Healthy vs. Unhealthy Friendships

Learning to tell the difference

Think about someone in your life who leaves an open space for you to be yourself. No one is more valuable. I would rather have a pillar of trust in my life than a pillar of strength.
—Deepak Chopra

Do you have friends who leave you feeling happy and uplifted? Or do you feel drained, agitated, angry, or resentful when you’ve spent time with certain people? Use the following list to compare and evaluates the friendships you have in your life:

Healthy friendships are not one-sided. Both people benefit from knowing each other. In unhealthy friendships, one person always seems to give a lot more than the other.

Healthy friendships are based on mutual respect. In unhealthy friendships, people ridicule one another, gossip or spread rumors, or act mean to one another.

Healthy friendships allow each other to grow and change. Unhealthy friendships are threatened when one person grows or changes.

Healthy friendships are not possessive. Unhealthy friendships are threatened by other people.

Healthy friendships nourish you and add to your life. Unhealthy friendships leave you feeling empty and drained.

Healthy friendships accept you for who you are. Unhealthy friendships require you to act the way someone else wants you to be in order to be accepted.

Healthy friendships allow you to have your feelings. Unhealthy friendships only accept certain feelings.

Healthy friendships respect differences. Unhealthy friendships demand conformity.

Healthy friendships are safe and secure. In unhealthy friendships, trusts are broken, secrets are shared, and confidentialities are betrayed.

In healthy friendships, both people are committed to the friendship. In unhealthy friendships, only one is.

Healthy friendships are not about power or status. Unhealthy friendships look to take advantage of another person’s social standing in order to improve their own.

Think of your friends and the people you know. Then go through the list above. Count the number of times you would put “Healthy” next to their names.

Take a look at your role as a friend. In what ways are you a healthy friend? In what ways are you an unhealthy friend?

Excerpt adapted from High School’s Not Forever by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D. and Eric Katz, M.S.A.C. (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2007). The quote by Deepak Chopra is from Fire in the Heart: A Spiritual Guide for Teens (New York: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2004), 187.

Another thought on the matter: I just saw this on Facebook today (thank you, Barbara Simkins, Green Rocks Inn), and thought it might make a nice addition to this page. Although it’s called “The Marriage Box,” I believe it applies to friendships and all relationships. I have found several longer versions online, each marked “author unknown.” If anyone knows who composed this piece, please contact me so I can give appropriate credit.

The Marriage Box

Most people get married believing a myth that marriage is a beautiful box full of all the things they have longed for: companionship, intimacy, friendship, etc. The truth is that marriage at the start is an empty box. You must put something in before you can take anything out. There is no love in marriage. Love is in the people. And people put love in marriage. There is no romance in marriage. You have to infuse it into your marriage. A couple must learn the art and form the habit of giving, loving, serving, praising, keeping the box full. If you take more out than you put in, the box will be empty.

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13 Responses to Healthy vs. Unhealthy Friendships

  1. David Friedli May 6, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    I am reminded of the wisdom of a friend: relationships are not 50/50… they are 100/100. Like a line that intersects another line, what is created are two COMPLIMENTARY angles that fit perfectly, although very different. (And when combined, they ‘lead in the same direction’, and isn’t that where we want in our friendships? We may be different, but as singer-songwriter David Wilcox says, “We’re good together.” (Www.davidwilcox.com).

    • Renai Kahan March 26, 2015 at 3:26 am #

      What should one do if they watch a friend constantly develop unhealthy friendships with their peers and many of the friendships are easily broken?
      Is it my responsibility to get involved in order to help my friend even if it will risk her getting upset with me?

      • Dr. Jane Bluestein April 5, 2015 at 7:19 pm #

        Renai, hi. Sometimes it takes us a while to figure out that what we thought was a healthy friendship really isn’t. It sounds like your friend is establishing some unhealthy patterns in her life. We can love and support people, but it is not our responsibility to fix them. She might well get upset with you if your input is something she doesn’t want (or isn’t ready) to hear. The question for you to consider is whether your friendship with her is healthy for YOU.

  2. Dr. Jane Bluestein May 6, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    Well said. Thanks, Dave. xo

  3. Estelle Fromm May 29, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    I am fortunate to have a 17+ year friendship with four women that I worked with many years ago. Even though I no longer work with these ladies, we all meet and have lunch at least five times a year. All of us have respect for each other. As the years have passed, it has been enjoyable sharing family photos, or simply listening to each other talk about what they are up to.

    • Dr. Jane Bluestein May 31, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

      How wonderful. I treasure the friends I have that go back decades. And I’ve been blessed with some amazing new people in my life recently as well. I’m happy you have this tradition established, and sending my sincerest hopes that it continues for a long time to come. 🙂

  4. Olawale Ridwan December 3, 2015 at 10:47 am #

    Thanks Dr. Jane Bluestein….This has been very helpful.

  5. nanoo August 30, 2017 at 5:43 pm #

    I’m now not certain the place you are getting your info,
    but great topic. I must spend some time finding out much more or understanding more.
    Thank you for great info I was looking for this info for my mission.

    • Dr. Jane Bluestein September 14, 2017 at 9:19 pm #

      Good luck on your mission. I’m glad this information could be helpful.

  6. Chalisa December 5, 2017 at 10:49 pm #

    Thanks Dr Jane. This information was good to know due to my circumstances and for my future.

    • Dr. Jane Bluestein December 15, 2017 at 5:49 pm #

      Good to know. I think this is one of the most useful post on this site and applies to all types of relationships. Thank you.

  7. Lois April 2, 2018 at 5:30 pm #

    Thanks so much Dr. Jane for your very clear and thoughtful description of healthy vs unhealthy relationships. I’m afraid that many of the questions regarding my relationship with my “friend” are unhealthy!! I’m just not sure how to approach this friend since I’m the one who has changed over the years. I know I’ve let the situation deteriorate over the past 6 months because I am absolutely terrified of confrontation and conflict. I must decide how to move forward, I know, and my assertion skills are lacking at this point. Any other articles you can recommend that might help me resolve this difficult situation?

    • Dr. Jane Bluestein July 29, 2018 at 7:56 pm #

      Lois, hi. As people change, it can be easy for long-term friendships (and marriages) to cross into unhealthy territory over time. Confrontation and conflict are uncomfortable for most people. I don’t have much information about HOW this friendship has deteriorated, but my first instincts involved asking for what you want (rather than, say, criticizing or making this friend wrong) and following through on any boundaries you set. For example, if this person is always late, rather than labeling her as thoughtless or inconsiderate, next time you make plans, be specific about how long you’re willing to wait if you don’t hear from her. If she calls you stuck in traffic, that will be easier to deal with than just sitting there wondering how much longer she’ll be. (I’m just guessing at gender here, but it makes no difference, really.) If you are tired of waiting past what you have identified as a reasonable time, text her a “gotta go” message and leave. You can always keep the door open to try again some other time.

      Be aware that you may lose friends when you start to take care of yourself, but also keep in mind that you don’t lose people who love and respect you just because you no longer tolerate thoughtless or abusive behavior. Again, I’m just throwing out an example that has come up in some of my presentations. The good news, is that when people drop out of your life, it could just be making space for someone or something better to drop in.

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