The friend zone: How to reboot your post-lockdown friendships

How to build relationships post-lockdown. (Getty Images)
How to build relationships post-lockdown. (Getty Images)

The last 18 months have impacted our lives in a whole host of ways, not least in terms of friendships.

The sudden switch to WFH has made water-cooler moments with workmates a thing of the past, and the restrictions on how and where we can socialise due to lockdown have forced many of our friendships to be conducted online-only.

It's little wonder that an ongoing study by Nuffield revealed that just over 1 in 5 of us found our friendships suffered in lockdown.

But now coronavirus measures are continuing to ease, many are looking to rebuild some of the relationships that have started to fizzle - and when better to kick-start the reboot than World Friendship Day (Friday July 30).

According to Dr Sue Roffey, psychologist and co-author of Creating the World We Want to Live In there's a myriad of reasons why good friendships are well worth saving.

"Good friends provide important psychological support," she says. "They provide a reliable alliance when you feel everything is against you and can remind you of your strengths to get through difficulties.

"They can also just be there - with tissues, a cup of tea or a glass or wine - which should never be underestimated."

Read more: The power of a hug: What a lack of touch has done to our physical and mental health

Maintaining positive relationships with our friends can also provide some pretty important benefits for our mental health.

"We’re social beings designed to connect," explains Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic.

"Back in the day, being part of a social group was key to our survival - and nowadays it’s just as vital for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

"Keeping in regular contact and sharing our thoughts and experiences with those we care about is paramount for our health and happiness."

So if our friendships have started to fade during the pandemic, it is pretty important we try to build them back up.

Dr Roffey says the first step is reaching out: "Start with a positive opening. 'Been wondering how you've been'.. And admit or apologise for any potential wrongdoing. For example: 'I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing then', 'I didn’t mean to hurt you'."

She also recommends offering to go for a walk, coffee, drink in a neutral setting.

"Don’t push it but leave doors open," she adds.

The past 18 months has taken a toll on many friendships. (Getty Images)
The past 18 months has taken a toll on many friendships. (Getty Images)

How can we rebuild our friendships post-lockdown

Make regular and direct contact with people

Now that we can meet up with people, it’s about re-strengthening these connections in-person. "Arrange a regular meet up, whether it’s a weekly walk in the park or regular after-work drinks in your local," suggests Dr Touroni.

Always ask: 'How are you, really?'

Many people have struggled during the pandemic, but some are likely to have suffered more than others. "Make sure you check in with your friends about how they’ve been coping - and always 'ask twice'," Dr Touroni suggests, to offer space for them to open up.

Watch: The cast of 'Never Have I Ever' take a friendship test.

Try exercising together

"Exercising with friends is a great way to strengthen your commitment (and make sure you do it!) but it can also be a bonding experience - and one which is centred on a healthy, positive activity," Dr Touroni says.

Ask intentional questions

The best friendships have a strong emotional connection. "To feel more connected to the people you care about, skip the small talk and ask intentional questions like, 'what do you feel most grateful for?' or 'what do you value most in a friendship?'" Dr Touroni says.

If you’re struggling, speak up

Friendships can suffer when things get left unsaid. "If you’re feeling anxious about meeting up again socially, make sure you vocalise it to those you trust," Dr Touroni says.

Read more: We miss colleagues more than we think during coronavirus lockdown

Should you break-up with your friend? (Getty Images)
Should you break-up with your friend? (Getty Images)

Build bridges or break-up?

Of course, sometimes things happen and people change and you may feel that there's too much water under the friendship bridge to rebuild it.

"There is a saying that people are in our lives for a reason (to help us in a particular moment) a season (to help us through a phase of our life) or for life," explains Neil Wilkie, relationship expert, psychotherapist, and creator of the online therapy platform the Relationship Paradigm.

"For close friends we may live our lives in parallel when we first meet but those tracks may diverge because of other relationships, changing jobs, moving homes and changing interests," he continues.

"Friendships can be put under pressure when one is doing better than the other, has a better relationship, more money, children or develops different goals in life. This can cause resentment, jealousy and drifting apart."

Read more: Money can’t buy love or friendship, researchers prove

How do you know if it is time to walk away from a friendship?

According to Wilkie you can assume that a friendship has run its course if:

· When you do meet, you feel disappointed and wish you hadn’t

· They don’t return your calls or want to meet

· You feel they are different from how they used to be

· There is no longer strong communication, connection, commitment, fun, growth or trust

· Life has moved on and you are now on different paths

· Your gut feeling is that it is no longer ‘right’ and you can let them go

As to whether you should actually break up with a friend or just let the relationship fizzle out, Wilkie says that if they were just an acquaintance or casual friend, then, unless you were at fault, let it fizzle out and move on.

"If they were close and it matters to you, then have a conversation with them, ideally face to face so that you can say something like ‘I really appreciated our friendship because it made me feel x, y, z. I am wondering what has changed for you and how you feel about our friendship?’

"And then listen to their feelings. If you both want it to continue then agree what you are both going to do differently.

"If they don’t want it to continue, then thank them and let it go gently."

Watch: 8 celebrity friendships through the years.