In this article, you’ll learn:
- Why friendships are important
- Qualities to look for
- Why break-ups happen
- Choosing between setting a boundary and breaking up
- How a therapist can help
- And more!
The Benefits of Friendships
As a counselor-in-training who works with teens and young adults, I’ve come across a wealth of research that indicates that establishing and maintaining several quality friendships early in life can be a major factor in preventing and combating loneliness, depression, grief, and isolation, as well as coping with stress and life transitions. In addition, having quality friendships can be the key to
- cultivating your identity,
- finding a sense of belonging, and
- figuring out your likes and dislikes.
This is particularly true in young adulthood when individuals are shifting their reliance on family members and guardians to depend on their peers and friends for social and emotional support.
4 Key Factors for Quality Friendships
While it’s evident that having close friends is important, this does not mean that any friendship will do. There are several key factors that should be considered when selecting your friends. This list applies to any stage of life.
- Accessibility – Is your friend accessible? Consider whether or not they are emotionally or physically available. If it’s a long-distance relationship, consider their presence when you are able to connect with them.
- Values – Does your friend uphold similar values? Here’s a simple and easy worksheet to help clarify your own values; it’s a great starting point to see if you and your current or potential friend are on the same page.
- Interests – Is your friend interested in similar hobbies, passions, or activities? Having things to connect over will provide opportunities for you to bond, make memories, share information, and create intimacy in your friendship.
- Trust & Security – Does your friend keep your confidence and do you feel safe with them?
Please note: friendships are unique and the list above might look a little different! The key takeaway is that you should be able to trust your friend and the two of you should be able to enjoy spending time together.
Simply having friends does not equate to improved mental health, the quality of the friendships must be considered. Think: quality over quantity. The stronger the bond and the healthier the relationship, the more likely the friendship will have a positive impact on your mental health. This might seem like an obvious one, but so many of us prolong relationships that are weighing us down rather than lifting us up.
Oftentimes we know deep down that something needs to change, but we avoid addressing this need out of fear of rejection or fear of hurting someone else. This discomfort creates a dynamic where we sacrifice our needs so that the status quo of the relationship is maintained. Below are some reasons why it might be time to change this cycle.
3 Reasons You Might Want to Reconsider Your Friendship
Now that we understand that quality friendships can have a positive impact on our well-being, it’s time to consider what must be done if we realize that we are in a friendship that might not be providing those positive benefits. There may be several reasons why you might need to reconsider your friendship, here are a few common reasons:
- Support Situations – You’ve felt disappointed or let down by a friend in moments where you really needed them.
- Conflict of Interest – You’ve found yourself disagreeing with your friend regarding decisions or values.
- Transgressions – Your friend violates the core expectations of the friendship.
Two Paths to Consider
First, distancing from your friend through boundary setting. You’ve determined that there are areas for improvement and you’d like to take steps to improve the quality of the friendship.
When preparing to set a boundary, consider following the below steps:
- Reflect on the relationship and determine what boundary needs to be set.
- Some examples: your friend often texts you during school or work and gets highly anxious if you do not respond immediately, or you’ve noticed that you share your resources more often than they do (think providing references or covering the bill). For further reflection on how you feel around your friend, check out this post on differentiating between feelings and emotions. It’s important for you to pay close attention to what feelings arise pre, during, and post hangout with your friend; being aware of this will help you determine whether or not your friendship is impacting you negatively or positively.
- Ask your friend to meet in person or speak on the phone. Communicating via text or email is not advisable, since so much can be misinterpreted.
- Use “I” statements. Try your best not to speak for the other person, simply speak from your heart and from your own experience.
- Some examples: “I felt betrayed when…””I feel depleted when…”
- Communicate what you need from your friend and provide examples.
- Give your friend a chance to respond. Listen with an open mind.
- If your friend does not respond well to your asks, be prepared to take some space from your friend OR be prepared to establish consequences like less time together or moving on.
Two Paths to Consider (continued)
Second, a friend break-up or dissolution of relationship. You’ve done some reflecting and you’ve come to the conclusion that the friendship does not uphold any or many of the aforementioned characteristics (it’s not accessible, your values do not align, you have dissimilar interests, and/or the friend is not trustworthy). It’s time to break-up!
Here’s a helpful article on breaking-up with a friend. The main takeaway: when doing it, be clear and be kind.
5 Considerations for Quality Friendships
When you do talk to your counselor, here are some things you can expect to hear regarding friendships:
- Be open to change. Young adulthood is ripe with evolution and change. It’s ok to hold space for preserving old support networks AND make room for new friendships.
- Consider the nature of your friendships. Cultivating friendships via social media has become a common way to befriend people with common interests. If you crave quality in-person friendships, think about ways you can discover local social circles that can provide the intimacy and commonality you seek.
- Spend time exploring your needs and values. Making lists of needs and values vs. dislikes might seem silly or obvious at first, but spending the time narrowing your list down to your core values can be extremely helpful in establishing indicators of what you want and need from your friendships. This list can also be a helpful reference guide for identifying green lights for deepening relationships or red lights for moving on or ending a friendship.
- Practice setting boundaries. Healthy boundaries extend beyond friendships – they can help you establish your identity (what you are into and what you aren’t into), define your individuality (what makes you unique), and it tells others around you what you will and will not tolerate. Practice can help you establish these boundaries early on in a relationship and can help you get comfortable setting boundaries in pre-existing relationships.
- Take time to heal and try again. Friend break-ups can really hurt and that’s ok. Asking for help with processing the end of a relationship is normal and healthy. A counselor can support you as you mourn the loss of a friendship and when you are ready, help you identify what you might look for when establishing new relationships in the future.
Whether you opt for boundary setting or break-up, either option can be a painful or difficult process. Voicing your needs can feel stressful, selfish, or so uncomfortable that the process is avoided altogether. These challenging and uncomfortable feelings are common reasons why people stay in friendships that might not be providing the healthy benefits of quality friendships.
Friendships are an important part of our daily lives and can be a major source of well-being or the cause of distress. This is why it’s important to bring up friendships in your next counseling session. Whether you are looking to explore your values, prepare to set a boundary, or even take steps to breaking up with a friend, please reach out to us to schedule an appointment or consultation.