Strong and healthy friendships are an important aspect of overall emotional and social wellbeing. Through friendships, we are able to receive and give support, love and companionship, which often leads to a feeling of general contentment and improved self-esteem. Research indicates that healthy friendships can positively impact our physical health, possibly leading to a longer life span and the ability to recover more quickly from illnesses.
Last month, we looked at unhealthy friendships and outlined some of the factors that can contribute to a toxic platonic relationship. In this post, we’ll be discussing a few of the hallmarks of healthy friendships.
1. Reciprocity for healthy friendships
Reciprocity simply means that the friendship is mutually beneficial and that both parties are putting similar effort into the relationship. Friendships should not be one-sided and nobody should feel like their energy isn’t being matched. Reciprocity shows up several forms and the lack of it can be felt in many different ways. At the most basic level, it means feeling confident that the person you consider a friend also considers you to be a friend. Emotional reciprocity means that both parties are able to be vulnerable with each other and provide mutual emotional support.
When it comes to reciprocity, it’s important to remember that it’s not always cut and dry. For example, a friend who is going through an especially difficult time may not be able to support you. In those circumstances, you may need to go above and beyond for them. When the roles are reversed, you should be able to expect them to do the same.
Support is a key component in friendships and the lack of it often leads to a breakdown of the relationship. We all need solid and reliable support systems and our friendships should form part of that entire system.
Support can come in many forms. Sometimes, it’s a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on when times are hard. Sometimes, it’s making the effort to celebrate a friend’s success when things are going well. In other instances, more practical support (such as providing advice or resources) is needed. It may be necessary to ask your friend what kind of support they need right now. If you are the one in need of support, it’s always a good idea to communicate with your friends, to better enable them to meet those needs.
In healthy friendships, you should be both giving and receiving support, which ties into the reciprocity that was mentioned earlier.
Most relationships (romantic, platonic, business, etc.) rely heavily on trust. Trust is a firm belief in the reliability and honesty of your friend. You feel a sense of confidence and comfort, knowing that you can rely on them and that you can believe in the things that they say and do. Trust is usually gained very slowly over time and can be difficult to repair once it’s broken.
What makes a trustworthy friend? This is someone who keeps their promises, leaving you with a feeling of confidence that they will do what they say they are going to do. They also keep your secrets, so you can feel assured that private conversations will stay between the two of you. A trustworthy friend will not speak about you behind your back, tell lies to you or about you, or try to manipulate you. Trustworthiness means that they are able to hold themselves accountable when they mess up, and make genuine efforts to repair your trust after any indiscretions.
Your friend should also be able to trust you and should not make unfair accusations against you.
Trust and honesty are two sides of the same coin. While trust describes the emotion of feeling confident or believing in someone, honesty describes the actions that, over time, lead to this confidence. Honesty is a track record of making a conscious effort to tell the truth, to be forthcoming, and to keep promises. Honesty often requires difficult or uncomfortable conversations, as well as a high level of integrity, vulnerability and accountability.
Honesty goes far beyond simply telling the truth when it is asked of you. Sometimes it means coming forward even though your friend would have been none the wiser had you kept quiet. Honesty is being able to tell your friend when they have offended you, instead of avoiding confrontation and allowing the issue to fester.
If we are to expect others to be trustworthy, we also need to be trustworthy. This means that we have to be honest with ourselves and with our friends.
No friendship can be truly healthy without mutual respect. When two people respect each other, they both feel safe to be themselves around the other person without fear of judgment. Though you may not always agree or get along, an underlying and genuine mutual respect will allow friends to resolve disputes without insults. Friends should respect each other’s time, beliefs and choices. Where there is respect, there is proper regard for the needs, feelings and wishes of others. A respectful friend will never cause you to feel embarrassed for simply being yourself. They genuinely admire you and believe in your strengths and abilities.
Respect should also be shown for any boundaries that are set, as discussed below.
6. Boundaries in Healthy Friendships
A good friendship involves both parties setting healthy boundaries, while respecting the boundaries of the other person. You should be able to set a reasonable limitation of your friendship without unfair backlash from your friend. In the same way, when a friend sets a boundary, you need to respect it.
Boundaries can take many forms and it’s up to you to determine how much you are willing or able to give and receive in a relationship. For example, it is your responsibility to let your friend know that certain topics of conversation make you uncomfortable and it is your friend’s responsibility to be mindful of the things that they say to you.
A healthy friendship can be difficult to nurture and maintain. It requires two people who are working on themselves on an individual level. Working with a therapist is an excellent starting point for improving your relationships. By becoming the best version of yourself, you will be better able to show up in your friendships and better able to identify and eliminate unhealthy connections.
The therapists at Flourish Psychology are here to help you as you seek to foster healthier, happier connections in your life. Contact us today to schedule your first session.