Friendship Guru Talks About the Keys to Happiness

Shasta Nelson, Adventist-pastor-turned-relationship-expert, talks about her new book Frientimacy, her national friendship business and the importance of close relationships.

Question: You have a new book out called Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. Who should read this book? Why is this topic important? Don't most of us know how to have friendships already?

Answer: Unfortunately, most of us haven’t had amazing education or impressive modeling in how to build healthy friendships. We all too often believe it has more to do with discovering the right friend, rather than in understanding how to develop the right friendship.

I wrote this book primarily for women because about 75% of us are reporting dissatisfaction with our friendships. (Although I have a huge heart for men too who desperately need more intimate friendships and who have even less modeling, permission, and practice at developing deeper friendships.) The truth is that far too many of us don’t have deep, familiar, and meaningful friendships that leave us feeling supported. We are more networked than ever and yet don’t feel like we have a support net underneath us; we know more people and yet feel less known; and we don’t feel like we have enough time to develop the intimacy we know matters.

To ignore our hunger for more connection leaves many of us harming not only our happiness, but also our health. In fact, there may be no more important factor in determining our future health than how we answer the question “How loved or supported do I feel?” To feel disconnected is more damaging to our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as harmful as being obese, and leaves the equivalent damage on our bodies as being a lifelong alcoholic.

This book follows your 2013 book Friendships Don't Just Happen!: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends. I see that it has 4.5 stars on Amazon. Have you been pleased with your first book's success? What made you decide to write it?

It means so much to me that my work has resonated with so many people. In my first book about how to make friends as an adult, I explained the five types of friends and helped break down the steps to developing new friendships. Research shows that we are replacing half of our close friends every seven years, so all of us — throughout our lives — will want to become very practiced at making new friends. In other words, two or three of the people we confide in the most right now probably weren’t the same people we felt closest to seven years ago; and me might not even have yet met who we’ll feel close to seven years from now. I wanted readers to realize that there is an ebb-and-flow to our friendships and a tremendous amount of life changes (i.e. moves, job changes, marriages, divorce, kids, empty-nest, retirement) that all impact our friendships. I wrote my first book to help people understand the different types of friendships and how to establish healthy expectations along the way.

But as I’ve been teaching that work, I realized that for many of us the loneliness we feel isn’t because we don’t have enough friends, but because we haven’t gone deep enough with a few. So this second book is about how to develop greater frientimacy — or friendship intimacy — with the people we already know.

Both of your books follow your real-life, online to in-person social networking groups GirlFriendCircles.com, which you launched in 2008. How does GirlFriendCircles.com work?

GirlFriendCircles.com is an online community for women who value friendships — kind of like a Match.com for female friends. We love nothing better than being able to introduce women to new friends across the United States and Canada in their local areas. The wonderful thing about meeting someone online in this way is that we’re meeting other women who we know care about creating intentional and healthy friendships with other women. Women join and attend local events to meet other women offline.

We also offer weekend retreats, TravelCircles abroad, learning classes, and training programs.

Everything we offer is the for the purpose of creating healthier relationships.

You are now known as a friendship expert, have appeared on Katie Couric and the Today show, and have been quoted by numerous newspapers and magazines on the topic. You also are a sought-after speaker at events. Would you say you took this role intentionally? Is "friendship expert" the career you saw for yourself as a child?

Haha! Perhaps had there been a degree in it I would have been drawn to it, but unfortunately the tragic truth is that most of us never even take a single class on the subject. This has had to be a self-motivated and self-taught area of passion.

But I will say that now I can look back on my life and say that without a doubt I have always been passionate about developing meaningful relationships and inspiring people to be their healthiest. To that point, I believe we do our most significant growth in our relationships. All the sermons and self-help books in the world can only go so far to inspire us. Our real relationships with others are the gyms of our personal growth where we actually work the muscles of forgiveness, compassion, boundary setting, and honesty. And our spiritual growth is tied to our relationship health.

In that way this role was very intentional — I knew as a healer and teacher that I had to help people heal their relationships with others, too.

What do you think is the most important advice people need to know about making and keeping friendships?

In my newest book Frientimacy, I teach the three requirements of healthy friendships: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. The unfortunate truth is that most of us can’t even define what a friendship is — we tend to just assume it’s people we like, or we name qualities we prefer in people, or use really ambiguous language such as “someone who is always there for me.” But those phrases don’t capture a working definition that informs us how to start a friendship, develop one, repair one, or identify if we even have one.

The truth is that a friendship is "a satisfying relationship between two people that is safe and where both people feel seen." In my book I help unpack what that means and how we can assess every friendship in our lives and know what action to take to deepen friendships when we want. A friendship has more to do with how much we practice the three behaviors of friendship with someone than how much we like someone. We all have met people we like who we never became friends with, and the reverse is just as true: we have developed friendships with people we wouldn’t have initially guessed were people we’d one day feel close to.

How does your background as an Adventist pastor impact your current role?

When I first started GirlFriendCircles.com it couldn’t have felt more different from pastoring. But after some time, I actually realized I was doing much of the same work: helping people become more loving and whole. I used to do that in a church setting through facilitating small groups, counseling couples and individuals, and writing and delivering life-growing sermons. Now the work is done beyond the walls of a church but I’m still writing, teaching, speaking, leading small groups, planning retreats and events, and helping coach people to develop their areas of growth. It’s miraculous to see how little has changed — I still have the same gifts, passion, and calling, even though everything looks completely different!

I credit my upbringing in church to showing me the power of community and gifting me with some of my bestest friends. I’ve never doubted that we are at our best — or most like God — when we are in a relationship. The Bible is filled with an emphasis on relationships and love and forgiveness and I couldn’t be doing the work I am today without having that ingrained in me all those years.

Other practices from my religious background that I still talk about regularly are things like the health message and the Sabbath. Part of what helps Adventists live longer compared to the general population is undoubtedly tied to the relationships of being in a tight-knit community. Research is showing more and more, in fact, that more important to our longevity than adopting healthy behaviors, even, is whether we feel supported. Adventists understand how holistic we are and that the human DNA is to be in relationship. Churches give that gift to so many, for which I am so grateful. And the Sabbath is increasingly important in a world where the number one obstacle to close friendships is lack of time. The idea of a day that is meant to restore us and reconnect us with each other, with God, and with ourselves, can change the world.

What work do you still do with churches? How important is friendship to the work of churches? And how are churches doing, in your opinion, in helping people build healthy friendships?

Relationships are the foundation of nearly everything a church does whether it’s evangelism, discipleship, community service, or community building, so my work is at the heart of what a church is called to do. To that end, I’m often hired by churches or conferences to preach for church services, teach workshops (for women, for men, or co-ed), speak at a health or women’s event targeting the community, or speak for weekend retreats. If we can get our relationships right, pretty much everything else will build on that.

One of the mistakes I see frequently in churches is a similar mistake to what many of us do as individuals: prioritize impressing people over loving people. I’m guilty of this myself — worrying more about appearing perfect or strong or right, instead of practicing one of the requirements of friendships: vulnerability. If the churches could learn how to share vulnerably in appropriate and healthy ways then they’d be more relatable (and less likely to be accused of being hypocrites) and a safer place for others to be real about their imperfections, too. As part of being more Godly — or more loving — churches have unfortunately not always been seen as the safest places to come and grow.

Another problem in many of our churches is an imbalance in who gives and who receives. We want to teach mutuality so that no one burns out, so that everyone grows by serving others, and so we can teach the oft-forgotten skill of learning to receive. To let others give to us is one of the hardest life lessons to learn.

What most churches do so beautifully is give their attendees a sense of having a support net under them. That is something that far too many people live without in this world. I am inspired when I see people come together to care for, fundraise for, cook for, and love people through the transitions of their lives. So many people ache to belong to a group of people who really care and have their backs.

And churches can be such a great place to connect to people in meaningful ways because one of the requirements of friendship, consistency, can happen somewhat automatically — people can see each other regularly without having to initiate, schedule, and plan that time together. Plus, there are likely to be shared commonalities (i.e. backgrounds, interests, beliefs) to be discovered among the people who we’re meeting, so we are more likely to feel a bond.

I pray that churches across this country might be known as places to foster meaningful friendships while the people in them grow their emotional and spiritual health.

For more about Shasta see www.ShastaNelson.com

Buy Frientimacy and Friendships Don't Just Happen on Amazon.

To receive Shasta’s weekly advice on friendship and be notified of upcoming events, sign up at www.ShastasFriendshipBlog.com

Shasta Nelson graduated from Mile High Academy, earned a BA from La Sierra University, and received her M.Div from Andrews Theological Seminary, serving as a pastor in Washington and California, before launching her own business.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7434

Goodness…SDA churches?? Ummm goodluck with that.

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During WWII the churches near military bases were a haven for young men away from home, many for the first time. That kind of openness is hard to find today. TZ

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Thank you so much for this article, Shasta - and for your ministry! Friendships and relationships are a special lifelong interest of mine, as well. Some of those have not survived the years - others have endured from childhood or teen years all the way to the present. Implementing and living out God’s love is the foundation for true friendship, but I profit from how you share the specifics of how to do that!

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Don’t leave us men out. Right now I feel really alone and disconnected, going through a divorce. Women aren’t the only ones who need deep emotional attachment. Just look at the relationship of David and Jonathan. Men seem to be inhibited from forming such close deep personal relationships for fear of being accused of being gay. Well I am gay, so that doesn’t bother me. I feel really detached right now. My church has been okay and supportive to a point. They never ask me to preach any more since I came out of the closet.

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By and large, I agree…I have found that you need to search for the genuine ones.


"I teach the three requirements of healthy friendships: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability ". That’s the place to start @oldabe
It’s that kind of rhetoric that makes proponents Adventism look so UGLY.

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What a beautiful, positive looking , friendship counselor, hahahaha. But I’m impressed with her statement that her latest book is targeted mainly at women. Men , I think,could have have less need for the supportive network circle of Intimate friends, apart from being from being supportive brother- co-believers in spiritual beliefs and practice, that is. In fact in the past when writing I used to be quite happy with two close male friends, two dogs ,and my wife as major confidante. Now that may well need some expansion. Thanks Shasta.

Shasta’s ideas and suggestions are practical and useful in building and maintaining healthy relationships:
I am guessing that Shasta’s unique ministry will be further enhanced when she writes her personal story and presents it. Sometimes, the story of how people come up with solutions and arrive at the place she is can be more helpful to others than anything else.

Helen Reddy sang about “wisdom born of pain” Each of us is different. There is no one way to a healthy friendship relationship, though there are certain qualities important to most. These include:
• Respecting individuality, embracing differences, and allowing each person to “be themselves”
• Discussing things, allowing for differences of opinion, and compromising equally
• Expressing and listening to each other’s feelings, needs, and desires
• Trusting and being honest with yourself and each other
• Resolving conflicts in a rational, peaceful, and mutually agreed upon way
• Engaging in a way that eliminates controlling, manipulative, or emotional and/or physical abuse

These qualities have helped me the most.

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75%? Wow, that is lot and it makes me wonder whether there is more to it than just interpersonal skills.

Is it because women in general emphasize similarities between themselves and others and try to make decisions to assure that everybody is happy (and that in itself is quite a task-just ask TW), whereas men focus on independence and competition so emphasize differences between themselves and make decisions based on personal needs and desires (and that in itself is quite a task-just ask TW)? In addition society has placed the burden of regulating intimacy of relationships on women.

There are also biological and genetic correlates on personalities that have been found to be stable and robust through out life. Have you reviewed the studies on the New York Longitudinal Study and the Minnesota Twin Family Study and did you find any relevance?

https://mctfr.psych.umn.edu/research/UM%20research.html

http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/psychology/chess_thomas_birch.html

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Men seem to form relationships early in life: grade school, high school and a little less sometimes in college. But not too often after that. Life-long friends and buddies are begun early and lasting. But women continue to make friends throughout life.

This seems to be the experience I’ve observed. And when men get older and they or their male friends move, they have difficulty making new friends and when they lose their wife, they are even more at a loss. Why? And is that genetic or simply the different ways of making friends by gender?

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Good luck finding new partner(s) Tom. You’ll find them, I know.
I’ve been divorced once and widowed once; both are difficult. But it has helped me become my own person, making new friends in a new town where I had no one there before. It works.

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The liked information of Shasta Nelson’s novel friendship talks has not already been written it has been rejected - Puritanism haunting fear that someone, somewhere, maybe happy, long on prompt makes a believer dine alone. In churches we have mastered the art of being physicians to others, yet ourselves full of sores.

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Shasta Nelson considered a “relationship expert”?