Friendships: How to tell if they’re healthy

12 Feb 2021
By Vanessa R., Student at University of Glasgow

We form an extraordinary amount of friendships throughout our lives. Some people we are close to, some mutual friends, and others disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Some of these friendships can be amazing, while others can be toxic. But how can we tell which type of friendship we’ll have with someone?

I’ve experienced both in the past. There’ve been times where I’ve even let some of them influence me badly, until I said stop. 

But then, many of my friends have had a good impact and supported me. Here, I’d like to share some advice on how I’ve been able to tell toxic relationships from healthy ones.

1. Support, don’t control

Everyone is different. You might be confident and outgoing, but someone else in your life might be incredibly shy. So it’s understandable that people can clash and be drawn out of their comfort zone in social situations.

Sometimes, shy people can feel like they’re being controlled, told what to do, or even like they should be copying someone else to fit in. This can quickly turn into a toxic friendship, as confident people can begin to take control.

In a healthy friendship, you should be able to have your own thoughts. Rather than being told what to do, a friend should offer support and discuss different opinions with you, but still leave decisions up to you.

2. Trust and jealousy

Trust is an important foundation for any kind of relationship. Even in friendships jealousy can take over, whether from the start or after some time. But how can you tell? Tell-tale signs can include being asked who you were talking to on campus, or being questioned about who you’re texting. 

A clear sign for me was when a friend shouted at me because I went to a party (back when things were normal) with two other girls instead of asking her to go with me. A trusting friend should be happy for you to have different friends in your life, rather than all the focus being on them. 

3. Value time apart

Friends can quickly become a second family that we’ve chosen ourselves. We tend to feel comfortable with them, share secrets or have them around as often as possible. But sometimes it can be healthy to spend some time apart, to invest time in others, to pursue a hobby or to be alone (which can be difficult if you're in the same flat together during a lockdown). Good friends are understanding in such situations and won’t complain if you don’t text back immediately or have no time when they want to hang out.

In an unhealthy friendship, a friend may be clingy or follow you everywhere. This can go hand in hand with jealousy, as they cannot stand you spending time with others. They want to know what you’re doing each second of every day and get angry when you check your phone or don’t respond quickly.

4. Communication and sharing problems

We often turn to our friends when we want to open up about something, whether positive experiences or negative ones. In healthy friendships, you can be honest about these without fear of being judged. A good friend will listen, help with problems and share their advice.

But toxic friends may only talk about themselves, not listening to what you have to say. As soon as you start talking and opening up about something in your life, they may shift immediately to a situation they are going through, wanting you either to be happy for them or to feel sorry. Unfortunately, in turn, they won’t listen to you properly.

5. Celebrating success and achievements

Whether you experience success in an exam, sport or in another relationship, true friends should be happy and celebrate your achievement. Some friends might react in a negative way toward your achievements, putting them down or talking about their own achievements. 

Again, jealousy can play a role when it comes to success, as some people may not be able to handle their friends being a step ahead of themselves.

If you don’t like how someone is behaving or you feel bad in your own skin when you see them, it’s best to have an open conversation with the person and come clean about how you are feeling. When doing so, you might want to have an uninvolved, neutral person to act as a mediator (as long as they're part of your household bubble). You can also seek help and advice from your university or your local nightline.

Friendships come in many different shapes and sizes, but trust, balance and respect are important aspects for any healthy relationship. Unfortunately, they’re sometimes ignored. 

But like any bad relationship, you have to remember that it doesn’t have to stay this way.

If you’ve got a strong group of friends around you, why not save the hassle and book a flat together for the next year with Unite Students? Just head over to our group booking tool to secure a flat for you and your friends in a few simple clicks.

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Hello, I am Vanessa, a 25-year old postgrad from Germany. My passion for writing evolved through my linguistic studies and the many books I read. In my free time I love to explore the world, may it be through fashion, travelling and cooking and I am always open for new experiences with my friends and family.