A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be. ~Douglas Pagels
I had a friend. I’ll call him Jim (not his real name).
We got along well, in the beginning. But over time, I noticed he had a sarcastic edge. He often made jokes, at my expense.
I put up with his comments for a while. He was funny, we both liked basketball, and overall I liked hanging out with him. But over time, the comments continued at my expense. I slowly stopped spending time with him.
It had taken me a while, but I finally figured out that this was an unhealthy friendship.
Many of us take friendship for granted. Yet, friendship becomes a more complicated concept when you think about breaking it down into its key elements.
Fortunately, the PEERS program put together a healthy friendship checklist. Refer to it early and often when getting to know someone.
Healthy Friendship Checklist
Interests can include hobbies, weekend activities, and interests. While friends may not always have exactly the same interests, they have more in common than not. These common interests become a bridge upon which they can meet to build their friendship.
This means that you feel comfortable enough with each other to share your private thoughts, feelings, and stories. Think about a bricklayer laying bricks for a wall with a colleague. When your acquaintance tells you information about themselves, it’s like handing you a brick. You can then disclose information about yourself that’s similar to what they’re telling you. Telling an acquaintance too many of your deepest secrets can scare them away. Share personal information slowly and progressively as the relationship develops.
This characteristic means that you and your friend progressively learn more about each other’s thoughts, values, likes, dislikes, and habits. As we develop the friendship skill of empathy, we’ll want to learn more about our potential friend.
This characteristic means that you can disagree, argue, and even fight with each other without ending the friendship. A health friendship allows for differences of opinion, but there is an ability to solve those arguments and conflicts and still be friends.
This is a critical characteristic of a true friendship. Sometimes, we may so want friendship that we settle for a one sided, even abusive, relationship. A true friendship is a healthy relationship, with equality. The friendship is reciprocal in nature, meaning both parties are equals, no one side dominates the other, and you treat each other with respect.
This means that there is a sense of fondness, warmth, and caring for one another. I’ve been watching Bones lately. Dr. Temperance Brennan and Agent Seely Booth develop a strong friendship over the course of working together on unsolved mysteries. They both have learned about how the other ticks, even though they have differences in how they view the world. Dr. Brennan dedicates her book to Agent Booth. and Agent Booth is often found looking out and showing concern for Dr. Brennan. There is a sense of warmth even as they poke fun at each other.
This characteristic develops over time. As you get to know each other, disclose information to the other, and spend more time together, you are able to develop the mutual understanding even in the midst of arguments. The affection and care in the relationship and the commitment to each other builds the loyalty and trust that are the glue of long-term friendships.
So there six characteristics of a good friendship. While this article does not point out the How of making a friend, it does provide a template of what a good friendship looks like. It’s important to know these characteristics we move forward in getting to know people who may turn into friends.
Additional Helpful Reading:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert John Mordecai Gottman
I’m not saying that a friendship is a marriage! However, the principles for a successful marriage are very similar to those needed to make a friendship work. Keep an open mind as you read through the evidence based research Dr. Gottman has put together. His research originally focused on predictors of factors that would lead to divorce. By reversing those predictors, he has identified what works in long-term, healthy marriages.
The Unwritten Rules of Friendship: Simple Strategies to Help Your Child Make Friends , by Eileen Kennedy-Moore.
This book is written to help parents understand strategies for helping their children make friends. As long as you adapt what you know about the autism spectrum to these strategies, this can be a very helpful book.
photo credit: zachrious
Are there other characteristics I have left out? Are there any other resources or books on this topic that you would recommend?