunday or you set aside one afternoon a month to catch up over video. Set a time for friendship on your calendar and schedule it like any other obligation. Your friend is bound to appreciate it (and they'll be motivated to prioritize you, too).
Plan an activity and share an experience together.
To deepen your social connection, Chain recommends planning outings with your friend. "Make a list of concerts, hikes, classes, or trips that you know you will both enjoy, and start planning some friend dates."
If weekly brunch with someone is your norm but you want to take the friendship deeper, Gardner says it can be helpful to mix it up and think beyond typical food and drinks. "Take a workout class together once a week or read a book together and set aside time to discuss. This will give you something concrete to bond over and allow room for you to grow closer."
Explore vulnerable conversations.
Close friendship requires vulnerability. To strengthen your bond, share your thoughts and emotions with your friend while inviting them to do the same. "You can start by disclosing more about your inner world and feelings," Chain says. "If you set the tone for vulnerable conversations in your relationship, chances are that your friend will follow your example." Practice active listening, tune into your friend's feelings, ask questions, and be compassionate to help bring your friendship closer.
According to Gardner, vulnerability also means being open to giving and receiving feedback and navigating tricky conversations every once in a while. "You have to provide understanding, validation, and support in an open and honest way," she says. "You also have to be willing to have tough conversations that are coming from a place of care."
Support your friend through the ups and downs.
Close friendships are all about supporting each other during both fun and hard times—and remember, the support should be mutual. (Nobody likes a one-sided friendship where everything revolves around one person and their needs!) "Don't be afraid to show vulnerability by asking for help when you need it, as well as reciprocating proactively and doing the same for your friend," Raja says.
"If you notice an equal give and take, that's a big green flag for a close relationship," Gardner adds. For example, if you both reach out to initiate plans, you can celebrate each other's wins, and you're mutually invested in growing the relationship, it's probably a good sign.
Why do close friends grow apart?
As people grow and change, so do friendships. Close friends can grow apart due to differing lifestyles, big life changes like marriage or relocating, lack of interaction, physical distance, or simply time passing without hanging out together. Friendships can also fade due to a lack of common interests, mismatched expectations, or situations where their values no longer align with yours.
How do you make new close friends as an adult?
To establish new friendships as an adult, find a virtual or in-person meetup or interest group. You can attend a cooking class, sign up for a committee at work, volunteer in the community, or join a book club to meet new people. You can also try apps designed for friendship or ask someone from your current network to introduce you to someone new.
At the end of the day, a close friendship should be a genuine connection with someone who makes you feel safe, heard, and affirmed. They accept you for who you are without judgment, and they're there for you through thick and thin. "Close friendships are an essential part of our emotional well-being and sense of community and connectedness, so it's worth investing time and effort to nurture and strengthen them," Raja says.
Close friendships are also deeply personal, and Sbordone suggests defining your relationships in a way that feels comfortable for you. "'Close' doesn't have to mean that you're seeing each other regularly or talking every day," she says. "'Close' can mean that you have a good foundation for the friendship…you know that if you needed that friend, they would be there for you." She adds that situational context, friendship history, and the amount of time and effort you contribute can also help you define whether the friendship is "close" or not.
If you don't feel like you have close friendships right now, don't worry—a little bit of effort, vulnerability, and communication can go a long way. Whether you want to reconnect with an old acquaintance or strengthen an existing connection, take the leap of faith and go for it. A great friendship could be right around the corner.
Tianna Faye Soto, M.A., is a Puerto Rican, Jamaican-Chinese writer, editor, and wellness speaker based in New York City. She holds B.A. degrees in Psychology and Spanish Language & Literature from North Carolina State University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology in Education from Columbia University, where she received specialized training at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute. She is also certified in yoga, meditation, and Reiki levels I & II.
Tianna was previously the Contributing Editor of Dating at Elite Daily and an Associate Editor at Her Campus Media. Her work has been featured by Cosmopolitan, Conscious Magazine, Thrive Global, and more.
As a professional speaker, Tianna leads keynotes and workshops focused on mental health, identity, and personal growth. She has worked with 50 universities around the country along with organizations like Facebook, Neutrogena, Bumble, and The UN Foundation. She also serves as a board member for the international mental health organization To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA).
Tianna’s work is heart-centered, service-driven, and rooted in empathy. Follow along and connect on Instagram: @tiannafayee.