Having Healthy Friendships
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By Timothy L. Sanford, M.A., L.P.C.
Anybody can say they have a “friendship,” but acquaintances are often what’s more common in our society today. When you “friend” somebody on Facebook it’s not a true act of “befriending”– not really, it’s a contact point, an acquaintance.
A healthy – real – friendship is hard to come by. It takes purposeful effort and lots of time on your part and on the part of the other person. You can’t hurry a friendship.
So what makes up a healthy genuine friendship?
In a healthy friendship you give your time, your energy, yourself. You also receive (take) similar portions of the other person’s time, energy and themselves.
If you’re in a relationship that’s all take and little or no give, it might be a good idea to find a trustworthy adult you feel you can talk to about these things. Taking without giving much back makes for an out-of-balance relationship and can create pain in your life and the other person’s.
If you’re in a relationship that’s all give and no receive, that’s also not healthy. And it’s not a real friendship either. Yes, there are times to give more than you receive. Yes, we are to reach out to hurting people as a helping person. But being a helping person is different than having a friend.
If you have the heart of a helping person, great, reach out to help somebody. Be sure to reserve your friendships for people who will energize and uplift you as much as you do them.
Think of it like this, most students in school have backpacks full of books, etc. But what if another student constantly wanted you to carry their backpack in addition to your own — or it was the other way around, and you were constantly making another student carry your stuff? That doesn’t seem fair and balanced, does it? One person would be overburdened, while another person would not be taking responsibility for their own stuff. Sometimes, that’s what can happen in relationships, and it’s not healthy. Galatians 6:2-5 demonstrates a healthy outlook that balances compassion with responsibility: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something, when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.”
Everybody wants respect. Many people try to demand it. Respect between friends is earned; it’s never demanded. A friend has earned your trust because of their actions over a period of time. They are safe and trustworthy enough to be given respect/honor.
Respect looks like this:
Your actions follow through with what you say.
You keep your mouth shut; Gossip is cancer to any friendship.
Your actions are consistent over time.
You allow your friend to have other friendships as well—you don’t attempt to monopolize their time, energy or attention.
You tell the truth and want your friend to do the same — even if it’s hard to hear.
You treat each other kindly.
You don’t “throw your friend under the bus” to save your own hide or make yourself look good – even if you say you didn’t mean it.
Friendship has lots of respect going both ways. A true friend has earned your respect and you have behaved in such a way as to earn theirs. There can be no true friendship without real – earned – respect.
Call it “kindred spirit”, “soul mate” or being my “wing man.” Call it whatever you want, we all long for a friendship that’s close and secure with somebody we know has our back – all the time. Girls need healthy friendship with other girls and guys need healthy friendships with other guys.
This desire for closeness is a normal emotional need. All healthy human beings desire it. It has to do with you being made by God to be in close relationships with other healthy people who have the honor of being a friend. Why do you think belonging to a band or a sports team binds people together? And even more than wanting to be a part of a group, humans want to be part of a close relationship with another person. We long for that bonding feeling that Proverbs 18:24 talks about “…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
Sometimes the desire for closeness can get misinterpreted or confused with feelings of romance or sexuality. But this confusion doesn’t have to happen. You can realize that closeness is a normal, human desire for a healthy relationship with a friend and does not need to have anything to do with sexual attraction.
If you do feel confused about the difference between having a same-sex best friend and confusing romantic or sexual feelings, it’s healthiest and safest to keep the focus on the friendship, leaving sexuality out of it—while seeking advice from an adult you trust who shares your Biblical perspective about what’s going on inside your heart.
Remember, the good news is that wanting closeness with another person is a natural, God-given characteristic. And when that desire is fulfilled in the form of a true friendship, it’s a wonderful thing.
Ecclesiastes 4:10 “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (italics added).
Tim Sanford is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has over 20 years experience working with teens and is the author of “Losing Control and Liking it”; a book on parenting teenagers.