Friendship can be one of the saving graces in the lives of many women today. Women who are in stressful jobs, unhappy marriages, toxic dating relationships and troubling parenting roles are looking to their friends for an anchor. Unfortunately some of the friendships that are meant to be a support are greatly missing the mark. Too many women are backstabbing one another, giving harmful advice or encouraging one another to take actions that are not helpful.
Below are a few rules of engagement for healthy, supportive friendships. When women have strong, healthy friendships, they can be life-saving. These rules will help create the strongest networks with the most positive influence.
1. Be honest. Too many women blindly back their friends’ behaviors even when the behaviors are off. Blindly backing one another is not helpful. If your friend was off in an argument with her child, partner or friend, don’t just agree with her that the other person was a jerk. Relationally tell her what you think. Also, don’t lie to your friend about how she looks, why you can’t go out with her or anything else. Lying breaks trust. Say the hard thing relationally and don’t cover it up.
2. Encourage her to find happiness within herself, not through someone else. Women are trying to prove their worth through the attractions of men. Don’t push your friends to “find a man” in order to feel happy. When you need a man to make you happy, you will meet the wrong kind of man — one who is likely to make you miserable. With your friends, be each other’s support rather than pushing each other to desperately find someone to complete them.
3. Do not talk poorly behind a friend’s back. If you have a problem with a friend, speak with them directly. If you are angry, hurt, concerned, annoyed or (fill in the blank), go directly to the source. Nothing can be solved if you’re talking to the wrong person. Take the high road and refuse to speak behind their back.
Friendships can be one of the most significant relationships in your life. They have the power to influence you that no other relationship can. Be sure that you surround yourself with people whose influence will be for your better, not worse. Hold yourself to that same expectation.
4. Be supportive not competitive. A true friend celebrates another friend’s success. Women continually try to downplay their successes with one another so other women don’t feel upset or jealous. Downplaying your success is crazy. Be proud of each other and encourage one another to go even further.
5. Hands off significant others. Although this should go without saying, I’m going to say it anyway. Stay away from your friend’s partner. I’m shocked at how many “best friends” have had affairs with their friend’s spouse. Really? Do not play with fire when it comes to your friend’s partner. Don’t flirt, don’t cry on their shoulder, don’t listen to the partner complain about your friend. And if you hear or see that your friend’s partner is seeing someone else—your loyalty is to your friend—tell her!
6. Be the friend you wish to have. Friendships are a balance of give and take so be sure that you are neither always giving nor always taking. Ask for help when you need it and offer help when you know they need it.
In general, creating healthy friendships requires healthy people. Pay attention to who you hang out with and be sure that they are building you up, not tearing you down. Make sure you are doing the same for them. A friend is someone you can count on to lovingly give you the truth (even if it hurts), proudly cheer your successes on (even if she hasn’t been as successful) and gives you advice that’s in your best interest (even if she doesn’t follow it herself).
Be the friend you wish to be with and hold your friends to the same level of expectation.
Challenge #1: Take an honest look at yourself and your friendships and see what you notice. Look at the list above, choose one tip to incorporate that you think will help in your friendships and ask your friends to do the same.
Challenge #2: For the next three weeks, pay attention to how you follow the rules above. Are you honest—even when it’s difficult? Do you encourage your friend’s successes or try to hold her down? Do you talk behind your friend’s back when you’re angry or do you go directly to her and discuss your upset? Choose one tip from above that you need to work on and be diligent about doing so. Notice any shifts you see as a result.
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