Friendships are like marriage. They take work, compromise, and communication. But friendships worth having should also be easy, and free of stress and drama. Friends tend to come and go. The dynamics of life change as we age, our children grow, and we develop as individuals.

Those friends that last a lifetime are rare and precious gifts to be cherished. Maintaining friendships over many years doesn’t just happen by accident. There are some important things to keep in mind that will help you keep those friends through all the challenges that life throws your way.

1. Make Time

Women are natural-born planners. We like to plan ahead and keep things orderly. We mark things on our calendar weeks in advance and organize appointments, events, and meetings based on our lifestyles. You need to schedule time for your friends as well, the same way you pencil in your nail appointment or oil change. Pick a date and time, mark it on your calendar and don’t change it.

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My girlfriend and I sit with our calendars and choose Saturday playdates with the kids and afternoon lunches. Planning in advance helps us carve out time for one another amidst the chaos of everyday life. Like most things, if you put off getting together, it may never happen.

Another great way to keep in touch is scheduling a time to chat on the phone during your drive to work or on weekends. If talking on the phone isn’t your thing, you can send each other emails or text messages. Simply dropping a note to see how things are going, checking on the family, or just letting them know you’re thinking about them is a great way to show a friend that you care.

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2. Create a Judgment Free Zone

Friends are a great source of advice, support, and encouragement. Our friends often know us better than we know ourselves. Sometimes you just need to vent and a girlfriend is usually the first person you turn to. One thing I’ve learned is that offering your opinion and advice is fine under most circumstances, but there may be times your friend just wants you to listen.

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Have you ever tried calling your mom and venting about your current relationship only to have her completely bash your partner or pull the infamous, “I told you so”? No one wants to hear that. And your friend likely doesn’t either.

You should know your friend well enough to know if she is looking for constructive advice or simply an outlet for her frustration. Judgment has no place in a friendship. That’s not to say you need to agree with everything your friend does. But finding the right way to express your feelings is key.

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Differences may be in relation to parenting or health choices, or even work ethic and religious beliefs. Friendship is about acceptance. If you find that you’re judging everything your friend is saying or doing, perhaps the friendship itself needs reevaluating.

3. Respect Each Other’s Individuality

It’s awesome when you and your friend share the same interests. Do you enjoy doing yoga together, eating at the same lunch spot, or watching the same television shows? You likely have a lot in common or else you wouldn’t be friends. One thing to be aware of is the difference between enjoying each other’s company and becoming possessive or suffocating.

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It’s okay to be your own individual. In fact, you need to be! And so does your friend. Just because your friend wants to hit the gym solo this week or prefers a different type of music doesn’t mean either of you needs to alter your own interests. Individuality is what makes us all unique and awesome human beings. And your differences are likely part of what attracted you two as friends. Embrace and support each other’s individuality and it might just strengthen your friendship.

4. Green is not a Good Color

This point piggybacks on the one above. Respecting each other’s differences means not being possessive of their time or other friendships they might have. It’s human nature to feel protective of our friends. And it’s sometimes difficult when they find a new person they enjoy spending time with. Whether it’s someone at work or a mother of their child’s classmate. But it’s important to keep things in perspective and ward off feelings of jealousy.

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Keep in mind that just because your friend has a new person in their lives, it doesn’t mean your friendship needs to change. In fact, the more supportive you are of your friend’s newfound connection, the more appreciative she’ll likely be. Be secure in the bond that you two share. All friendships offer us something different. If you do start feeling like your friend is pulling away, sit down with her and be honest about your feelings. It may just be time to reevaluate things and find new and different ways to connect and spend time together.

5. Don’t Force It

Sometimes, we simply outgrow our friendships and that’s okay. As we continue on our life paths, things change. We grow as individuals and that sometimes means growing apart. This happens with our children also.

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If you and your friend originally became close due to the friendship your children shared, be aware that if the children start growing apart, this may impact your friendship as well. Were playdates with the kids the only time you and your friend saw each other? If your kids begin to drift apart, those playdates will be few and far between. This may lead to a slow separation of you and your friend as well.

This doesn’t have to be the case, though! If you two have developed your own, separate bond outside of the one shared by your kids, you can still foster that friendship. But it’s important not to force the friendship - not the one between you and your friend and certainly not the friendship between the kids. If your child is no longer interested in spending time with another child, you need to respect that. Forcing them to be friends just because you want to maintain the friendship with the other child’s mother is an unhealthy approach. If you two are meant to be friends or share a true bond outside of your children’s’ relationship, then your friendship will stand the test of time.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Change

Your friendships will change. I repeat, your friendships will change. Accepting this fact will save you a lot of emotional stress and turmoil. And changing friendships doesn’t necessarily mean losing friends and gaining others, though this might happen too! But the dynamics of your current friendships will likely transform over time. It’s important to remember what brought you two together as friends, to begin with. Focus on the special and unique parts of your friendship. This will help eliminate unnecessary stress, avoid hurt feelings, and might even strengthen your bond.