Picking Healthy Relationships That Are Actually Worth Your Time

By Nicole Clifton, MA, Life Coach specializing in student transitions

We all long for connection, for friendship, to be seen and understood. We all want to be accepted for who we are, right now, without any accolades or accomplishments. To be loved entirely, with all of our strengths and weaknesses, without judgment.

Dr. Brene Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and received without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”

Ideally, that’s what our relationships would look like: full of positive connection. However, realistically, we live in a world where that’s not possible. We often interact with people with whom we don’t have a positive connection and sometimes we stay in relationship with those people due to proximity, convenience, or necessity. We live in an age where the term “frenemy” (a friend/enemy rolled up into the same person) exists because it was a common enough occurrence that we needed a word for it. That so many of us regularly spend time with people who we sometimes feel are our friends, but sometimes feel are our enemies, is sad.

So in this new stage of your adult life, where you are away from home and out in the world trying to determine the social relationships you want to have, how do you tell a solid friend from a frenemy? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is it reciprocal? Are you both pursuing each other? Are you both excited about the time you spend together? Do you both feel seen and understood? Do you feel like you have common ground, a space where you both feel valued?

  2. Do they respect your boundaries? Can you express your own thoughts and desires? Do you feel that those things are respected or does that person try to make you feel guilty for it? Can you say “no” and feel emotionally safe to do so, or do you feel like that other person is going to either verbally lash out/emotionally withdraw because you tried to create a boundary?

    “Boundaries are a litmus test for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills & our opinions. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our no; they only love our yes, our compliance.” (Townsend & Cloud, Boundaries, p. 108)

  3. Are they a person of integrity? Can you trust that they do what they say they’re going to do? Do you believe that who they are around you is consistent with who they are with other people? Do you believe that they hold private information that you entrust them with in confidence? Do they regularly make choices that feel consistent with the person you want to be, or are there patterns of choices that could put you in situations you don’t want to be in? In their book Safe People, Cloud and Townsend explain that safe people earn trust, rather than demand it.

  4. Can they hold all of who you are? Do they help bring your best self to life? Do they enjoy who you are on an average day? Are they a safe person to go to on your worst day? If they are only capable of being with you in one of those places, then your friendship is limited and you may need to get curious about why you don’t want to allow them to be with you in whatever kind of day life brings your way. No one is perfect, but a good friend is consistent. A good friend loves all of who you are, without judgement.

There will be plenty of people you will encounter as a young adult who are better as peripheral acquaintances instead of inner circle friends. It doesn’t make them bad people; it just means they may not have enough self-awareness or be ready to do their own personal work to grow into a healthier person yet. You deserve authentic connection, a friendship that gives you both strength and sustenance. Those are friendships worth waiting for.

Looking for more information on healthy relationships and setting boundaries? Sign up for Nicole’s 6-Week Package for College Students to help you walk through the transitions of this season. The program can be worked individually or in partnership with a parent as they learn a new skill set as well. Learn more here.