The Importance Of Supportive Friendships

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
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Want to develop supportive, mutually beneficial relationships?

The friendships we develop in our lives help shape us as people.

Your friends can be sources of companionship, care, and inspiration. They are likely some of the most important members of your support system—people to whom you can turn when you need help.

A plethora of research has confirmed the importance of friendships when it comes to our ability to foster success, mental and physical wellness, and resiliency. Despite these benefits, though, we sometimes don’t know the best ways to maintain or strengthen our bonds with our friends. Below, we’re going to discuss the vital role supportive friendships play in our lives and how you can build and sustain strong relationships with your friends. 

What is a supportive friendship?

Casual friendships—relationships that may be rewarding are often less committed—can be enjoyable and are considered by many to be an indispensable facet of our social lives. When those connections deepen, though, they may start to be characterized by mutual respect, admiration, and a willingness to help one another. A supportive friendship is often selfless. It is one in which each person provides the other with care, encouragement, and compassion, especially when they need it most. 

A supportive friend will leave room for your needs. They can help you feel accepted for who you are and assure you that they’ll always be there for you. A close friend can listen to and empathize with your concerns, lift you up, and provide you with motivation. 

What are the characteristics of a supportive friendship?

Supportive friendships are often marked by shared affection, respect, and care. They are typically balanced relationships, in which both individuals give and take equally. One of the most important components of a healthy friendship is mutual understanding. Having a friend who knows you well and appreciates you for who you are can be validating, providing you with a sense of belonging and acceptance. 

Healthy friendships are also typically characterized by loyalty and reliability. Part of nurturing a relationship with a friend is being there for them regardless of what they’re going through while trusting them to be there for you when you need their advice, assistance, or emotional support. 

Additionally, supportive friendships are often marked by vulnerability. Friends who are able to share their fears, anxieties, and weaknesses may feel more comfortable with and connected to one another. Along with vulnerability comes honesty—another cornerstone of a healthy friendship. Good friends often share their feelings with each other, encourage openness, and provide one another with candid insights.

The importance of supportive friendships

Friendships are thought to contribute significantly to our happiness, health, and overall quality of life. Research has found that social support is strongly connected to improved mental health outcomes, helping to decrease stress and depression, improve communication skills, and reduce the emotional effects of physical health challenges. Supportive relationships can help us solve problems and boost our self-confidence. Often, we feel better able to navigate a stressful situation when we have someone to go through it with. In fact, many studies suggest that when friends are simply physically near to us, challenges can feel less daunting

Friendships have also been shown to provide physical health benefits. Research suggests that people who have a robust support system live longer and experience fewer health complications. Additionally, the reduced stress that can accompany a supportive friendship can be good for heart health.   

Friendships are considered a key aspect of development for young people, helping children and adolescents form healthy attachments characterized by trust, generosity, and mutual support. An individual’s friends can help them grow and mature during their often-challenging formative years. Mutually supportive friendships can make this time easier and less mentally and emotionally taxing. For example, friendships have been linked to greater academic achievement. Friends can hold each other accountable and motivate one another to succeed as they transition into adulthood. 

For adults who may no longer live with their family, friendships can become a primary source of support. There are proven associations between life satisfaction and the number and quality of friendships an individual maintains. Life as an adult can be complicated, and a friendship characterized by mutual care can make you feel less alone during challenging times. The relationships you have with friends as an adult can shape your life, often helping determine your worldview, interests, and values. For example, you may pursue certain hobbies because your friends are involved in them; or you might develop an optimistic mindset after being around a friend with a positive outlook on life. 

A supportive friend can help you solve problems, potentially providing valuable insights into your life based on their intimate knowledge of you. They may disagree with your choices at times; but they will likely stand by you regardless of the decisions you make. For example, if you’re considering getting back together with an ex, a good friend may have a unique perspective on your former relationship, and they may tell you that you’re making a mistake. But they’ll likely also let you know that they’ll support you no matter what you do.  

While friendships can be beneficial and important, they can also be difficult to maintain at times. Life can become busy, and friends can grow apart, so you may find it harder to feel as close to some friends, and you could lose touch with others completely. Below, we’re going to discuss what you can do when this happens.

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How to develop supportive friendships

If you’d like to take advantage of the above benefits of healthy friendships, it can help to know how to identify important relationships, stay connected to friends, and provide valuable emotional support. The following are several steps you can take to cultivate supportive friendships. 

Identify important existing friendships

One of the first things you can do as you work to foster healthy friendships is examine the current relationships you have with friends, acquaintances, and other people in your life. You may have friends you’ve lost touch with or casual acquaintances you’d like to get to know better. Think about the people with whom you’ve connected over the years. Is there anyone with whom you’ve shared your feelings? Who encourages you to be better? Whom do you feel comfortable around? Answering these questions can help you identify relationships that you can strengthen.

Reach out regularly

Keeping in contact with friends can be key to fostering closeness. Even if you’re only reaching out through text occasionally, this can let your friends know that you’re thinking about them and making an effort to continue your relationship. You never know when a friend may be feeling lonely and in need of connection. Researchers in one study found that we often underestimate the positive feelings a check-in can elicit, concluding that such efforts are “likely to be appreciated more than people predict”. 

Listen

Providing your undivided attention can be one of the best ways to promote trust and honesty in a friendship. By making yourself available to your friends when they want to talk, you can allow them to process their emotions, address challenges, and seek your advice. Listening can bring you and a friend closer together and provide them with surprising benefits. In addition to signaling to them that their feelings have been understood, listening can motivate your friends. Research even suggests that there is a connection between supportive listening and improved cognitive well-being

Show your appreciation

Studies show that expressing gratitude can help deepen bonds with friends. People typically like to know that they are valued and that their presence or actions are appreciated. You can let the friends in your life know how much they mean to you through heartfelt words, small acts of kindness (e.g., sending them flowers), or more significant gestures (e.g., inviting them out to a nice dinner). 

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Want to develop supportive, mutually beneficial relationships?

Nurturing healthy friendships with online therapy

The results of an increasingly large number of studies show that online therapy can help individuals build stronger relationships while addressing mental health concerns. In a study titled “Building Closer Friendships in Social Anxiety Disorder”, researchers found that online therapy led to increased comfort with intimacy. The study also notes that participants experienced greater decreases in depression and loneliness corresponding to the amount of time they spent discussing their emotions with friends. 

If you’d like help developing healthy, supportive friendships, online therapy is available for you. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can participate in sessions remotely—through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging—which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable meeting in person due to social anxiety or similar concerns. Online therapy is also an affordable option—BetterHelp memberships start at $65 per week (billed every 4 weeks)—so you can save money for coffee dates with friends. 

Takeaway

Supportive relationships can be a key component of a happy, healthy life. It can be important to surround yourself with empathetic and caring people who want to contribute to your success, happiness, and self-realization. If you’d like guidance as you work to foster healthy friendships, consider connecting with a licensed therapist online. Like a close friend, a mental health professional can provide you with support and encouragement when you need it. 

Build healthy relationship habits with a professional

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.
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