What Is The Definition Of A Good Friend?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Research shows that friendship can have a significant impact on not only our emotional well-being but also our physical health and that being friends with two or more people can lead to a more satisfactory quality of life. Friendship can affect everything from our blood pressure to our immune function to heal from illness. For this reason, it can be important to define what it means to have a good friend and determine ways to nurture healthy friendships.

Many of us may believe that we have true, close friendships, but may not give too much thought to how we would actually define a good friend. A friend can be someone you've been close to for years, or they could be someone fairly new in your life. They could be someone you bond with over a favorite sport or TV show, or perhaps a new friend you made at school or work. A friend can come from all aspects of our lives.

In this article, we’ll reflect on what friendship is and how to recognize a good friend versus a bad friend using a few possible signs.

Navigating friendships can be confusing sometimes

What is friendship?

So what is friendship? The definition of a friend for most of us is someone who we feel connected to and who is there for us in some way. According to friendship researcher Lydia Denworth, science has found three minimum factors for a quality friendship: “It has to have these minimum three things: It’s a stable, longstanding bond; it’s positive; and it’s cooperative—it’s helpful, reciprocal, I’m there for you, you’re there for me.” 

A friend is often someone that you experience a bond with. You may experience some common beliefs and values with friends, and often, a friend is someone you trust and enjoy being around. Friends can be in person or online and can vary in distance. You might have a next-door neighbor friend or a friend thousands of miles away.

Some friends may be casual; you may talk sometimes and enjoy each other’s company, but the connection may not be very strong. With your best friends, you may feel more deeply connected and know you can rely on them for support. This friendship may seem very reliable, and this friend may make it easy to pick up where you left off. Good friendships and good friends can often stand the test of time. These relationships are often made from mutual respect and care for each other's well-being.

What is the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? An acquaintance is a person whom you may talk to on occasion and maybe see at a dinner party or other social event, but the bond of a friend or personal relationship is not there. An acquaintance might not be the person you talk to when problems are happening, as you would with a close friend. That said, some acquaintances may become friends, if we give them a chance. The main characteristic of a friend in this case is someone with whom you have more trust and connection.

Possible signs of healthy relationships with your friends

Now that we have a sense of friendship in general, let’s consider a few possible qualities of a good friend.  Here are some possible ways to know that you have a true friend and a quality, healthy friendship:

1. They provide emotional support

A good friend is often someone who will be there for you consistently, whether that is through simple words or grand gestures. A good friend likely won’t desert you because you are having a hard time or experiencing sadness. Good friends often recognize that life can present significant challenges, and they will be there for you when that happens. A good friend stays by your side, and a real friendship goes through these trials and remains strong.

2. A friend listens to you

A good friend is often someone you can be vulnerable and open with. They are often someone you feel comfortable talking honestly with because you know they are genuinely listening and care about what you have to say.

3. You feel good when you're around them

A good friend is typically someone whom you enjoy spending time with, and they may also increase your self-esteem when you're around them. With a good friend, you may laugh, have fun, feel connected, and generally enjoy each other’s company. Rather than worrying about being judged, you can often feel comfortable and confident when you are around good friends.

4. They are empathetic toward you

A good friend is often empathetic to your struggles or what you're experiencing and shows that they care. A good friend will often try to understand who you are, as well as your perspectives and give you space to express your feelings. A good friend typically won’t be judgmental or dismissive.

5. They can apologize and forgive 

In a long-term friendship, there are likely to be some arguments at times. Good friends typically recognize this reality and are able to both apologize and forgive, within reason of course. Good friends can forgive each other and continue nurturing a positive friendship.

Getty / courtneyk

Not all friendships are healthy

If you've been questioning your friendship with someone, there are a few signs that someone may not be a good friend to you. Here are a few signs to consider:

1. They are only around when they need something

Some friends may only want to spend time with you when they need something. When you've given them what they need, they may stop acting like a friend. Friends can help each other, but if the help is one-sided or if the friend is only around when they want something from you, this may be a sign that you're being used.

2. They frequently bad-mouth other friends

If your friends is frequently voicing negative opinions about their other friends to you, then you may consider that they could be saying bad things about you to their friends. If this friend is always speaking badly about others, they may not be someone you can trust.

3. They don’t tolerate differences

Friends often have some differences, be it hobbies, interests, outlooks on life, or beliefs. Good friends can typically understand these differences and accept you for who you are. However, if someone seems to frequently be dismissive, judgmental, or demeaning of you for what you believe, they may not be a good friend to have in your life.

4. They are often flaky

A flaky friend can be difficult to accommodate. If you're the one who is always making plans and they're frequently making excuses or not showing up, you may wonder if they care about the friendship. However, there can be legitimate reasons for this behavior, such as if a person has social anxiety, so it may be best to try to talk with this friend to gain an understanding of what might be going on.

5. They are pushy and not understanding

If a person is pressuring you to do things with which you don’t feel comfortable, such as attending a certain party or trying certain things, they may not be a good friend. A good friend can respect your boundaries. Additionally, if you have obligations, such as work, school, or family, and your friend gets angry whenever you're busy, then this can be a sign of a less-than-healthy relationship.

Many friends may have a problem or two at times, and these signs are not automatic indications of a bad friend. However, if you are questioning the quality of the friendship, considering some of these signs may be useful. Oftentimes, having a conversation with your friend about your concerns can be helpful.

Help with navigating friendships and developing friendship skills

If you're having trouble with your friendships or want support in figuring out whether or not a friendship may be positive, speaking with a professional counselor may help. Working with a therapist may help you understand your feelings, make sense of different friendships, and learn ways to strengthen your relationships.

Research has found that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy for a variety of concerns. For instance, one research study conducted a comprehensive review of studies on the effectiveness of internet-based interventions for a variety of concerns. It found “no differences in effectiveness” between face-to-face and internet interventions in 14 studies that compared the two.

With online therapy through BetterHelp, you can meet with a therapist wherever is most convenient for you—including from home—which may make it easier to schedule as you won’t have to worry about a commute. You can communicate with your therapist via phone, live chat, videoconferencing, or in-app messaging.

Below are reviews of some of our therapists from people seeking help with similar concerns.

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Navigating friendships can be confusing sometimes

Counselor reviews

“I've been talking with Rebecca since February and she has helped me immensely! A lot has changed in my life and she's helped me create a positive mindset and space to navigate the changes and pursue the type of life, friendships, and relationships I want. Along with this, she's provided me with resources I can use outside our sessions.”

“Danielle is amazing! She's helping me grapple with incredibly difficult challenges in one of my most important relationships. She listens well, synthesizes my scattered thoughts & feelings, and offers helpful tools, activities & resources to work on outside of our sessions. Danielle provides honest feedback and creates a safe space. I can feel that she genuinely cares.”


A good friend is often someone who is there for you, who listens to you, and who you enjoy spending time with. If a friend pressures you, or only seems to spend time with you when they need something from you, that could be an indication of a less-than-optimal friendship. If you would like support in navigating your friendships with others, online therapy may help.
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