Relationships

These 21 Qualities Are Essential In Any Lifelong Friend

Here’s what sets your bestie apart from the rest.

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The characteristics of a good friend set them apart.
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When it comes to friendships, you are always going to be closer to some people than others. While many friends may fall into the “casual acquaintance” category, a special few sit comfortably within your inner circle of ride-or-die besties. There are plenty of unique qualities that set a truly good friend apart, but chances are, you’ve never taken a moment to sit and think about what those traits are exactly.

“Friendships can definitely be found on a continuum, with acquaintances on one side and your best friends on the other, with all different types of friendships in between,” Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes, tells Bustle. So, this begs the question: How does someone make the cut, so to speak, and become one of your closest friends?

The most important thing, as McBain explains, is that you feel like your best self around them. “There are many different ways [to tell if someone is a good friend], but a big one is that you feel completely comfortable with the other person,” she says. “You can truly be who you are without fear of judgment on their part. Plus, if this friendship truly benefits both of you — which the deepest friendships do — then your closest friends are able to be exactly who they are with you, as well.”

There are many characteristics that set close friends apart from the rest. To help identify the them, Bustle asked experts to weigh in on the essential qualities of a good friend.

1

They’re Trustworthy

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Every relationship needs trust as a core quality, and friendships are no exception. “They’re trustworthy and genuine,” Jamie Gruman, Ph.D., professor of organizational behavior and author of Boost: The Science of Recharging Yourself in an Age of Unrelenting Demands, tells Bustle. “They offer us a sounding board to test ideas and show our true selves while knowing they won’t betray our confidences or make us feel ashamed of our weaknesses,” he says. “They offer us caring, honest feedback, even when it might hurt.” This creates a safe environment for both of you to discover yourselves and grow.

2

They’re Supportive

Supportive friends are a lifeline. “Good friends offer us various kinds of support, such as emotional support when we’re feeling insecure and information support when we need to know how to handle problems or deal with ambiguities,” Dr. Gruman says. “This gives us the reinforcement and encouragement we need to face life’s many demands and [helps to] prop us up when needed.”

Darlene Corbett, speaker, therapist, success coach, and author of Stop Depriving The World of You: A Guide For Getting Unstuck, agrees. “A good friend will go 150% to be there for you,” she tells Bustle. “Life is not always easy and fun, but a good friend will be available.”

3

They Accept You As You Are

You’re probably comfortable around your good friends because you can be yourself around them; with others, you may put up more of a front or feel less comfortable. “A good friend is someone who will unconditionally accept you as you are, but will never be afraid to tell you the unpleasant truth of a situation or your behavior,” Lisa Orban, author of It’ll Feel Better When It Quits Hurting, tells Bustle. “They are the mirror that keeps your life in focus when you’ve lost perspective.”

Corbett adds lack of judgment is a quality of a good friend. “Unless your friend commits an egregious crime, you should not judge them,” she says. “None of us leave this earth unscathed from doing something we would rather forget.”

4

They Actively Listen

While any friend may listen to what you have to say, a great friend actively listens and engages with you. “A good friend ... asks questions and truly listens to the answers,” Susan MacTavish Best, friendship expert and founder of lifestyle site Living MacTavish, tells Bustle.

Dating and relationship coach Varsha Mathur thinks so, too. “A good friend listens and shuts up,” she tells Bustle. “They’re a sounding board rather than a coach, and [they] won’t give you advice when all you’re looking for is someone to listen.”

5

They’re Emotionally Available

Just like a romantic partner should be emotionally available, good friends should be, too. “They make us feel heard and acknowledge us and our points of view,” Dr. Gruman says. “We feel listened to and appreciated as opposed to ignored or dismissed.” As a result, he says, this allows you to share your life with each other and feel connected, both of which combat loneliness and help you weather distressing circumstances. Even if your best friend doesn’t live nearby, you still maintain a close relationship with them.

6

They Have Similar Interests

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Chances are, you and your good friends are a good fit because you have several things in common. “They are similar to us in terms of values, beliefs, and views about things that matter to us,” Dr. Gruman says. “Because our personalities and opinions are similar, it gives us a sense of belonging, which satisfies the fundamental human need to feel connected to others — we feel united, togetherness, and a sense of belonging.”

7

They Show Up During Tough Times

While it’s easy to be there for somebody during good times, it’s even more amazing to be there for them during the not-so-good periods of life. “Good friends show up for the tough times,” Mathur says. “They help clean up after the party, come to your parent’s funeral, and pick you up from that doctor’s appointment you’ve been dreading. All the fun memories are easy to make, but these critical times are the true test of a friendship.”

8

They’re Reciprocal

In any type of relationship, having a balance of give-and-take is important. “Good friendships have reciprocity so you’ll have a satisfying relationship, which is symbiotic,” Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress, tells Bustle. “Sometimes you carry the ball, and sometimes your friend does. If one side is doing all the giving, this relationship will tip over.”

Corbett agrees. “There are the takers and the givers in this world,” she says. “Sometimes one friend is giving far more than the other, and this is fine as long as the other party reciprocates at some point. If you are just giving and they are just taking, how good of a friend is that person?”

9

They Have Your Best Interest In Mind

Sometimes, you may feel as though your good friends know you better than you know yourself. They root for you even when you aren’t feeling like your own biggest fan. “Good friends can be your biggest cheerleaders and your greatest advocates,” McBain says. “They can also serve as accountability buddies, keeping you focused on what’s most important at that point in your life — even during the times when you may doubt yourself and your own self-worth.” Good friends will continually build you up, remind you how great you really are, and support you as you learn and grow throughout your life.

10

They Don’t Just Reach Out When They Need Something

You can probably think of people who contact you only when they are in need of something. However, with good friends, contact isn’t just a one-way street, according to Claudia Sigala, licensed psychotherapist at the mental health provider Alma.

“When emotional reciprocity is absent in a friendship, the relationship can feel one-sided, and a friend can start feeling like they do not matter and their needs are not important,” Sigala previously told Bustle. Both people in a friendship should feel valued and heard, but you may come across people who see your friendship as a constant support network for them, without giving much back to you. Reciprocity is a quality of a good friend; your bestie won’t see and use you simply as a means to an end, only ever asking things of you.

11

They’re Loyal & Help You Out, No Matter What

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You know that friend who drops everything to help you out? That’s the definition of a good friend. “They are there for us when we need them and make our lives easier,” Dr. Gruman says. “They lighten our load and help shoulder the inevitable hurdles, stresses, and crises life throws at us. Friends can make what seems like an insurmountable mountain into a small hill that’s easily scaled.”

12

They Understand The Word “No”

It can sometimes feel hard to say “no” to someone you care about, but any close friend will understand that you can’t say “yes” to everything. A telltale sign that someone isn’t a great friend is if they react negatively to you telling them “no” sometimes, according to Kailee Place, a therapist at Shifting Tides Therapeutic Solutions.

“If there’s any emotional manipulation, such as guilt or some type of other ‘punishment’ — the silent treatment or passive-aggressiveness — then that’s a huge red flag," Place previously told Bustle. "Friends need to be able to say ‘no’ to each other and respect the other’s boundaries.”

13

They Respect Your Differences

While it’s important to share interests, even best friends don’t have everything in common. The fact that friends aren’t exact clones of each other is what makes platonic relationships so fun and worthwhile. A good friend will understand this and respect the differences between you two. “Respect your friend’s values and ask that they respect yours,” Katie Bennett, co-founder and certified coach at Ama La Vida Coaching, previously told Bustle. “You may not share the same religion, ideas, or political views as your friend, and that’s OK. A healthy friendship allows two people to respectfully believe in very different things.”

14

They Honor Your Boundaries

As in all relationships, boundaries are essential, and a good friend will respect yours and make theirs clear to you. “It is essential for any relationship that we receive permission first before offering our advice or opinion about someone else’s life decisions or choices,” Jeffrey Sumber, licensed psychotherapist and relationship consultant, previously explained to Bustle.

A good friend will not only come to realize your boundaries naturally over time, but they will also immediately take into account any specific boundaries you tell them you have. In general, they will respond positively to any personal requests you make when it comes to maintaining the relationship.

15

They Make You Feel Safe

One of the most telling qualities of a good friend is that you simply feel comfortable and safe being around them just as you are. “Healthy friendships and relationships provide a space in which we are able to feel safe, supported, and valued as an individual, and as a result, one can get through life challenges, develop healthy self-esteem, and cultivate a sense of belonging and trust in the world,” Sigala told Bustle. With a good friend, you’ll feel safe and at ease while expressing your true self.

16

They Connect Easily With You

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A good friend is one you can connect with, whether you’re just hanging out and watching Netflix or enjoying a bestie’s night out. Dr. Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and the friendship expert behind The Friendship Blog, tells Bustle that, in interviewing over a thousand women about their friendships for her book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend,“so many of them used the same phrase ‘we just clicked’” when referring to the bond they felt with their close friends. “Good friends have an ease of communication that minimizes misunderstandings and allows both people to feel understood,” Dr. Levine says.

17

They’re Confident In Their Identity

A quality of a good friend that often goes unnoticed is their confidence in themselves. Good friends won’t try to sabotage you or feel insecure about your relationship because they possess a stable understanding of who they are. Dr. Marisa G. Franco, a professor, author, speaker, and friendship expert, emphasizes the importance of identity affirmation in a good friend. “People that can respect your choices for your own identity, even if it doesn't reflect what they would do for themselves,” are people who are high in identity affirmation, according to Dr. Franco. “They affirm you in the identity that you want to be.”

18

They’re Securely Attached

In her forthcoming book Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends, Dr. Franco discusses the importance of healthy attachment styles in friendships. Friends who are securely attached will be direct with you when necessary — they “bring up conflicts in a non-attacking way, when it comes up, so they can give you a chance to work on it with them, instead of just backing away, or ghosting,” Dr. Franco said. A good friend notices when there’s something wrong and wants to work the problem out.

19

They Celebrate You

When your bestie wins, it’s feels like you win, too. Not only should a good friend be supportive, but they should also be able to celebrate you and your successes in life. “When they succeed, we feel like we succeed,” Dr. Franco said. “That's what happens when intimacy goes right. The implications of that is in a good friend, you should expect things like they're happy for you, for your success. They don't try to cut you down.”

20

They’re Forgiving

In friendships (and in life) nobody’s perfect, and a good friend recognizes that. Dr. Levine shared the importance of forgiveness in a relationship and being gentle when a friend doesn’t meet all your expectations — and vice-versa. “Friends recognize that people make mistakes,” she said. “They also realize that people are different and even good friends don’t always agree or think the same about every issue.”

21

They Express Love To You, In Whatever Way They Can

Love languages aren’t just for romantic relationships. Dr. Franco underscored the importance of giving and receiving platonic love as a pillar of a good, lasting friendship. “They express love towards you in whatever way they like to express it,” Dr. Franco said, “whether that's acts of service or telling you how much they love you or how important you are to them.” Tell your bestie you love them, and a good friend will express love back.

There are many qualities that make a good friend, some of which may be particularly important to you based on your personal values. If you’re hoping to take a casual acquaintance to the next level, there are plenty of ways to become closer with someone and (hopefully) elevate them to “close friend” status. You may even realize that in some instances you could be a better friend, and it’s never too late to make those changes and show up for the people you love.

Experts:

Heidi McBain, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of Life Transitions: Personal Stories of Hope Through Life’s Most Difficult Challenges and Changes

Jamie Gruman, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior and author of Boost: The Science of Recharging Yourself in an Age of Unrelenting Demands

Darlene Corbett, speaker, therapist, success coach, and author of Stop Depriving The World of You: A Guide For Getting Unstuck

Lisa Orban, author of It’ll Feel Better When It Quits Hurting

Susan MacTavish Best, friendship expert and founder of Living MacTavish

Varsha Mathur, dating and relationship coach and founder of KnowingLuxe Coaching

Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress

Claudia Sigala, licensed psychotherapist at mental health provider Alma

Kailee Place, therapist at Shifting Tides Therapeutic Solutions

Katie Bennett, co-founder and certified coach at Ama La Vida Coaching

Jeffrey Sumber, licensed psychotherapist and relationship consultant

Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., psychologist and friendship expert, creator of TheFriendshipBlog.com

Marisa G. Franco, Ph.D., professor, speaker, and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make—and Keep—Friends

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