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Making friends seemed so easy in Kindergarten when our parents picked our playdates and we befriended the kid who wore the same shirt as us. As we get older, navigating friendships becomes much more difficult. Making and keeping friends requires many skills that are teachable but not often taught.

The Goodness of Relationships

We are made for relationships! We see this truth in both Creation Stories recorded in Genesis. In the first account of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:4), “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” Only after looking at the totality of creation, including the relationship of man and woman, does God declare it is “very good.”

In the second account of creation (Gen. 2:5-25), the Lord God formed man out of the clay, gave him the breath of life, and made him a living being. Yet, Adam was alone in the created world. The Lord God does not pronounce this as very good, rather he declares, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” After a deep sleep, Adam was delighted to meet the beautiful Eve.

Clearly, relationships are an integral part of being human. We are not meant to isolate ourselves—to go through life without family relationships, friends, or companions. We cannot be the best version of ourselves without relationships. Friendships are a beautiful kind of relationship that bring us life and connection but can also bring us pain and heartache when not cared for properly.

An Education in Friendship (On behalf of Aristotle)

According to Aristotle, there are three types of friendships.1 Understanding these different friendships and identifying them in our own lives provides us with a guide to cultivating healthy friendships.

  1. Friendship of utility

In this kind of friendship, each party receives a mutual benefit from the relationship. An example of this kind of friendship would be the relationship between two neighbors who agree to check each other’s mail while the other is away on vacation. These neighbors may say hello to each other occasionally and know some about the other’s life, but the basis of their connection centers on their shared benefit from the friendship.

  1. Friendship of pleasure

This kind of friendship is based on a common interest between two people. This would be a friendship that arises from meeting someone at a sporting event or perhaps a bond with a coworker over a shared task. These friends share some interest in common that brings them together. This is a very common kind of friendship in high school where teens are drawn together based on the sports they play or clubs with which they are involved. They bond over the time spent on these events and the pleasure they experience from participating in these events with others. Often these friendships fizzle out after the pleasure from the shared interest is gone.

  1. Friendship of virtue

In this friendship, two people strive after a common good. This could be the kind of friend made at church or a Bible study or volunteering together for a cause about which they are both passionate. This friendship is characterized by two people helping each other to grow in virtue and working toward their shared common goal. For many, this common goal is reaching Heaven.

Awareness of the different kinds of friendship can be very helpful to us. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these kinds of friendships, but there are opportunities for each kind of relationship to become distorted. Particularly, problems arise when one person in the friendship believes the relationship is at a different level than the other person sees the friendship. If one of the two neighbors who check each other’s mail is looking for a friendship of pleasure or friendship of virtue, but the other friend is satisfied with the friendship of utility, the first friend may be disappointed and hurt by the other friend’s lack of engagement and may feel used by that friend. Much pain in friendship comes from unmet expectations.

Love is a common element in each of these kinds of friendships. Love is lived out differently based on the friendship, but all friendship has the basic assumption of unconditional love for the other. No matter what the kind of friendship is, violating the dignity of the other is always harmful and unacceptable. If our friendship degrades the other person and causes us to view them as only an object for our pleasure, that is not love, nor is it friendship.

The kind of friendship most of us long for falls into the category of virtuous friendship. These are the friendships where we experience deep connection and belonging. These friendships call us to holiness and help us become more of who we are created to be. These friendships typically don’t develop overnight; they require intentionality.

Vulnerability & Belonging

True connection comes from being vulnerable with another. In her research, Brené Brown has found there is a difference between fitting in and belonging.2 Fitting in involves adapting to fit the circumstance and becoming who we believe others expect us to be. Belonging means being my true self. In order to find true connection with others, we must be willing to be vulnerable. This means sharing our honest thoughts, feelings, and self with others and letting go of the masks we are tempted to hide behind.

Boundaries & Assertiveness

Friendship requires that we know how to set boundaries. Boundaries tell us what we’re responsible for and what we are not responsible for. We are responsible for our own emotions and for communicating our needs. We are responsible to others, but we are not responsible for others. We have a responsibility to be kind and loving to our friends, but we are not responsible for knowing their feelings. When we feel angry or upset about the words or actions of another, it is our responsibility to address that person with assertiveness. It is not their responsibility to read our minds and know our feelings. It is our responsibility to communicate our feelings.

Experiencing true belonging in friendships requires us to have permission to disagree and voice our hurt feelings. We can’t have trusting friendships with people that we don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with. Communicating assertively means knowing our feelings and needs and communicating them in a calm, neutral tone without accusation (“I feel hurt by you missing our lunch date yesterday, and I would like a heads up if you need to cancel plans.”) Assertiveness also means allowing for the other person to share their side of the story and seeking to understand where they are coming from.

Problems arise when we find ourselves communicating passively, aggressively, or passive aggressively. Using passive communication never allows us to speak our feelings or get our needs met; we only leave room for the other’s needs and feelings. Aggressive communication focuses only on my needs and no one else’s. Passive aggression is when we indirectly resist the request of others. This is when we disagree with someone but are not willing to directly address the problem. Our true feelings come out through our actions, attitude, or tone. In healthy friendships, friends strive to communicate openly, honestly, and assertively about their feelings and needs. This means that to be a good friend, we have to know what our feelings and needs are, and we must be willing to communicate those feelings and needs.


We are only able to share vulnerably about our feelings and needs when we believe we are accepted and loved unconditionally by the other. An important part of love is trust. Trust is foundational to friendships. Brené Brown has found common elements in trust:3

Boundaries: We trust others who are clear about boundaries and hold them and those who are clear about our boundaries and respect them.

Reliability: We can only trust others if they do what they say they are going to do, not just once but over and over again.

Accountability: We can only trust others if they are willing to own their mistakes, apologize, and make amends. And this goes both ways. Trusting someone means we also feel safe enough to own our mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

Vault: What I share with you, you will hold in confidence. What you share with me, I will hold in confidence. We lose trust when others share something that is not theirs to share.

Triangulating is another issue that falls into this category. Triangulation happens when there is stress in a relationship between two people, and one person brings another person into the situation to relieve stress. Usually this looks like venting to a friend about a problem with another friend. This prevents us from addressing the problem head on and usually causes the third party to develop resentment against the other person. Triangulation leads to resentment, misunderstanding, and hurt feelings. There is wisdom to be gained in seeking out advice from a trusted friend about issues in friendships, but we must be discerning in our motives and intentions.

Integrity: We cannot trust others if they do not act from a place of integrity and encourage us to do the same.

Nonjudgement: We can fall apart, ask for help, and struggle without being judged by others, and others can fall apart and struggle and ask for help without being judged by us. If we cannot ask for help from that person, that is not a trusting relationship.

We can’t develop deep connection with others if we feel that we have to meet a certain standard to be their friend. We can’t trust others if we constantly feel like we have to measure up. Often, this feeling doesn’t come from the other friend. This usually comes from our own wounds that we have to work on healing. If we are constantly judging ourselves, we will believe that everyone is judging us.

Generosity: Our relationship is only a trusting relationship if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors, and then check in with me.

So much pain comes from believing someone did not assume the best of us. We’re all doing the best we can, and we want others to assume that we are doing the best we can, especially in the moments when we mess up or drop the ball. Generosity in friendship means expressing when we’ve been hurt by another’s actions and addressing our feelings while still assuming the best of the other person.

In friendships, there will be misunderstandings, annoyances, frustrations, hurt, and pet peeves. These create opportunities for communication, understanding, and deeper connection. The goal is not to be the perfect person in our friendships or to find the perfect people to be friends with. The goal of true friendship is to be our true selves, to find others who we connect with and feel safe with, and to communicate and work through the issues when we feel hurt. If we’re having difficulty finding friends, it may be worth reflecting on whether our standards are unreachable or if we run away from conflict in our friendships. Authentic friendship may be hiding behind an annoyance or frustration that needs understanding and patience. True Christian community is not made of perfect people. It is made of flawed sinners who are doing the best they can.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Friendship is meant to sharpen us, to grow us, and to help us become all we are called to be.

1 Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
2 The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown
3 Dare to Lead by Brené Brown