Friendships are one of the cornerstones of all human relationships. Healthy friendships can bring immense joy and fun to our days and provide comfort and camaraderie as we navigate the ups and downs of life. Friendships are our gateway to social connections and have been shown to alleviate loneliness, depression and anxiety. Friendships can spring up at all stages of life, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Over time, they can also evolve as we transition through various life circumstances. We tend to hold good friends in very high regard and as such they have a strong impact on our outlook and perspective on life. Therefore, it stands to reason that unhealthy friendships can have detrimental effects on our overall mental and emotional health, so it is important to be able to recognize when a friendship has perhaps outlived it’s value in our life.
All healthy friendships that stand the test of time have some attributes in common, a few of which are shared below.
- You can be yourself around them. The best kind of friends are those in whose company you feel perfectly at ease with yourself. They embrace you exactly the way you are – your personality and shortcomings, and support and encourage you on your personal journey of self-discovery and growth. You don’t feel the need to put on a show for them or align your interests to theirs in order to feel included, loved and respected. If you find yourself unable to be authentic around your friends, feel judged or face criticism for being yourself, or no longer have any shared interests, then it may be time to re-evaluate if this friendship is truly adding value to your life or not.
- Good friends reciprocate. Friendships, like all relationships, thrive when nurtured by both parties. This can be in the form of taking turns to staying in touch, or planning activities and outings, returning favours, exchanging gifts, or even simple gestures like checking up on a friend amidst a busy day or sending a thoughtful message. Healthy friendships involve active engagement from both parties and showing sincere interest in each other’s lives. Friends who only focus on their own lives or show up out of self-interest and convenience may not have enough regard for you or your wellbeing. If the effort to maintain the friendship is only one-sided, it can indicate a sign of indifference and disinterest from the other party, and over time, can lead to disappointment and resentment.
- Through thick and thin. Most friends show up for good times, for fun, laughter and adventure without question. But are they also there by your side through the difficult and painful moments of life? True friends are those who can sit with you through heartbreak, loss, grief and doubt – they prioritize your wellbeing, and comfort and support you as you navigate challenging experiences. They are there to listen without judgement and hold back on unsolicited advice or generic platitudes. You can always rely on them to show up for you to celebrate the good times and support you through the bad times with equal sincerity.
- They respect your boundaries. Boundaries may often appear harsh and selfish, but in reality, they help maintain healthy friendships. Boundaries allow you to protect your own wellbeing, needs and interests while signalling to others on how best to interact and connect with you. Boundaries can also change over the course of a person’s life, depending on various circumstances. Therefore, communicating, understanding and honouring each other’s boundaries can avoid building resentment from being taken for granted and ultimately cultivate stronger friendships over time.
- They don’t drain your energy. While a little bit drama can make life interesting, too much of it can add unwanted stress and anxiety to your life. Constant gossiping, back-biting, petty fights, competing for superiority or needing to prove your worth to your friend are examples of behaviours that perpetuate negativity and toxicity. Your friendship and loyalty shouldn’t come at a cost to you emotionally, mentally or even financially. Healthy friendships should be uplifting and motivating and should add optimism and positive energy to your life.
- Open communication and respect. It is a common myth that good friends are those that always get along well with each other. While people with similar interests and ideologies find it easier to naturally align, it is not uncommon for fundamentally different people to be good friends. Any time people with unique and individual personalities, preferences and interests get together, it is invariable for there to be differences of opinion and potential disagreement and conflict. What makes for a strong bond between friends is to have open channels of communication, and honesty and respect for each other. This can allow friends to voice their thoughts and concerns without fear of repercussion, recognize and respect differences of opinion, and help seek common ground in order to reach peaceful resolutions during disagreements. This can ultimately help friends understand each other better and grow closer over time.