“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
Couples need to like each other and couples need to be really good friends to each other. I often hear from couples struggling with marital or relationship problems that they used to be great friends and this aspect of the relationship has been lost. This loss comes at a great cost to a marriage or relationship. Too many couples fail to nurture this vital part of their union.
When friends are asked to describe their relationship, the enduring qualities of their friendship that make it so special to them, there are certain themes that arise as to what makes these friendship-relationships so meaningful and lasting.
7 Traits of Healthy Friendships and Relationships:
1. Acceptance – Genuine friendships do not revolve around pretense, criticalness or judgment. You know having a few bad days/weeks isn’t going to send your friend running. Friends accept the good, the bad and the ugly that we each possess while also being able to keep healthy boundaries when needed (e.g., “I realize you’re having a tough time and please know that I’m here for you, but when you said that hurtful thing to me yesterday, it felt like you were taking your troubles out on me…”).
2. Honesty – An honesty and authenticity exists between friends; an honesty that honors and reaffirms who we are as individuals while also (if needed) challenges us to move beyond our own self-imposed limits. There is no cruelty to this type of honesty: it is direct, clear, compassionate and welcomed.
3. Effort/Endurance – Good friends try to be good friends. They’re willing to put in the time and elbow grease needed to make their relationship work. Reaching out with an invitation for coffee and to “catch up” because it’s been a while is one way friends nurture their relationship. Regular check-ins (“How are you doing?”) is the rule of thumb.
4. Mutuality – Friendships can burn out when a chronic asymmetry exists. That is, one person takes and takes without giving back. This taking can be emotional (month after month complaining to your friend about some aspect of your life without leaving room for your friend to similarly vent) or practical (repeatedly asking for favors without offering yourself in any way). Such dynamics are problematic because there is little reciprocity.
5. Play/Joy – While good friends are there for one another for the difficult times, this relationship is also infused with laughter, silliness and the ability to have fun together. In other words, friendships are balanced with mutual support, individuals relying on one another when a difficult need arises and also experiencing joy together.
6. Loyalty/Commitment/Steadiness/Reliability – These are all pretty self-explanatory, but it’s important to emphasize that these traits/conditions are an integral part of any healthy marital or relationship foundation. There is no friendship or relationship that can last without this foundation. How can you trust each other when you question or doubt another’s loyalty, commitment and willingness/ability to be there for you?
7. Compassion/Kindness – When relationships (including friendships) are infused with compassion, a deep sense of trust and safety takes hold of the relationship. Not only do you know deep down that your friend has your best interests in mind (loyalty and commitment to you), but you also know that more often than not, you will be on the receiving end of understanding, appreciation and grace.
It’s important to remember that while some of these qualities/traits may come naturally in some relationships, at other times friends (as well as couples) must make concerted efforts to instill their relationship with any or all of the above.
So as you reflect upon the type of friendships that exist in your life, think about how you and your spouse/partner can also build a friendship that offers you both the support and love you each deserve.
For more information on how to communicate more effectively with your spouse/partner, check out my communication workbook.
Wishing you a marriage/relationship filled with friendship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro