What Is True Friendship?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Friendship is often defined as a relationship of mutual affection, platonic intimacy, and care between individuals. Like other relationships we have, including with family or romantic partners, friendship may have challenges. “Real” or "True” friendship can be terms used to describe healthy relationships between two or more friends. As healthy relationships contribute to mental health, many individuals may wonder how to cultivate this type of friendship.  

Healthy friendships may be long-term bonds between those with healthy boundaries, mutual respect for one another, and positive intentions. Unhealthy friendships might be formed from a desire for money, status, or another external reason. For the most part, a healthy friend is someone who respects your boundaries, remains trustworthy, and shows you empathy.

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True friendship explained

What is true friendship? Several factors might go into a healthy friendship connection, including the following. 


True friends can show empathy to each other. Empathy is an experience of feeling the emotions of others or being able to put yourself in their shoes. By empathizing with someone, you can see why a particular situation or subject may matter to them. In a friendship, empathy might look like offering moral support during difficult times, actively listening when someone talks about their feelings, or understanding when a friend makes an honest mistake. 

Someone seeking friendship with others for impure motives might struggle to feel empathy. Friends who end connections with others due to minor mistakes or inconveniences may also see friends as disposable.


The more you spend time with someone, the more you might get to know them. Over time, you'll often learn their behavioral patterns or how they treat you and other people. Being trustworthy is one of the important qualities of a good friend. A true friend will likely not betray you, disregard your limits, or make you question yourself. They may support you when they're able, try to remain open in communication, and stick to their word.

Mutual respect

Real friends are usually ones that have mutual respect for one another. Although both parties may not always agree, they could still admire each other and believe they're both doing their best and acting out of positive intentions. Close friends may argue or disagree at times. However, disrespect might include behaviors like: 

  • Disregarding one friend's boundaries
  • Being passive aggressive or giving the “silent treatment”
  • Yelling 
  • Unkindness
  • Abandonment
  • Making light of physical illnesses
  • Cruel jokes
  • Being late to most scheduled hangouts
  • Peer pressure 
  • Bullying 

Elements of friendship 

In most cases, true friendship requires empathy, trustworthiness, and mutual respect. How someone acts when they see someone else succeeding or failing can indicate how they feel about the relationship. True friends may continue to be in your life through struggles and gains as long as the relationship is healthy. 

When you're in the company of a real friend, you might feel comfortable and at ease. Frequently unpleasant emotions in the company of a specific individual could indicate an underlying issue. 

Healthy friends might also allow you to have other friends and connections. Although possessiveness might be associated with unhealthy romances, friends could also demand complete fidelity. However, connecting and building friendships with more than one person can be normal.

How friends behave around others in their lives 

How one behaves around the people in their life might show how they would act as a friend. An individual who gossips, spreads rumors, or complains about friends in their absences might do the same with you. In many cases, it can be unhealthy to simply accept this behavior or continue associating with that individual.

It can be hard to address a situation objectively when you care about someone. However, it may be critical to note any behaviors that concern you. Make your judgment when dealing with someone who may be an unhealthy friend. If you need to, talk to a counselor to determine the healthiness of your relationships. 

How to find healthy friends

Finding trustworthy and safe friends can feel challenging if you have previously experienced unhealthy relationships. However, it may be possible. There are a few ways you can try to make healthy friends, including: 

  • Attending a social group at school, on campus, or at work 
  • Talking to coworkers at your place of employment
  • Connecting with like-minded individuals in an online social group
  • Talking to those who seem to have made healthy efforts in their lives
  • Avoiding those who seem to discard friends often 
  • Going to a platonic blind dating event 
  • Meeting people at an event like pride, the farmer's market, or a fair 
  • Asking your current friends for recommendations 
  • Attending university
  • Joining a volunteer organization 
  • Going on a group trip 

You may find unhealthy people in any situation. However, set boundaries and use your judgment to determine who might be a healthy choice to connect with. You do not have to stay friends with someone hurting you or acting unhealthily with others in their life.

Therapy options 

Speaking with a counselor or therapist may be beneficial if you want to determine whether your friendship is healthy or learn how to make new friends. A therapist may be able to give you advice regarding your friendships or other relationships you are confused about. If you live with social anxiety or struggle to make time to meet with a therapist, you might also benefit from online therapy, which allows you to choose a schedule that works for you. 

Online therapy has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy for many symptoms, mental health conditions, and concerns. You can choose whether to meet with your online counselor via video, phone, or live chat sessions, and you can message them after sessions if you have any questions. 

Online platforms like BetterHelp can be beneficial if you struggle to find a therapist in your area.

Want help forming or maintaining healthy friendships?


Finding close platonic connections is a value for many but may feel complex or challenging in certain circumstances. Often, true friendship can be based on mutual respect, empathy, and understanding. If you're struggling with friendships or want to learn more about forming healthy relationships, consider reaching out to a counselor for further guidance. 
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