What are the dynamics of the ideal friendship?
If we can’t trust a person, we will not open up. Ultimately, it is all about trust. Trust is tricky in new relationships because we must have the capacity to trust for the relationship to truly blossom. Many people struggle to extend trust because they have been hurt, or because they don’t trust themselves
Trust is most often violated when we attempt to gain favor with another person. We use our knowledge of someone’s situation or opinion and share with another in an attempt to gain their trust. Ironic, isn’t it? The reality is that humans are incredibly perceptive creatures and intuitively pick up on what is going on. The person receiving this message will instinctively avoid sharing trusted details about themselves.
These are the most common scenarios that lend themselves to violations of trust:
Attempting to gain favor with a boss or coworker.
Attempting to violate our side of a disagreement.
Attempting to win the favor of a newcomer.
Attempting to cover up a mistake.
Attempt to discredit another person.
Attempt to justify our actions.
If you want to develop and grow meaningful relationships in your life, you must be trustworthy. It is tough to regain trust after it has been violated.
Many years ago, a friend of ours invited us over for a rack of lamb. She was new to cooking, and this was quite the undertaking for her. She was to cook mainly as a result of hanging with us. My wife is a fantastic cook. After a long day, we went over to our friend’s house for dinner. She had completely underestimated how long it was going to take to cook the rack of lamb. She disappeared at one point through the evening, and we had no idea where she had gone. It had gotten late, so we left. As we were leaving, our friend was returning in her car. It turns out she had gone to pick up a pizza because she felt so bad about dinner being so late. She was upset that we were leaving and shoved a pizza into the window of our car and drove off to her house. The relationship never recovered. We were selfish and did not consider the impact of our leaving on our friend. She was hurt and upset. She knew things were not working out with her cooking dinner and attempted to correct it by getting pizza. We knew she was feeling bad about the situation, but we left anyway. We put our own wants ahead of our friend and hurt her deeply. To this day, I consider it one of my biggest friendship mistakes. We could have easily stayed, and deep down, knew it was the right thing to do but chose to do otherwise. I apologized to my friend in the weeks that followed, but the relationship never recovered to its previous level of trust.
Friendships must demonstrate mutual respect. When a person thinks themselves superior to another, there is no chance for real friendship. Mutual respect is a fundamental component of any successful relationship. Respect is a feeling of deep admiration based on qualities, abilities, and achievements. Abilities and achievements often trigger an interest in developing a friendship, but ultimately friends respect each other for the qualities demonstrated. This is an important distinction because too often we seek friendship with people we admire based on achievements or abilities in hopes of personally gaining. Friendships are not to be leveraged. We develop deep mutual respect for our friends because of who they are and how they show up in our relationship.
Real friends offer perspective. If you are wrong in their eyes, they will provide you with feedback accordingly. Honest feedback is more valuable than gold and ten times rarer. We live in a politically correct world in which we are told what we want to hear as opposed to another perspective. If another opinion is offered, it is delivered in the form of yelling and contempt. Friends can have a conversation on difficult topics because they trust and respect one another. The value is in the relationship versus winning an argument. The best conduit for growth is a healthy dose of honest feedback. Accepting feedback requires a level of maturity that is seldom achieved in today’s world. Maturity and growth require humility. Honor the words of your friends, but don’t take them as gospel on the truth. The truth can be elusive and circumstantial. Our action should always be the product of our own conclusions after receiving genuine input from valued and trusted sources. Another point worthy of mention is not to mistake sincerity for truth because it is possible to be sincerely wrong.
When I was twelve years old, I had an argument with my friend Todd. We went our separate ways that day, and I wondered if I would ever be friends with him again. This was the first falling out I had experienced in my young life, so I had no basis for what would happen next. Later that day, I was outside by myself playing basketball. Todd rode up on his bike and said, “Come on, Rusty, lets hit the trails.” I was not expecting an offer to go play and was expecting him to ask me to give some toy back that I had borrowed. Instead, he said, “What? Did you think I was going to be mad at you forever?” This was my first lesson in forgiveness, and I have never forgotten it. Forgiveness is so important because sometimes, friendships can get a little messy. This is especially the case when we have a large group of friends with varying personalities. Someone is going to disrespect someone else unintentionally. For the friendship to be re-established, two things will need to happen. The first is open communication. The friend that feels disrespected must raise the concern with the other friend. This discussion should lead to a better understanding and a request for forgiveness. If both feel there is sincerity in the apology and full acceptance, the relationship will be stronger as a result. This is mainly about restoring trust and respect.
Friends appreciate friends for who they are regardless of their shortcomings. This is one of the coolest aspects of friendship. Unlike familial relationships, we seem to be more accepting of our friends. We give them the latitude to be who they are without judgment. We willingly demonstrate our appreciation through acts of kindness. We know their favorite author and buy their latest book as soon as it comes out to gift it to our friend. If they ask us to get up at the crack of dawn to take them to the airport, we graciously do so. We offer up support without judgment. True friendship has an unwavering appreciation. Appreciation helps to perpetuate the relationship. When we demonstrate appreciation for another person, the benefit is multiplied by two! The person receiving the appreciation gets validated, and the person offering the recognition feels good about themselves. Appreciation is a two-way street. When it becomes one-sided, the relationship will cease to exists in the form of true friendship. You don’t have to move mountains but willingly seek to contribute to your friends in meaningful ways that let them know you care.
Friendships are analogous to gardening. Step one is to plant the seed or to make the connection. Next is watering the seed or getting the know a person. You’ll need plenty of sunshine or demonstrating value to the other person. After that, you can enjoy the fruits of your intentional effort. All things worth having in life require effort. When our efforts come up short in cultivating the garden, the weeds take over and choke out the plants. Friendships are tending through our intentional contributions to the relationship. We reach out to check up. We show up without invitation in times of need. Contribution is the sunshine and rain needed to bring about the benefits of friendship. We must remain vigilant in tending the garden if we wish to enjoy its benefits. I have a reminder in my planner: “Reach Out. It reminds me that friendships require intentional effort. Every day I reach out to a friend with a text message, phone call, or handwritten note to let them know they make the world a better place and that I am grateful for their friendship. We both benefit from this simple contribution to our ongoing friendship.
Another key component of contribution is that growth is necessary to perpetuate the friendship. We have all experienced relationships in which the growth stops, and the friendship ceases. Growth is a crucial element in life. All living things seek to expand beyond the current form, and friendships are no different.
Are you a Debby Downer? In other words, do you complain about everything? Friendships are indeed a safe place to air your grievances with the world, but doing so in every interaction will ruin any chance for meaningful relationships.
If we desire long term relationships, we should always look to bring joy. Life is far from easy, but there is always an upside. People want to be around joyful people. Friendships should bring us joy, not anxiety. Life is too short to be around people that are so self-absorbed that they can’t see the beauty despite the pain. True friends listen and offer experience-based feedback. I know many people that just want to complain. Complaining is a strategy for avoiding responsibility. Sickness is contagious, but health is not contagious, meaning if you are healthy and your friend is sick, there is no way they are going to catch your health, but you could catch their sickness. When Debby Downers surround a happy, joyful person, they will eventually lose their joy if they are not aware of what is going on. Bring joy to your relationships and seek others that bring joy into their relationships.
The foundation of friendships is trust. Trust is held together with mutual respect. We foster greater trust and respect with honest communication. Sometimes, our communication creates a rift in the friendship that requires asking for and an extension of forgiveness. Friends appreciate friends and let them know they are grateful for their friendship. They seek opportunities to contribute to their friends to grow the relationship. All life needs growth and appreciation, and we feed growth in our friendships by delivering joy at every opportunity. In life, there are few experiences to be cherished more than true friendship. Seek opportunities to build meaningful and lasting friendships because when all is said and done, it is the sum of our relationships that will be the true measure of a life well-lived.