Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Self-Disclosure & Trust: Essential in Healthy Relationships

One-sided disclosures cannot grow a friendship.

To determine who would be a good fit as a friend requires that both members of a pair of potential friends engage in self-disclosure. This requires that we reveal authentic information about ourselves to which no one else is generally privy. The depth to which we disclose can vary greatly based on family customs, personal comfort, and apprehensions. As we begin to open up at increasingly deeper and more intimate levels, we expect potential friends to mirror this behavior and to reveal personal information about themselves at a pace and depth that matches our own. However, “TMI,” or “too much information,” revealed too soon in an acquaintanceship can halt a potential friendship in its tracks. Inappropriate sharing of personal information can cause discomfort for the listener—and for the speaker a day or so down the road.

Moving More Deeply In-Synch in the Relationship

When potential friends move into a synchronous and interactive engagement with us, and unveil intimate information at a similar rate, feelings of like-mindedness and accord are generated. When someone self-discloses to us, in an appropriate and well-timed manner, our positive feelings about this person are enhanced. Mutual sharing and the breaking down of personal defenses will build trust, which is a requisite of friendship. For some of us, the process of opening ourselves up so completely to another can be difficult. Numerous fears can inhibit self-disclosure including the fear of rejection, the fear of abandonment, the fear of being ridiculed, and the fear of misplacing our trust. Learning to open up to another is a process that can be learned, practiced, and perfected, especially when weighed against the reward of new or deepened friendships.

We Like People who Share their Stories with Us

Not only do we appreciate the self-disclosures of others, we actually feel positive feelings and attraction to the people to whom we have self-disclosed. As friends share personal and intimate knowledge, the friendship bond is deepened and cemented and feelings of attraction and liking between friends are increased. Although we feel comfortable with balance shifts in levels of intimate self-disclosure in well-established friendships, reciprocity and matching are extremely important in the early stages of friendship. As we learn more about a potential friend and they learn more about us, we begin to discover similarities and the things we have in common. This helps us determine if the person will be a good fit in our social landscape.

Recognizing Yourself in Your Friend

The level of similarity between two potential friends is directly proportional to the chance that a friendship will be launched. Similarities might be related to demographic factors, such as gender, ethnicity, neighborhood, or to our attitudes, beliefs, and values. In fact, shared attitudes is one of the most dependable predictors of friendship development. Most of us would rather spend time with people who feel the same way about life as we do. We also prefer the company of people who enjoy the same types of activities that we do—we want friends to be pleasant companions when we engage in our favorite pastimes. Perhaps surprisingly, research has not shown any strong support for similar personality styles or personality traits as predictors of friendship development. Although a pair of friends might include such opposite types as a extroverts and introverts or dreamers and doers, we definitely favor friends who mirror our philosophies, activities, and demographic variables; and these preferences can be strong.

Why do we Prefer Similar Souls as Friends?

There are three separate schools of thought about the reasons we like people like us: a) a somewhat commonsense type of explanation, b) an existential explanation, and c) an evolutionary explanation.

The more basic, commonsense explanation addresses the positive validation we receive when someone agrees with us. In essence, we all like to be “right,” and when friends affirm our views, it simply feels good. In the same way, we enjoy spending time in our favorite activities with those who also enjoy these same pastimes, validating the “goodness” of the activity choice.

The existential perspective relies on the construct of “I-sharing,” or joining with another person who possesses similar attitudes or perspectives. It is based on the idea that we long to share ourselves with another to remedy the sense of isolation that existential philosophers believe to be endemic to the human condition. Thus, we look for friends who can understand and connect with us on a deeper level than mere acquaintances are able to do.

Lastly, there’s the biologically-based assumption that our innate drive to procreate and leave a lasting impact on the gene pool leads us to choose companions, friends, or mates who are most like us in order to ensure our genetic legacy. The close bonds that we develop with our friends position them within our social/kin networks—and these are the people we would endeavor to protect. Their survival would increase the chances of survival for their offspring, thus the choice of similar friends would increase our chance of keeping our own genetic type alive and well for future generations in the gene pool. Each of these explanations has some level of empirical support, yet we may never determine if one explanation is categorically more relevant than the others. Regardless, it has definitely been proven that birds of a feather flock together.

Give and Take and Give Again

Reciprocity must be in place for friendships to thrive and we must feel confident in a friend’s ability to return the favors that we provide for her if we are to stay invested in a friendship. Although lasting relationships are not built on a strict quid pro quo basis of even exchange, there is an expectation of a “give-and-take” interrelationship with our friends. This has been termed a symmetrical reciprocity and it is integral to any healthy relationship. Our expectation of reciprocity includes both communication behaviors and interactions. As noted before, reciprocal communications of a self-disclosing nature are mandatory in friendship development. In terms of interactions, when we take part in social activities with friends, we enjoy a higher level of engagement in the activity and a more mutual orientation than when involved in interactions with non-friends. Friendships involve a communal-centered focus rather than an exchange-centered focus. Within an authentic friendship, neither friend believes that any specific debts must be repaid, but an expectation of shared investment does exist. As a corollary to our belief that friends would provide support without expecting repayment, an unsolicited offer of support can lead to the development of friendship.

Be the Friend that Others would be Glad to Have

# # #

Help us better understand contemporary friendship needs by completing this brief Friendship Survey.

More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today