- Negative attitudes that undermine friendships include grudges, resentments, and demands.
- To develop healthy friendships, strive to cultivate trust, authenticity, and mutual support.
- Friendships dominated by complaining and catastrophizing can be toxic and should be reconsidered.
Is there any greater blessing than good friendships? They provide us comfort, companionship, and, perhaps the greatest gift of all: The chance to be our authentic selves.
Good friends don’t judge or bore us with dull-witted advice, cliches, or platitudes. They always keep it real, never standing on pretenses or formalities.
It doesn’t matter if you have known someone for weeks or a lifetime; good friends are timeless. The ability to cultivate healthy friendships is genuine art. But, before we examine how to create good friendships, let's examine the bad habits that damage them. (See "Why Seeking Unconditional Love Can Destroy Relationships.")
Attitudes That Damage Friendships
Look out for these negative attitudes that undermine friendships:
- Grudges: Keeping score cards on favors, good deeds, or screw-ups is a big no-no. The feeling that “I did something for you; now you do something for me” is not true friendship. This kind of tit-for-tat “you owe me” attitude pressurizes relationships, fosters grudges, and drains the joy out of friendships.
- Resentments: If you’re feeling resentful of your friend's success, income, or lifestyle, it’s time to check yourself. Such negative energy is toxic and will eventually poison your relationships. With every resentment, distance grows, and friendships start to fracture and break apart.
- Demands: Demands breed animosity. Dictating your needs to your friends eventually drives them away. Even if they don’t tell you, they will start to resent your neediness and the burden you put on them. Demands, combined with anger, nearly always lead to emotional bullying. And who wants to be friends with a bully? (See "Are Bad Friends Holding You Back?")
3 Keys to Healthy Friendships
To develop healthy friendships that endure, cultivate the following qualities:
- Trust: Good friendships are built on trust. If you move through the world distrusting people and suspicious of their motives, people will intuitively stay at a distance. Trusting people inspires confidence and draws others to you.
- Authenticity: A good friend is someone you can always be authentic with, even when showing your unpleasant sides. Establishing truthfulness and directness is critical. One of the essential qualities to strive for is compassionate honesty. That means if someone upsets you, find a way to tell them. For example, soften your message with kindness. Instead of saying, “You hurt my feelings. I’m mad at you,” which could trigger conflict, try “I’m upset with you, and it bothers me. I don't want it to damage our friendship.” Then explore your feelings together. You'll grow to understand one other better and avoid storing up frustration or resorting to blame.
- Mutual support: Good friends are always terrific cheerleaders. Your success is their success and vice versa. They celebrate your wins, mourn your sorrows, embrace your victories, and grieve your losses. When you fall, they help you up. And when you’re up, they walk beside you.
Love, Heart, and Spirit
Heart, love, and spirit are three compelling words. Let's consider how they apply to friendships:
- Love: It’s a sad reality, but many folks (especially men) are afraid to say “I love you” to friends, even when they feel it in their hearts. They avoid it for many fear-based reasons, such as fear of intimacy, fear of vulnerability, and fear of rejection. The reality is that most people welcome the words “I love you.” So take a chance! Tell your friend, “I love you,” and watch what happens. Odds are you’ll feel much closer and open new doors of communication.
- Heart: For me, leading with your heart means putting your ego away and setting aside your wish to control—choices that block access to your deeper feelings and foster isolation. Leading with your heart means developing the courage to say what you truly feel. When the heart speaks, people listen.
- Spirit: What is the spirit of your friendships? Warm? Playful? Supportive? Recently, someone in one of my therapy groups said, “So many of my friends are pessimistic and angry. They leave me feeling so gloomy.” She realized that the original spirit behind those friendships had been lost and was replaced with complaining and catastrophizing. When people outgrow a friendship, it's usually because one friend is growing and the other one isn’t. Ask yourself, “What is the spirit of my friendships?” The answer could move your friendships in a fresh direction, either by challenging them to grow or by inspiring you to go out and foster healthier friendships.