The bad news? From the age of 55, the number of friendships each of us has tends to dwindle. That's according to a recent study, published in Royal Society Open Science. Family commitments, health issues and geographical distance can make it trickier to keep in touch. It's also just as easy as it ever was to fall out over a silly misunderstanding or perceived slight.
The good news, though, is that your friendships don't have to suffer: with good communication and mutual understanding, they can even strengthen over time. The trick is to work out what really matters – and what doesn't...
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1. Pick up the phone
There really is no substitute for a proper chat. So if you haven't been in touch for a while, don't be tempted to fall back on email, text or social media. 'Friends are time-consuming – but it's time well-spent,' says life coach Olga Levancuka. 'Do set aside time for that chat, even if it's just once a month.'
2. Don't be cryptic
So your friend forgot your birthday or didn't call when she said she would? You have two clear choices: tell her straight that she's upset you, or let it go. Using passive aggression or sulking in an attempt to indirectly get your message across is often the first step on the road to a long-term fall-out. Is it really that important?
3. Shift your expectations
Or to put it another way: don't expect everyone else to behave as you do. 'People often show appreciation in the way they'd like to receive it,' says psychotherapist Karen Meager (www.monkeypuzzletraining.co.uk). 'For example, one person may show she cares by giving her time, another by giving a gift. If you receive a gift when you really value time, you may feel disappointed. But remember, your friend does care: she's just showing it in a different way.'
Related: When friends let you down
4. Be honest about what's happening in your life
If you're going through a tough time – due to ill health or relationship problems, for example – it's easy to feel cut-off from your friends and convince yourself they're not there for you when you really need them. But they won't know what's happening, or what you need from them, unless you tell them. Besides, life is full of ups and downs – and it could be that your friend hasn't checked in on you simply because she's going through a challenging time herself.
5. Admit you don't know what to say
When a friend has experienced illness or loss, it's human nature to want to find the perfect words to make everything better. And when those words won't come, many people feel useless and choose to retreat instead. The truth, of course, is that sometimes there are no words – and that's when we really need our friends.
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6. Don't over-commit
You know that friend who always double-books, turns up late or cancels at the last minute? Irritating, isn't it? Make sure it's not you! 'If you have a tendency to get exhausted with too many obligations to people, learn to say no,' says psychotherapist Suzy Dittmar from The Priory Group.
7. Seek help if you need it
Sometimes, psychological factors such as shyness or lack of assertiveness can stand in the way of our friendships, even long-standing ones. 'Don't be held back by feelings of rejection or misplaced guilt,' advises Dittmar. 'A few sessions with a therapist, or even a heart-to-heart with a really good friend, can make a big difference.'
8. Leave the past behind
Of course, your history is important – but don't allow what's happened in the past to impact on the new friendships you form now. 'That's the beauty of building friendships when we're older,' says Levancuka. 'There's no need to share your entire life story. You're making friends to share new moments, not to regurgitate what's happened in the past. So keep your skeletons where they belong: in the closet.'
9. Never write anyone off completely
'If a friendship feels too one-sided, it may have run its course,' admits Meager. 'Backing off a bit and giving the other person some space is sometimes the best way to test whether the relationship is truly over. But friendships can dip in and out over time. If you're not in touch for a while, it doesn't mean you're not important: your friend may just have other things going on right now.'
10. Be a friend to yourself
If you put yourself under pressure and rush around trying to be everyone's best friend, you're heading for burn-out. 'So be kind to yourself,' says life coach Sophia Davis, adviser for Bach Flower Remedies. 'Heartfelt connections are the real ones worth keeping, and they can only happen when you let your guard down and just be yourself. True friends understand each other and forgive one another's flaws.'
Related: Eight tips for building friendships
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