How To Be A Better Friend

This time of year is all about romantic relationships, but that doesn’t mean we should overlook the people in our lives with whom we share everything but a bed. After all, our friends are the ones that see us through love-life droughts, toxic relationships, heartbreaking splits and everything that happens around and between it all. Too often we take these people for granted, particularly when we are happily coupled up. Here, seven ways to step it up and ensure you’re being a flawless friend.

Everyone reacts differently to tough times—some turn outward, asking for help and support, while others turn inward. Regardless of how your friend may be behaving, know that she needs you. Often we take it personally when a friend shuts down. In reality, isolation can be a cry for help. No matter the situation, don't just offer help, be helpful—come to town to pitch in with the new baby, help research doctors she needs to see for her illness and come over even when she says she doesn't need you. According to Scientific American , research shows having a friend nearby during times of trauma can significantly lower stress levels.

Most of us hear an incredibly judgmental voice in our own head from time to time—nobody needs a "friend" who only contributes to the chatter. The truth is, you can tell someone you don't approve of him going back to his ex, for example, but he's going to do it anyway—we all have lessons to learn for ourselves. And most of us want friends who make us feel heard and supported, not judged. Empathy is a critical skill for keeping friends close.

In every friendship dynamic, there's one (usually more drama-prone) friend who does the bulk of the storytelling and one who does the bulk of the listening. If you're the former, trust us, always being the latter gets old. Be mindful of this the next time you're together and practice being a better listener—here, five tips for doing so.

As we get older, we get busier with our significant others, careers and even kids, so our oldest and closest friends tend to fall into a lower-priority ranking than they deserve. We suggest taking a few minutes each week to remedy this problem by simply shooting out a question via text like "How is the baby?" or "Did you get the promotion?" or "Is your grandmother feeling better?" Although you may have only taken a few seconds to think about your friend, she'll immediately feel cared for and connected.

As with a romantic relationship, the true test is whether you can love and support your friend when he or she has done something "wrong" in life or is just generally failing and flailing. If you want a real, lasting friendship, you can't choose to be there only when your friend is his or her best self. That's not what friends are for, right?

Your BFF is under no obligation to be your friend; rather, your relationship is a choice she makes every single day, through good times and (hopefully) bad times. Make sure you tell her often how grateful you are—taking friends for granted is a surefire way to lose them.

Sending your bestie something she can stick to the refrigerator can go a long way toward making them feel connected despite distance. If you're not yet in the Christmas-card-sending phase of life, we still love an old-fashioned postcard from the road. Extra points for addressing it to their kids, too.