[Image description: Three friends are playing basketball.]
Having friends you can share good — and bad — times with plays an important role in your well-being and quality of life. Research shows that social connections can benefit:
- Your physical health
- Your mental health
- Your mood and outlook
- Your sense of self-worth
- How long you live
In fact, those social bonds are so important that some studies have shown that not having them can carry health risks similar to being physically inactive or obese, or smoking cigarettes.
Building the bonds of friendship
Friendships are like living things; they need care and feeding. If the demands of day-to-day life have you feeling disconnected from your friends — or if you’re trying to nurture a new acquaintanceship into a closer connection — here are some ways you can strengthen your friendships:
- Take an interest. A hallmark of healthy friendship is showing care and compassion. So, ask questions, then listen actively to find out what’s going on in your friend’s life.
- Take time. Life gets busy and you have lots of obligations. But making it a priority to spend time with your friend serves two purposes: It shows them you’re committed to the friendship, and it gives both of you the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of emotional and social connection.
- Be supportive. This applies in good times and in bad. When a friend is pursuing a dream or ambition, offer your encouragement and enthusiasm. And when a friend is facing a rough patch, be there to share the heartache. Make an extra effort to reach out and offer a helping hand, a listening ear, or — if your friend invites it — an outside perspective.
- Respect boundaries. Your friend might have different ideas than you about what topics they’re comfortable discussing, how much they’re willing to share and how often they want to be in touch. By respecting their comfort zones — and their privacy — you’re building the trust that’s essential to a good friendship.
- Forgive mistakes. We all make errors or have moments of thoughtlessness. A healthy friendship can survive these incidents. And it’s not just a matter of your friend owning up to their behavior and offering an apology. It also takes your willingness to trust that your friend didn’t mean to cause harm, accept the apology, and move on without holding a grudge.
If it looks like this is also a list of ways to be a good friend, that’s no coincidence. A sixth and overarching tip is a variation on the golden rule: Be the kind of friend you’d like to have.
Recognizing unhealthy friendships
Not all friendships are healthy and beneficial. Here are some signs that you may be in an unhealthy friendship:
- You feel unsafe or unable to trust the other person
- You feel like you can’t be yourself around that person
- The other person is controlling or always wants to do things their way
- The relationship lowers your sense of self-worth
- The relationship leads to unhealthy behaviors, such as abusing alcohol or drugs
If you’re in a friendship that you think is unhealthy, or if you’re finding it difficult to make friends, a LiveHealth Online therapist can help you identify your concerns and develop skills to build healthier friendships.