What Are The Qualities Of A Good Friend?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 2, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Quality, balanced friendships can bring many positive things to your life, but it can be challenging to identify the qualities of a good friend. What is true friendship, and what is a good friend? While close friends can be a beneficial force in your life, toxic friendships may negatively affect you. Learning how to identify and build good friendships can be a valuable skill.  

If you struggle to make and maintain in-depth connections, consider speaking to a therapist, either face-to-face or online, to learn more effective communication strategies and how to build relationships with the people in your life. A therapist can help you identify the important qualities you may want to seek in others and ways you can be a better friend to yourself and others.

Rawpixel
Do you have trouble maintaining healthy friendships?

What role does friendship play in our lives?

While some people are comfortable only having low-maintenance or casual companionship, many find close friendship an essential aspect of their lives. According to researchers at the University of North Dakota, close friendships can build your self-esteem, emotional stability, and interpersonal skills while reducing feelings of anxiety and hostility. 

Many lean on family in times of trouble, but that isn’t possible for everyone. For some, friends are the entirety of their support system and a necessary part of their lives. Either way, friends can have an undeniable impact on your life. 

The nature of true friendship

Western cultures often use the word “friend” somewhat loosely; we may refer to many people within our social circles as friends, whether or not we feel platonic love towards them. These may be people we work with, friends of friends, or acquaintances we socialize with in groups. 

Unlike an acquaintance or casual friend, true friendship tends to be characterized by platonic love, and typically also encompasses some element of shared history, regular communication, and joy in one another’s company. 

These connections are strong and dynamic, evolving throughout our lives as we enter new phases and encounter challenges. Close friendships such as these can play a crucial role in our personal growth and happiness, bringing out the best aspects of our character and teaching us about the essence of unconditional love.

Why is it harder to make friends as an adult?

The American Psychological Association (APA) published a podcast with psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco, Ph.D., who said adults often find it much more challenging to make and maintain friendships than they did during childhood. Adults live complicated lives, with obligations to work, relationships, children, and other responsibilities that are often prioritized before a social life. 

Adult friendships require more effort, but having a great friend as an adult may come with better rewards. It may help to think of time to find good friends and maintain friendships as part of your self-care. It’s important to remind yourself that friendship goes both ways. Try to be there for your friends, too. Ensure you try your best to hear their problems when they need to talk and do what you can to support them.

Traits often found in good friends

It may be common sense to think good friends are trustworthy, honest, dependable, and loyal, but that isn’t always the case. Friendship, like any relationship, may mean something different to each person; for some, friends are defined as people who have similar interests or goals. One good way to set the standard in your relationships is by treating your friends well. You may also want to avoid people who have a tendency to hurt you, as they likely won’t be good candidates for a close friendship. 

Categories of friendship traits include:

  • Integrity: You should be able to trust good friends to be there for you and display qualities like honesty, loyalty, and dependability. Someone who doesn’t show these traits may be what's known as a “fake friend.” 
  • Caring: Good friends should show empathy, try to listen to absolutely anything without judgment, and offer their support in troubling times or when you need rest.
  • Congeniality: Spending time with good friends should be fun. If they can see the funny side of things and make you laugh, it may keep you from taking life too seriously and shed light on the things that truly matter. Confident friends can help boost your self-confidence, too.
iStock/kali9

Good friends can be trusted

Many people turn to a best friend to tell their secrets and depend on that friend to keep them. You should feel confident trusting your good friends. If you ask them not to tell you certain information, you can trust genuine friends to honor your wishes. They can be trusted to stand up for you, help you when needed, and support you through times of emotional turmoil. 

You should be able to depend on good friends

Generally, life is full of moments spanning the spectrum of emotion—elation and sadness, joy and despair, triumph and frustration. Each moment can be easier to handle with friends by your side. You should be able to depend on your good friends to support you through difficult times and be genuinely happy when you succeed. 

They listen and show empathy

One of the more important traits of a good friend is the ability to listen and show empathy. Many people turn to their friends to talk through problems and tell all the details about their moral dilemmas. A close friend will often empathize with you and may feel sadness when something terrible happens to you, and happiness when good things happen. 

You feel better after spending time with them

Whether you’re going out with a group of friends or spending the night in a small group at home, spending time with a true friend should make you feel good. Building a positive, supportive environment among your friends can help recharge your emotional batteries.

“Social isolation places older adults in jeopardy for poor health and low psychological well-being,” said the authors of a paper about the importance of friendships for elderly adults.

Good friends make you laugh and lift your mood

While humor isn’t an essential part of every friendship, it can be beneficial. Recent studies have shown that laughter can have therapeutic benefits for mental health. With all the stressors you face in everyday life, it can be essential to relax and laugh with your friends. Try to make time to enjoy the humor in your life and have it with those who are closest to you. The laughter good friends share can help you relax and may result in a boosted mood. 

You can be your true self without judgment

Beneficial and genuine friendships ideally mean that you can be yourself without worrying about judgment from your close friends. This level of comfort is usually higher than one would experience with a casual acquaintance. That doesn’t mean friends will always agree with what you say and do. They should feel comfortable telling you when they think you’re making a mistake and help you find a way to make things right. 

They respect your boundaries

Because friendship means something different to each person, and everyone isn’t comfortable with the same level of emotional intimacy, it’s important to have friends who respect your boundaries and are willing to give you space.

Healthy Friendship Boundaries

  • They let you be alone when you need time on your own.
  • Good friends shouldn’t put you in situations in which they know you’ll be uncomfortable.
  • They let you say “no.” 
  • Good friends are often willing to compromise. 

Good friends can be the core of your support network

Your closest friends will often be the core of your support network. They should help you when they can and encourage you to seek help elsewhere if you need it. If you don’t have close, supportive friends or feel uncomfortable expressing personal issues with them, a trusted therapist can be a helpful addition to your support network. 

How important are online friendships?

While little research has been completed about the importance and benefits of friendships that take place online, a recent study found that for gamers, online friendships were of significantly higher quality than their offline counterparts. The same study showed the opposite results for non-gamers, who made a point of placing a higher value on offline friendships. 

Friendships can change over time

Research suggests that people go through phases in their lives, and friends can be part of those phases. Some friendships may be precisely what you need at a particular time in your life, but you later find you’ve outgrown the friendship. In most cases, there is nothing wrong with this occurring. It’s natural to grow and change; sometimes, certain friendships don’t survive the transition. 

Some friendships, however, take deeper roots and become a foundation of your life. These are usually deep, multi-layered connections that tie your life to the life of a real friend. You likely feel comfortable expressing your genuine thoughts and feelings and can trust that they will do the same. While you and your close friends may not always have a similar sense of humor or agree about everything, you can both trust that you will have a conversation about a disagreement and find a solution. 

How therapy can help you build stronger friendships

Many people find it challenging to identify the desirable qualities in a good friend. Past experiences can shape how a person feels about the treatment they receive, and therapy can be an effective tool to help learn healthy patterns. A qualified therapist may be able to guide you through developing your ability to communicate and relate to your friends, making it easier to succeed in your journey to build lasting, genuine, in-depth friendships. 

If in-person sessions with a licensed therapist aren’t available or don’t sound like a good fit for you, consider online therapy from a provider like BetterHelp. You can choose from multiple appointment formats—phone, video call, or online chat—to maximize your comfort and convenience.  

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment for a variety of mental health conditions, and recent studies show that online therapies can be as effective as face-to-face appointments, often at a lower cost with more availability. 

Getty/AnnaStills
Do you have trouble maintaining healthy friendships?

Takeaway

Learning the qualities that you may want to seek in a genuine friend is one of the first steps toward building stronger personal friendships. Speaking to a therapist can help smooth the process by helping you create the communication skills that will make you a better friend. Identifying the qualities of a good friend can also make it easier to recognize toxic friendships.
Seeking to improve your mental health?
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started