There are a number of key features that contribute to well managed stress living. In previous blogs, I have identified some of these activities however to reiterate here is a reminder list of some good stress management practices

• Proper sleep and appetite schedules
• Adequate weekly exercise
• Appropriate medical and mental health check-ups
• Spiritual connectedness
• Use of stress reduction exercises
• Lifestyle balance activities
• and today’s blog—Healthy Friendships

Healthy friendships are not easy to find, take time in their development, require meaningful attention, and produce some of the most wonderful rewards.

In my psychotherapeutic work, one of the key questions that I ask all patients during the assessment phase is “Do you have someone that you are able to talk to about anything and everything within your world”? A significant number of people do not have this type of resource at their disposal. There are those who place their spouse in this position (which is not necessarily a bad thing, however having another person outside of our primary relationships is still valuable). In addition, there are those who have many people who each have small pieces to the puzzle but no one with all the knowledge (this is often a trust issue).

So why have someone who you can talk to about anything and everything? Being able to talk about ANYTHING shows the ability for non-judgmental discussions around all that is “life”. Being able to talk about EVERYTHING shows trust and acceptance. More often than not females are better at this task than males. Females are socialized for this type of behavior while males are often discouraged to enter this type of relationship with another male. One area for concern is that this lack of connectedness can cause a significant issue with males if their respective spouse dies before they do. They can be left both alone and very lonely whereas females have a higher likelihood of having people that they can still reach out to in the world.

Additionally to trust, acceptance, and a non-judgmental environment is the benefit of having a place to vent or a sounding board in life. This is where stress reduction can take place in a healthy friendship—it is a place to empty. It is a place where one can be supported and cared for, and it is a place of reciprocity where one can feel the benefit of helping another.

Next, we will explore how to develop healthy friendships and what to look for in negative friendships.


Developing Healthy Friendships

Today we will look at what comprises a Healthy Friendship. These are based upon a number of key features that differentiate them from someone who is an Acquaintance. Albeit that having acquaintances is important; as an acquaintance fills some of the following roles

• socialization without risk or significant effort: either individual or larger group
• exposures an individual to a wide range of interests, views, and beliefs
• provides knowledge on multiple topics that may otherwise not be explored

The main thing that is missing in an acquaintance is the meeting of deeper psychological needs for trust, acceptance, love, and non-judgmental evaluation.

Here are a few characteristics to a Healthy Friendship…

  • shared interests and flexibility for individual pursuits of external interests
  • equitable levels of openness
  • supportive and non-judgmental
  • you are a priority to each other with respect to time commitments
  • you see each other’s as equals: no one person is elevated over the other
  • there is no control over the other person (overt or covert)
  • there is an equitable level of appropriate self-disclosure and open communication
  • it is a safe place to be emotionally expressive
  • selflessness; doing things for others that carry a real cost (time, money, risk) to yourself
  • there is forgiveness and acceptance
  • there are genuine non-sexual expressions of love and caring
  • there is a desire to assist in the growth and development of the other (where possible)

As you can see these are characteristics that require time, effort, investment, and most of all trust. Building friendships takes years. Most people that are in a healthy intimate relationship only have time for a couple of “friends” in their life due to the commitments that accompany a healthy friendship. There are vast rewards that come from these investments from a psychological and health perspective—one of which is stress reduction as mentioned earlier.

Explore your world; how many “friends” do you have, do you need to build additional friendships and if so who might be a person that could fill that position, do you have too many friendships that are taking away from your partner or family relationships? Answers to these questions can produce balance.


Friendships – Negative Characteristics

Like any relationship, Friendships can go sideways too.

Not everyone is well versed in the behaviors associated with a Healthy Friendship and when this happens, it is important to seek a corrective solution or dissolve the friendship. Negative friendships will drain every ounce of your energy and good will—thus eliminating all of the benefits and reasons for having the friendship in the first place.

Some of the people that cross our paths are not meant to be lifelong friends. As the saying states—, “Some will come across your path for a reason, a season, or a lifetime”. Where negative characteristics present, be cautious about moving forward and put appropriate boundaries in place to minimize the detrimental impacts.

Listed below are some of the more common “Negative Friendship” characteristics…

guilt: is used to influence behavior or have needs met
covert manipulation: is an under-current to gain control and when caught denied
selfishness: is either not doing things for the other or only doing those things that really are not a “cost” (financial or other) to you
possessiveness: attempts at isolating the other person to ensure you have them to yourself
crossing of boundaries: is emotional, sexual, or physical (through direct request or action taking)
control: is the action of one person typically “getting their way” the majority of the time
oppression: there is a desire to keep the person where they are at so they do not leave or gain equality

Healthy friendships take time to develop and these should be approached with an open heart and a cautious spirit. Friendships are built upon appropriate and elevating levels of risks.