An Expert Reveals How To Support Your Best Friend, Even When You’re Separated By Distance

by Caroline Burke

A best friend has an irreplaceable role in anyone’s life. They’re the person you go to for just about anything, from getting advice about how to deal with that annoying co-worker, to navigating the choppy waters of post-grad adulthood, to sympathizing over your most recent breakup. One of the best parts of a close friendship is how easy it feels to be friends, but when your BFF lives really far away, it can become harder to maintain your relationship. Learning how to be there for your best friend when the two of you are separated by distance requires the same type of practice that anything else does: You have to be intentional, and you have to think about how you want to approach the challenge.

The good news is that a friendship will almost always be less stressful than a romantic relationship. The bad-ish news is that you’re still going to have to put in an active effort to keep it going — but let’s be real: It’s so worth it.

According to Dr. Emily Balcetis, a social psychologist and associate professor of psychology at New York University, keeping the flame of friendship alive doesn't have to be as daunting as it sounds. What it really comes down to is maintaining honesty, communication, and empathy, and while this is sometimes easier said than done, especially in a long-distance friendship, the real goal is to simply express to the other person, on a consistent basis, how much you care about them and want them in your life. "Taking time to spread the love, compliment each other, acknowledge generosity, praise accomplishments, and send a smile can make a big difference," Dr. Balcetis tells Elite Daily.

Here are five quick tips for being the best friend you can be, even when your beloved other half is miles and miles away.

Go Out Of Your Way To Encourage, Rather Than Discourage

According to Dr. Balcetis, the well-being of any friendship can, at least in part, be determined by how many positive statements are made in the relationship, as opposed to negative ones. "The work of [famous relationship researcher John Gottman] suggests that the positive statements juxtaposed against the negative statements can predict with over 90 percent accuracy whether the [two people] will stick together," she tells Elite Daily, adding that this "magic ratio" typically translates to five positive statements for every one negative statement. "People are happier and more satisfied when, for every one negative thing that is said in everyday interactions, it is offset by five positive things."

Keep in mind, this is a pretty tried-and-true ratio as far as the research basis of it goes, so consider what that might look like to you and your BFF in your long-distance friendship. Always do your best to be positive in your interactions, even if one or both of you are having a tough day.

Create A Virtual Support System For Stress

Living far away from your friend can be a nightmare of trying to plan schedules, especially if you live in a different time zone. And when you're really stressed out, it can seem even more daunting to stay in touch with your faraway bestie. But, ironically enough, Dr. Balcetis says, that's the time when you need to stay in touch with your BFF the most.

The social psychologist notes that having a friend who's there for you during a difficult time doesn't just feel good for the obvious reasons; it can also help your mind and body on a cellular level. "Cardiovascular reactions, stress hormone responses, and our experience of pain and mental anguish are blunted when we have a close, supportive friend or partner there to help us through a stressful event," Dr. Balcetis tells Elite Daily.

Whether you send out a calendar invite or put a recurring alarm on your phone, do whatever it takes to show up for your friend when they need you most, and he or she will do the same for you.

Make The Effort To Keep Your Friend Involved In Your Life

In an interview with TIME, Dr. Amy Johnson, a communication professor at the University of Oklahoma who has studied long-distance friendships, stressed the importance of actively maintaining your friendship, as opposed to just being nostalgic about the good old days. In practice, this will likely mean scheduling regular phone calls and trips to help keep both of you intentional about sustaining your friendship, rather than just passively being a part of it from afar.

So, rather than just reminiscing about the good times you and your bestie used to have, make an effort to tell them what's going on in your life right now. If they know about your new friends, your co-workers, and your job, they'll feel more like a genuine part of your life. "You have to move beyond what you interacted with in the past and build and help each other keep up-to-date with what you’re doing currently, too," Johnson explained.

Don't Be Afraid To Talk Big, Even Virtually

Since you and your bestie aren't getting much face-to-face time in your long-distance friendship, you might feel the urge to only talk about lighter stuff over text or on the phone, and unintentionally avoid discussing the stuff that you really want to dish about.

However, according to Dr. Balcetis, it's important to have real talks with your best friend, not just idle chit-chat. What's more, she tells Elite Daily, it's crucial for you and your best friend to build each other up and help one another dream big. To put this in perspective, Dr. Balcetis shares the details of a recent study she's been conducting with Lean Cuisine, which focuses on the role of encouragement between friends: "[The study] showed 89 percent of women set more ambitious goals when conversing with influential women in their life — like their friends, family or colleagues — and 77 percent chose greater aspirations in the aspects of life they deemed most important." In other words, your closest friendships can often play a much bigger role in your long-term life and success than you might realize.

With all of that in mind, don't be afraid to ask your friend about what's going on at work, how things are going in their love life, or other big-picture details like that. These conversations aren't always the easiest to have, sure, but oftentimes, they bring you closer to one another, and they build a foundation of trust that can last a lifetime.

Lean Toward The Change Instead Of Resisting It

Let's face it: Your friendship has changed now that you live in totally different places. But rather than dig your heels into the ground and try to keep things the way they were, why not embrace the new friendship and take advantage of it in as many ways as you can?

For example, you now have a bona fide reason to visit another place every few months — and you should still try to see each other in person, as much as you're able to. Dr. Balcetis notes that only offline relationships have been statistically proven to increase a person's quality of life: "When we need emotional support like empathy, or instrumental support like having a friend actually do something to help us," she tells Elite Daily, "we need our offline connections."

Your relationship with your best friend may be changing, but what you two are getting out of that friendship — a true connection, side-splitting laughter, and memories to last a lifetime — doesn't have to. It's all about embracing the changes and making the absolute most out of them.