How To Be A Good Friend: A True Friend’s Guide To Lasting Friendships

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The term “friend” is often used loosely, but the difference between an acquaintance and a true friend is usually significant. Close friends are people who see and accept you for who you are and support you as you go through life, and their presence can even have health benefits.

The National Institutes of Health reports that having a network of supportive friends can help reduce stress, improve heart health, and enhance overall well-being over the long term, and physical contact like hugging a friend can release neurotransmitters that can boost mood in the short term. Research has also shown that social connectedness can lead to a longer life.

If you’re looking to cultivate deeper friendships or learn how to better support your existing friends, the tips we explore below may help.

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What is friendship?

How do we define friendship? According to the American Psychological Association, friendship is “A voluntary relationship between two or more people that is relatively long-lasting and in which those involved tend to be concerned with meeting the others’ needs and interests as well as satisfying their own desires”, and where both parties have found that “their association with one another is mutually gratifying”. Friendships are usually characterized by understanding, trust, care, support, and affection.

These types of bonds often form with those we have something in common with. For example, you might have become friends with someone because you went to the same school, live in the same building, enjoy the same hobby, or come from a similar background. However, you don't need to have the same interests or backgrounds to form a friendly connection with someone. In fact, having friends who are different from you in some ways can help you both learn from and grow with each other.

Friendships can range widely in terms of closeness. Some friends only get to see each other once or twice a year but maintain frequent communication in between, while others may live nearby and see each other often. Some friends may make you feel safe in opening up to them about serious topics, while others are friends you primarily go out and do activities with. Different friends can play different roles in our lives, and the healthiest social groups typically involve a range of connections that fulfill different needs for each other.

Tips for being a good friend

Whether you’re looking to form new connections or strengthen your existing ones, you might benefit from the following tips for being a good friend. They’re aimed at giving you concrete, practical ways to support these often important connections in your life so you both can enjoy the benefits for years to come.

Practice active listening

Good friends make each other feel listened to. Friendships are typically equal partnerships where both people have space to express themselves and be heard, and active listening is generally a key component of this dynamic. It involves being present, limiting distractions, showing nonverbal cues that indicate listening, and restating what you heard. One study found that participants who received active listening from another were more satisfied with their conversation and perceived the person to be “more socially attractive”, supporting the idea that you can help your friends feel heard by engaging in active listening.

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Nurture the friendship

It takes work from both parties to keep a friendship healthy and thriving. If only one person is reaching out, making plans, asking how the other is doing, and providing support and a listening ear, the friendship will start to feel lopsided and they may not wish to be a part of it anymore. That’s why it’s usually best for both people to make an active effort to nurture the relationship. Contributing to it however you can will show your friend that you’re invested in having them in your life and will allow you to deepen your connection over time.

Maintain healthy boundaries

Maintaining healthy boundaries is also often an important component of successful friendships. Setting and respecting boundaries can help keep the relationship balanced and allow both people to feel safe. Part of this typically involves learning to identify unhealthy dynamics and speak up about them so you and your friend can address them together. Examples of potentially problematic boundary issues might include a friend who is demanding, taking advantage, manipulating, shaming, or trying to control you; more on this below.

Recognizing unhealthy friendship dynamics

Friendships can be nourishing and empowering, but they can also be damaging if both parties aren’t taking care to ensure their health. Understanding the signs of a potentially unhealthy friendship dynamic can help you take the appropriate action—which typically consists of broaching the subject with your friend to discuss solutions, but may include an ending of the friendship if the issue is serious and/or persistent enough. Some common signs of an unhealthy friendship dynamic may include the following:

  • Excessive criticism. While constructive feedback can be helpful, excessive criticism or nitpicking can tear down a person's self-esteem.
  • Manipulation. If a friend tries to manipulate you into doing what they want or making decisions for you, the relationship is unbalanced and likely unhealthy.
  • Competition. While some friendly competition can be fun, if it's happening too frequently or is always at the forefront of every conversation, it could be a problem.
  • Negativity. If you are surrounded by negative energy with a friend or constantly hearing about everything wrong in their life, it may be time to step back and reevaluate things. Sometimes it's easy to get sucked in by the negative talk and then begin to adopt the same mentality.
  • Unbalanced effort or attention. If one person is taking on most of the work in the friendship and not getting much in return, it may be time to discuss the health of your dynamic.

We all have the right to speak up if something isn't working for us. While it can be scary to express our feelings, it can help us safeguard ourselves and even strengthen our friendships. Unless a situation is harmful or dangerous, it’s usually worth bringing up a concern to our friend before ending the relationship altogether. However, there may be times when it’s clear that things simply aren’t working anymore and that it’s time for a friendship to come to a close. In this situation, each person should feel empowered to take the action they need to.

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How therapy can help

Since many of us weren’t taught skills for communication, conflict resolution, boundary setting, and other important elements of healthy relationships, it can be beneficial to have support in learning them now. Seeking the support of a therapist is one way to do this. It’s the job of a trained therapist to provide a safe space where you can express and process your emotions, and to offer support and guidance in the process of strengthening skills related to emotional control and interpersonal relationships. They can help you navigate the often complex world of friendships and other dynamics, whether you meet with them in person or online.

Research suggests that face-to-face and virtual cognitive behavioral therapy can be “equally effective” in many cases, so you can feel empowered to choose the format that works best for you. If you are unable to locate a provider in your area or have trouble traveling to and from appointments, for example, online therapy may represent a more convenient, reachable way for you to get care. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with from the comfort of home via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging. Whichever method you choose, know that compassionate support is available.


Having genuine, healthy friendships can be beneficial to our mental health, personal growth, and overall well-being. The best friendships are usually balanced and mutually supportive, and getting familiar with the tips mentioned above can help you find ways to ensure this dynamic in your own relationships. If you’re looking for extra support when it comes to managing interpersonal connections, you might consider speaking with a therapist.
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