“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)
Humans are social creatures – everyone innately understands the value of friendships. However, because of the busyness of life and distractions from technology, maintaining these friendships gets moved down on the list of daily priorities.
Just as a healthy connection with a spouse requires effort, so too do friendships, and we mustn’t neglect (or over-depend) on these relationships.
The Health Benefits of Friendship
There are several elements to living a long and fruitful life, and friendships are one of them. Research shows that older adults with meaningful relationships and social support tend to live longer than their peers who lack such connections. Likewise, adults with strong friendships have reduced risk of health problems like depression, high blood pressure, and unhealthy body mass index.
Social isolation can also negatively affect the immune system, causing white blood cells to become less capable of fighting inflammation. On the contrary, studies show that friendships help people sleep better and heal faster. Additionally, meaningful relationships provide an appropriate outlet for people to cope with trauma as well as encouragement to change unhealthy habits, like quitting smoking, or develop good habits, like committing to an exercise routine.
Codependency – How Friendships Can Become Unhealthy
Too much of anything (even good things) can be unhealthy – especially deriving one’s self-worth from friendships and not Christ’s love. If someone struggles to feel loved, puts all their energy into another person, or has difficulty setting boundaries, they may be in a codependent friendship.
To find freedom from codependent friendships, consider the acronym RELEASE:
- Recognize your over-dependence on another person, then place your dependency on God. (Mark 12:30)
- Examine your patterns of codependent thinking. (Ephesians 4:25)
- Let go of your “super-savior” mentality. (Exodus 18:17–18)
- Extend forgiveness to those who have caused you pain. (Ephesians 4:32)
- Appropriate your identity in Christ. (John 8:36)
- Set healthy boundaries. (Proverbs 27:12)
- Exchange your emotional focus or a spiritual focus. (Psalm 119:35–37).
The Dos and Don’ts of Friendship
No friendship will ever be perfect, but there are practices people can utilize to foster healthier, longer-lasting friendships that are equally beneficial for all parties.
Here are some Dos of great friendships:
- Do…recognize that you need wise friends. (Proverbs 13:20)
- Do…ask God to bring a faithful friend into your life. (1 John 5:14)
- Do…speak to others by name. (John 10:3)
- Do…listen attentively to others. (Ecclesiastes 3:7)
- Do…look for the kernel of truth in your friend’s criticism. (Proverbs 27:17)
And, of course, the Don’ts of healthy friendships:
- Don’t…wait for others to reach out to you… take the first step. (2 Timothy 1:7)
- Don’t…focus on your interests … ask about the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3)
- Don’t…harbor unforgiveness over offenses. (Proverbs 17:9)
- Don’t…be too quick to voice your own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2)
- Don’t…look to a friend to meet your needs for love, significance, and security, but look to God. (Philippians 4:9)
The Value of Vulnerability in Friendships
Rarely in any relationship, whether at work or in social settings, is an issue solely the fault of others. As imperfect bringing, we must humble ourselves and recognize when we mess up.
- Courageously confess when you are wrong (Numbers 5:6–7)
- Willingly receiving advice and guidance (Proverbs 1:5)
- Respectfully accept discipline and correction (Proverbs 12:1)
Although we must confess our mistakes to close friends, we shouldn’t forget the healing power of being vulnerable before God.
- Readily confess your toughest temptations (Psalm 38:18)
- Fearlessly communicate your troublesome thoughts (Psalm 25:17; 55:16–17)
- Freely confide your locked-away longings (Psalm 38:9)
Friendship and The Trinity of Health
At UHSM, health is just one facet of our comprehensive offerings and services. Healthy living combines mind, body, and spiritual wellness. Ultimately, meaningful friendships are an integral part of all three.
To learn more about building friendships and other Keys for Living, visit UHSM partner Hope for the Heart.