THE BLOG
03/26/2013 05:40 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2013

4 Keys to Developing and Maintaining Friendships

As the old saying goes, you can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose. That is, unless you've developed some really close friendship!

We need friendships in our lives to supplement our existing romantic, marital or family relationships. Yet most adult friendships are based on proximity rather than on a purposeful pursuit. We have friends in our neighborhood or in our workplace, but often these are not deep, long-lasting friendships that endure the births, deaths, and job changes that life throws our way.

As a friend of mine once said, "I want to know that I have one or two good friends who I can call at 11:00 p.m. when I just need to talk."

When I turned 30, I realized I didn't have that kind of relationship, so I purposely sought it out. Now don't get me wrong. I didn't stand outside of the Starbucks in the mall asking people if they needed a friend. Instead, I looked for relationships in my own backyard.

There were six men, including me, who were part of a couples' group at my church. I thought it would be great for the men to meet outside of that group to strengthen our individual relationships.

Since we didn't play bridge or golf and weren't into scrapbooking like our wives were, I had to come up with an activity that I thought would engage the other men.

So I designed what I called JAM, or "Joint Activities for Men." Six times a year, on a Saturday morning, we gathered at one of our houses and worked on those odd household jobs that never got done. In other words, once a year, we each got a morning of free labor.

We did yard work, painted rooms, and even hung cabinets. It's easy to figure out which cabinets I hung -- they're slightly off-center, just like I am.

These JAM sessions were great for bringing us closer while giving us something to do. Eventually, however, we all started having children and couldn't find one day, much less six, when we could get everyone together. So, the idea fizzled out and my new to-do list is still undone.

More recently, I approached a couple of men who seemed to have similar interests as me. We started going out for coffee every two weeks, and the result is close friendships that are still strong today. In fact, I could easily call them at 11:00 p.m. if I just needed to talk.

I think we need relationships outside of our families or significant others as a way to offer an objective and supportive place to deal with stuff. And if we're purposeful and nurture these relationships, they will last.

Here are a few ways to develop and maintain friendships.

Look for friends with common interests. If you're involved in a faith community, a service organization, a gym, or even a committee at work, it is likely that there are folks within these groups that are potential friends. Common interests are a great starting point and lend themselves to connecting more easily.

Schedule a "first date." There is nothing wrong with approaching someone, indicating that you think you have something in common with them, and inviting them to get coffee or dinner. You're not asking for a lifetime commitment, but just a chance to see if you connect.

Make a commitment. Once you begin a friendship, you must be purposeful in developing it. Getting together regularly, sharing the ups and downs of life, and supporting one another are all aspects of a healthy friendship. Both people must commit to nurturing the relationship and keeping each other accountable to it.

Have fun. The icing on the cake of friendships is to have fun together. Whether you're playing golf, going on vacations, or just watching a movie together, these fun activities become the moments that offer the perfect balance to the challenges in life.

As the saying goes, you can't pick your family but you can pick your friends. To get the very most out of life, I think it is important to pick a few good friends along the way.

For more by Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP, click here.

For more on conscious relationships, click here.