Healthy friendships are those relationships that are nurturing to our physical and emotional well-being. They bring us joy and make us feel good about who we are and what we do.
These positive interactions frequently revolve around a common activity or interest. For instance, a woman with young children is likely to develop close bonds with other mothers in her moms group. A man who enjoys riding his bicycle may become buddies with other riders. Such shared activities provide a focus for interacting and give participants ample topics to discuss and share.
People who are involved in more than one activity generally have several groups of different friends. A college co-ed may develop friendships in her dorm, in her different classes, at the gym where she works out and at her job.
Those groups can even overlap. It’s not unusual in our small community to know the same people through our children’s schools, through volunteer projects or through membership in various organizations.
Friendships tend to be fluid. They come and go depending on our interests and stage of life. When we’re involved in a certain activity, we’ll have friends who share it, too. If the time comes when we move on to something new, we may bid adieu to that group of friends. This doesn’t mean we dislike them. We’re simply headed in a different direction, looking for new folks with whom we can interact.
As a rule, we select friends who are similar to ourselves. We needn’t be clones. But we generally share similar political beliefs or personal philosophies. We have similar days off. Our spouses work at the same office. We’re able to afford similar pastimes.
A wide variety of social connections indicates a high level of psychological functioning. People who can successfully make and maintain friendships are generally happier and better adjusted than those folks who have difficulty in social settings.
It’s equally important to assess the quality of friendships a person develops. Most of us look for friends with whom we have something in common, who are emotionally healthy and who are interested in spending time with us.
But others habitually seek friends who are chronically draining or psychologically unstable. They choose companions with deep personal issues. They seem to thrive on others’ dysfunction and pain. They attach themselves to friends who treat them badly or who are too busy to ever spend time together.
Lopsided relationships may indeed be counted as friendships. Yet they fail to meet the all-important criterion of being nurturing on any level. Rather than filling our emotional tanks, these unhealthy friendships sap us until we run dry.
People are drawn to unhealthy friendships for a wide variety of reasons. Many bask in the role of rescuer and search for low-functioning folks they can save. Some falsely believe that no will like them, so they settle for needy, troubled cohorts. Others are perpetually stuck in their own psychic quagmires and look for like-minded souls to discuss negative issues. Still others have no hobbies or interests on which to base a healthy friendship, so they connect with equally uninteresting souls.
If you’re involved in an unhealthy friendship, it’s wise to get out as soon as you can. You needn’t feel tied to a person who treats you badly or who is unable to mutually meet your needs. Replace that person with someone who generally cares about you and with whom you have interests in common. That’s what being a true friend is. And that’s what you deserve.
Tips for cultivating healthy friendships
Want to increase your chances of developing healthy friendships? Follow these simple steps:
Get involved. Join a group. Take a class. Attend a lecture. You’ll meet interesting, like-minded people and you’ll have plenty of ways to connect.
Make the first step. Are there candidates who catch your eye? Sit next to them at the next softball game or suggest lunch after the hike. They’ll most likely be flattered by your offer and eager to include you in their ranks.
Keep it light. Don’t divulge too much in the beginning. Stick to topics that are easy and pleasant.
Let go. If friendships become too troubled or heavy, it’s good to let them end. Look for different people who can infuse you with positive energy.
Have fun! Healthy friendships are delightful. You feel invigorated by your time together. Allow ample opportunity to laugh, share and interact so your friendship will bloom and grow.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com