One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.
What’s considered “healthy” can vary dramatically among cultures, families, and individuals. As always, you should decide what makes the most sense for you.
Take friendship, for example.
Friendships vary widely and look different for each one of us.
At the same time, some truths seem to cut across time and place.
As we head into a new year, we’re taking a closer look at the role of friendship in our lives, beginning with some of the characteristics that make a friendship healthy.
Read on for 6 qualities of healthy friendships:
1. Healthy friendships are mutually supportive.
From the unspoken feeling that your friends “have your back” to the more active ways they show up and help you out, healthy friendships are characterized by mutual, emotional and practical support. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll always agree with one another’s choices… but you support each other’s right to make those choices.
How supportive am I of my friends’ rights to make their own choices? How supportive are my friends of my own hopes and dreams? How do we express our support for one another?
2. Healthy friendships are built on trust and acceptance.
How can you tell when a friendship is transitioning from a casual acquaintance to something more meaningful? When you allow yourself to be vulnerable in one another’s company. Healthy friendships allow for increasingly honest interactions and conversations, built on a foundation of trust and acceptance just as you are.
How do I show my friends that I’m worthy of their trust? Am I able to put my trust in them? How unconditionally welcome and accepted do we feel showing vulnerability in each other’s company?
3. Healthy friendships challenge us to grow.
Carl Rogers said: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.” The same can be said of friendship. When we feel unconditional acceptance from our friends, we then experience the freedom to explore and grow into new versions of ourselves. Often that growth is directly stimulated through our friendships, as well. Think of the friend who inspires you to step outside your comfort zone. Or the friend whose honest feedback made you rethink how you’re showing up in the world. It’s not about becoming “better”. Rather, healthy friendships act as a container in which you’re free to grow over time.
In what ways do my friends inspire or challenge me to learn and develop myself? How do I inspire the same in them?
4. Healthy friendships are flexible.
Maybe you’ve had the feeling you’ve “outgrown” certain relationships (…or perhaps that you’ve been outgrown). It can be a painful experience. And yet, friendships that cling too tightly to the status quo may not be healthy. So, take note of those friendships that feel limiting or stagnant (e.g., “you’ve changed…“, “you’ll never change“) and those that celebrate flexibility and evolution.
How capable are my friendships of adapting to the changing circumstances and seasons of our lives? How open and resilient to change are my friendships?
5. Healthy friendships feel good.
Sometimes the most powerful markers of health are the simplest: It should feel good to be around friends! Sure, every relationship experiences bumps in the road. But, more often that not, healthy friendships are those that bring us joy, encouragement, stimulation, and eagerness for more.
How do I feel when I’m with my friends? Are we relaxed and content in each other’s company?
6. Healthy friendships have healthy boundaries.
Ah, back to boundaries, once again. A healthy friendship is one that can withstand (healthy) conflict, that allows for appropriate space and freedom, and that doesn’t try to be everything for the people in it. Think of your friendships. Can they handle one of you asking for a change? Taking alone time for yourselves? Enjoying other friendships? Healthy friendships are a wonderful part of life… but they’re just one part.
How much space do my friendships allow for things like individuality, self-care, and healthy conflict? Am I expecting my friendships to meet more needs than is realistic?
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Curious to learn more about what healthy friendships might look like in your life?