How to Find Healthy Friendships

Dr. Alison Cook, PhDBy Dr. Alison Cook, PhD7 Minutes

Excerpt taken from The Best of You: Break Free from Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, & Discover Your True Self in God by Dr. Alison Cook


Chapter 8
How Do I Find Friends Who Get Me? — Creating Authentic Connection

Finding a good friend is a bit like the dating process. You might get to know a lot of people before you find those one or two individuals with whom you connect and who show themselves to be trustworthy over time. But if you commit to the process with care and intention, you will find new relationships that satisfy your needs and desires. As my mom used to say to me when I was struggling to make friends, “It only takes one to change everything.”

”Hoping to get lucky” is not an effective strategy. Instead, start by taking an inventory of the key areas of your life. The more you lean into what you genuinely value and enjoy, the more you increase the likelihood of finding others who share those things in common. Here are four proven ways to start.

1. Shared Activities

Think about the hobbies you enjoy the most. It might be crafting or a physical activity such as jogging. Maybe you enjoy seeing the latest movies or talking about social issues. What are some ways you could pursue those interests in community?

As Tasha considered activities she might enjoy doing with a friend, she responded thoughtfully, “You know, I’d be happy if I never had to go to a big event or dinner party again. I’d love to find someone who wants to dig deep into a book or take a long walk.” Armed with this simple awareness, she joined a book club at her local library.

It takes courage to put yourself out there, especially on your own. But by pursuing the activities you love, you increase the possibility of finding a kindred spirit.

2. Shared Faith

If your faith is important to you, consider asking someone to meet with you regularly to pray or read the Bible together. When I first moved to Boston as a single woman, I didn’t know anyone. I nervously signed up for a spiritual retreat, where I got to know a woman who lived fairly close to me. We were both originally from the Rocky Mountains and connected over shared roots and a similar sense of humor.

She was a busy mom who worked in full-time ministry. When I raised the possibility of spending time together, she was candid about her limitations. “I don’t have much time. But I’d love to pray with you on a regular basis.” I respected her honesty and said yes to biweekly prayer meetings. That friend and I have prayed together twice a month for nine years. Yet we’ve almost never gone out socially. That’s okay. We forged a relationship that met both of our needs, and as a result we know each other inside and out. Being clear about what you need and about your limitations creates a healthy foundation for authentic connection.

3. Shared Family Dynamics

Whether you’re divorced, single, widowed, or married, look for a support group that caters to your unique set of circumstances. Then, when you first attend the group, get curious rather than rush in. Notice the kind of women who stand out to you, ones who say things that resonate. Consider asking someone to coffee to get to know her a little bit. If it goes well, try it again.

4. Shared Vocation

Notice the women you admire at work or who volunteer in your community. Maybe you respect the way they lead or share a common sense of calling. Don’t underestimate the value of such relationships, even if they don’t move outside of the work or service you do together. You might tell this person what you admire about her work and that you’d like to learn more. If things go well, add some structure. For example, you might suggest that you meet regularly to encourage each other in your work goals or service activities.

As you get to know potential friends, remember that trust is built over time. Proceed cautiously and keep in mind the list of seven relationship red flags. You don’t want to get burned by moving too quickly. As trust develops, consider the idea that structure is your friend. As much as possible, get into regular rhythms with tried-and-true friends to ensure you’re staying in touch. For example, you might set up a weekly walk or a biweekly meal together. Or you might set up a monthly Zoom call with friends who live far away.

No one friend will ever meet all your needs. You might find a friend you love walking with and another friend you love praying with. The important thing is that in each of these relationships, conversation is reciprocal and centered on encouraging each other to grow toward wholeness together.

Finally, if you’re in transition and feel lonely, be gentle with yourself and resist the urge to rush the process. You’ll be surprised how life­changing just one good friend can be and how one healthy relationship leads to more connections.

Order your copy of The Best of You: Break Free from painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, & Discover Your True Self in God by Dr. Alison Cook.