8 Elements for Strong and Enriching Friendships

August 11, 2021

In order to have great friends, one must be a great friend. While I have passed this truth on to my children, I think different people hold different definitions of “being a friend”. What is valuable to one person may not be to another. Because of this, people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.

I feel incredibly fortunate and completely myself in the friendships I maintain today, but getting here has not been without loss, heartache, and even some regret. Though falling out of relationships or losing friends can be heartbreaking, it’s always an opportunity to grow and learn.

The gratitude I have for the lessons I’ve learned is immeasurable. So, I decided to make a list of the most important ingredients for strong and enriching friendships, hopefully giving my children and others a roadmap to carry on their journeys through life.

1. Freedom and Joy to Be Yourself, and Loved That Way

If you are in a friendship where you feel like you have to stifle yourself or hide parts of who you are, get a clue. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about who you are, even the parts you’re working on. Feeling free to be authentic is a priceless gift, and chances are, if you show your authenticity and find acceptance for it, others will realize that you will accept and love them for theirs. It’s a special kind of sauce. Like Brene Brown says “Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce”.

2. Grace, Upon Grace, Upon Grace

Humaning is hard. We mess up, we fall down, we don’t think before we speak sometimes. Interpretation changes depending on the lens one is looking through. Occasionally, words or actions get lost in translation. You are going to make mistakes, and so are your friends…and sometimes, there won’t even be mistakes made, just misunderstandings that need communication to work through. Giving grace, and accepting it, is one of the MOST important elements of maintaining a strong friendship. Being a gracious human is an example all of humanity needs to see!

3. Maintain Clear Boundaries and Tactful Honesty

Boundaries are what make healthy relationships possible. Knowing yours and understanding your friend’s is paramount to setting clear expectations for the relationship you share. It’s important to do this by communicating with tactful honesty, and being true to yourself so you don’t end up resenting scenarios or behavior within the friendship. Even something as simple as communicating when you’re intentional about not using your phone can be really helpful for the people in your life to know when best to contact you. And, if something upsets you that you want to approach with your friend, being honest with them (knowing you can freely be your whole self and loved for it) can disintegrate misunderstandings and deepen your relationship. By the same token, being approachable for your friend helps the valued connection grow.

4. Encourage Growth

I am surrounded by incredible people who inspire me to improve. Stagnancy chokes out growth, or as my husband would say “the devil rides an idle horse”. There is much to be said about staying curious and being around people who are dynamic, more intelligent and experienced than I am, and committed to being the best version of themselves. Having the opportunity to encourage growth for each other is precious, and shall not be wasted!

5. Being A Life Cheerleader

It is special indeed to share life with friends who genuinely celebrate you and your accomplishments. Unfortunately, hidden insecurities can sometimes get in the way of truly cheering another on in their life path. If you find yourself struggling to be whole-heartedly happy for achievements in a friend’s life, check in with your ego…and get to work. If you feel like a friend perpetually finds a way to knock you down a couple notches when you accomplish something or are given a compliment, it might be time to cut ties. You deserve to have friends who are your life cheerleaders, and share the excitement of being a life cheerleader for them. Grab your pompoms and enjoy the ride together!

6. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Within a friendship, it is vital for validation. Brene Brown guides us by stating “empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone’”. Where we find empathy from others, we discover belonging as well. Having a sense of belonging is truly a fundamental need among human beings and the best way we can achieve that is through shared understanding. Being empathetic to others encourages grace (see #2) and humility. Feeling genuine empathy from a friend is a healing salve to the soul, and not everyone offers it readily. Build your tribe with people who do.

7. Reciprocity

Friendship, like any great relationship, is a two way street. To reciprocate is responding to a gesture or action by making a corresponding one. Each person is individual, so keeping score within a friendship isn’t a great way to maintain it. Healthy friendships require balance. So, if you find yourself allowing someone to make more withdrawals than deposits in your life, you’ll be in the negative and wasting your energy. And energy is really what it comes down to. Aside from who picked up the tab last, or who invited who to do what last, focus on what kind of ENERGY is being reciprocated. How do you feel when meals are shared, or phone calls are made, or gifts are given? When you walk away from an encounter of any kind—is your energy depleted or invigorated? The reciprocation of love, peace, and joy needs to be a non-negotiable.

8. Trust

This one is obvious but not always clear cut. What I mean by that is trust is earned, but referring back to #2, people make mistakes. So, accountability is extremely important. Being accountable to one another is what builds trust. Building a friendship with tactful honesty, clear boundaries, complete acceptance, grace upon grace, reciprocity, empathy, commitment to growth, and genuine encouragement equals building a friendship with true integrity. And walking in integrity will keep you in good company. You won’t find people of low character on the high road—and living with integrity with good company builds trust that can’t easily be broken.

Cheers to a Year!

Friendship is really the root of Can I Be Candid, and Lindsay and I are both so grateful to have support from our readers and the opportunity to write and share wisdom. On July 18, we met in Lake Tahoe and celebrated our 1 year anniversary of launching this blog! I sincerely hope you find enrichment in this post and the others we write. Here’s to a journey through life with stellar friends!

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  1. Crystal

    I enjoy the friendship you both offer through this blog. It’s almost like sitting down at your house and having a cup of tea while we discuss life matters. Thank you for giving of yourselves in this 21st century medium! I thoroughly enjoy your offerings.

    • Autumn

      Thank you, Crystal!! What kind and encouraging words! We are so grateful to have you here with us.

  2. shane

    thank you Autumn…timeless wisdom for humans of all ages…wonderfully communicated!

    • Autumn

      Thanks dad!

  3. Deborah

    Autumn, I did not have to see your name to recognize you as the author of this post my “Wise Little Owl.” You and Lindsay came to know and love each other through a very old and proven means of relationship building called “Communication.” In my generation as a youngster, a very wise teacher in my grade school connected her students, me being one of them, to international letter writing through a program we recognized as “Pen Pals.” I so looked forward to those letters from the little girl in a far away place! You clearly recognize the value of this connection and the power it has towards diversity and acceptance of imperfections, not only for others but for yourself! The fact that you and Lindsay share your “humble” opinions for others to absorb should they choose is seed planting wisdom! People who know and love you do so because YOU ARE YOU! I’m one of those people! Proud Mama!


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