Philia: Friendship Love And Why It's Beneficial

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When most people hear the word “love,” they may instantly think of romantic relationships. However, there can be many types of love, and perhaps one of the most overlooked may be philia, which generally refers to love between friends. This type of love can be vital, even if you’re in a happy romantic relationship. Different types of love can fulfill different needs in your life. A healthy friendship generally involves empathy, compassion, honesty, and independence. For professional help with challenges regarding friendships and relationships, consider scheduling an in-person or online session with a licensed therapist.

What is philia?

In general, philia love can be considered the love of friendship. In Greek, philia typically translates to brotherly love. It is thought to have originated from Aristotle's Ethics but has been used in different contexts since. According to Aristotle, philia usually requires a mutual fondness that goes beyond simply liking a person. Two people who display philia for each other may know a lot about each other and have a high level of emotional intimacy. Philia tends to be trustworthy and long-lasting.
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Is philia missing from your life?

Types of friendships

According to Aristotle, there may be three main types of friendships. These types are believed to have been established based on the potential benefits of the relationship.

Useful friendships

This can refer to being friends with someone because of the potential for the friendship to lead to something that you desire, such as a job, business contact, or another benefit.

Pleasurable friendships

This type of friendship is normally based on simple pleasure and enjoyment. This could include hanging out and talking with your friends or going out for drinks, for example.

Virtuous friendships

This may refer to a type of friendship based on true emotional intimacy and not what one person may be getting out of the relationship. It is usually marked by a deeper connection and regard for the other person’s well-being. This type of friendship tends to be more likely to involve philia than the other types.

Tips for building healthy friendships

Healthy friendships can be an important part of life, and philia can be beneficial for your mental health. Even if you’re in a fulfilling romantic relationship, it can still be vital to have friendships, as it’s generally unrealistic and unhealthy to expect your partner to satisfy all your needs. As a lighthearted example, if you love going shopping, but your significant other doesn’t, then this may be a good opportunity for you to spend some quality time with friends who also enjoy this activity.

Real friends can be valuable because they typically provide you with a safe place to be yourself. Genuine, caring friends will not usually judge you or look down on you for your imperfections, and they may not be afraid to call you out on bad behavior either. However, this type of friendship, which likely involves philia, isn’t always easy to find. 

Consider these strategies for building a healthy friendship:

Find a healthy balance 

It’s generally not a healthy relationship if one person is always gaining from the relationship and the other person is constantly giving. Often, people who have low self-esteem find themselves in relationships where they can be seen as doormats. They may constantly do things for the other person without getting much in return. In general, this is not a healthy form of friendship. It can be crucial to find a healthy balance between give and take so that both friends have opportunities to benefit and help each other.

Exercise empathy and compassion

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Compassion can be an important part of friendship. A good friend is usually someone who will stay alongside you when you’re going through a difficult time. Even if they don’t understand exactly what you’re going through, they will normally try to understand it the best they can. When they don’t know exactly what to do to make the situation better, they may still be there for you in any way they can, even if it means just listening. Friends may work to support each other and tend to be there for one another, even when others aren’t. It can be helpful to try your best to exercise these qualities within your friendships.

Be honest

Real friends don’t usually just tell each other what they think the other person wants to hear. Instead, they may work to be open and honest with each other, even when it’s challenging. They may know that in the long run, the truth can be more important than just trying to keep the other person happy for the moment.

Maintain independence

Just because you are good friends—or even best friends—with a person, that does not necessarily mean that you need to solely rely on them or spend all your time with them. Just as with romantic relationships, independence can be an important part of friendships. Acting in a way that could be perceived as clingy or smothering may seem overwhelming to friends. It can be helpful to ensure you’re spending time both together and apart.

Can philia turn into eros?

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Is philia missing from your life?

While philia is the type of love typically associated with friendship and eros is the type of love usually involved in romantic relationships, it can be possible for philia to develop into eros. 

If you find yourself in a friendship that is starting to become something more, the first thing you may need to do is be honest about your feelings. Your friendship will not likely continue to be healthy if you are hiding the feelings you have for the other person. Therefore, you may need to discuss the change that you’re experiencing with your friend to see how they respond. 

If they’re feeling the same way, then your relationship may naturally progress into new areas. Many believe that the most successful relationships tend to begin as friendships. However, if your friend doesn’t feel the same way, it may be necessary to decide on the next steps together.

Getting help with friendship and love

Love is generally not an easy thing, even in friendships. If you find that you’re struggling to form healthy relationships, it can help to talk to a licensed therapist. They can help you identify any areas that may be holding you back from forming good friendships.

Talking about love while sitting across from a stranger can be an intimidating prospect, even if you’re discussing platonic love. This can keep many people from attending traditional therapy sessions with an in-person therapist. Online therapy may be a better alternative for individuals who experience challenges opening up about their feelings. 

Benefits of online therapy

Often, speaking to a therapist online can be more comfortable than speaking face-to-face. You may have the option to speak to your therapist via video call, phone call, or online chat, enabling you to personalize the therapy experience. You can also switch therapists as needed until you find one who meshes well with your personality and preferences.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Although not much research has yet been done on the efficacy of online therapy for helping with friendship, existing evidence generally supports the idea that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. Both options can be valid choices for treatment for those who wish to get professional help with challenges regarding friendships, relationships, and mental health.

The mental health professionals at BetterHelp have helped thousands learn how to create stronger relationships. Read below for reviews from those who have sought help in the past.

Counselor reviews

“I feel real care and compassion from Dr. Sawyer. She read through and between the lines of the background information I gave her, and in our first conversation she quickly focused on my real needs and gave me effective work to do. I immediately felt a sense of hope and direction. I am very confident that I will improve my life and my relationships.”

“I am so happy I got paired with Ruthie Brooks. My sessions with her have been a positive and insightful experience. As a result, I can see my relationships improving and I have a better understanding of myself. She is very professional, kind, and great at what she does.”

Takeaway

Philia generally refers to the type of love that occurs between friends. Even if you’re already in a romantic relationship, having healthy friendships can still be important, potentially making philia a vital part of a fulfilling life. If you’re experiencing challenges in this area of your life, consider working with a licensed therapist.
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