Learning how to build healthy friendships may feel like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro if you’re trying to break free from compulsive porn use.
Many experience soul-sucking loneliness and isolation before they start their journey toward a life free from porn.
“Porn was suffocating me. I felt caged! I was in bondage…
I felt so isolated, so much shame!” – Amu
Or, as Cole describes in his story:
“Pornography… has created a hole in some relationships that I can never fill now.
I started to scare myself when I went to the gym one day and started to look at people differently.
I began to be late to activities and social events because I would rather spend just five more minutes in front of a screen than to be on time for something real.” ~ Cole
Clearly, there’s a common theme – but how bad is it?
Is compulsive porn use secretly fueling America’s epidemic of loneliness?
Compulsive porn use is one potential factor in the current epidemic of loneliness in America. According to Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, loneliness is creating a public health risk as deadly as smoking.
“About half of U.S. adults say they’ve experienced loneliness,” Dr. Vivek Murthy said in an 81-page report from his office. – PBS.org
Cigna Health Group’s research agrees, stating, “Loneliness and mental health concerns often go hand-in-hand.”
Lies, loneliness, shame, and the porn cycle
One reason for this? A viciously spiraling shame and porn cycle creates isolation. “Hiding dirty secrets means you lie all the time,” says our customer Julius, who took radical steps to recovery after his wife threatened to leave him. Epic lying ruins our most intimate relationships.
The key secret to breaking up with loneliness and shame
The good news? Asking someone you trust to help you reach your goals – like creating a life without porn use – flips the shame script on its head. Shame loses its secrecy and power over you.
“Vulnerability is not weakness,” says author and TedX speaker Brene Brown, “and that myth is profoundly dangerous… Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”
Cole and Amu’s stories agree. Asking for help sparked profoundly positive changes in their lives.
Opening up to someone is both a key step on the porn recovery climb and a step towards positive friendships.
So, let’s dive into what experts say about how to build healthy friendships.
What is a healthy friendship?
Being a good friend evolves on a journey of becoming. When looking for friends, consider what kind of person you wish to become. What traits are important to you in a friend? Good friendships share core values even if your personalities are as opposite as salt and pepper.
“According to Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, people fall into three distinct categories: Givers, Matchers, and Takers…Which of those three categories you fall into may well determine the success and happiness of your relationship.” Psychology Today
5 golden rules: how to build healthy friendships
1. Be available. Do you show up for your friends? If you’re already a “Giver,” then this comes easily.
Even if you’re in the Matcher or Taker Categories, being intentional about giving of your time will help you become a Giver. The bottom line? All good relationships involve a time investment.
2. Listen well. As Mister (Fred) Rogers says, “Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.”
Are you a golden rule friend who offers a safe space and a compassionate listening ear – no strings attached?
Or, as psychologist and author Curt Thompson notes, “...be attentive and attuned without condemnation.” (Being Known Podcast)
3. Open up. Sharing challenges honestly with a trustworthy person helps you understand yourself better. This requires time and stepping out of your comfort zone. However, trust and safety are part of any healthy friendship.
4. Be trustworthy.
If you’re a good steward of someone else’s story, you won’t “spill the tea!” You’ll also be truthful in a kind, caring way. A true friend tells you if your actions set you up for failure!
Lying and flattery are two red flags of an untrustworthy friend.
In fact, a study published by The Journal of Adolescence notes, “Poorer friendship quality predicted more frequent lie-telling over time.”
5. Interact with kindness (and forgiveness). Everyone longs to be treated kindly. Fortunately, little acts of kindness make a big difference!
John Gottman, expert marriage therapist and co-founder of the Gottman Institute, says that “trust is built in very small moments”.
True friends also love you no matter what: “A friend loves at all times…”
While this doesn’t mean accepting bad behavior as good or normal, good friends understand that everyone slips up sometimes. Kindness and forgiveness unify friends!
Why does building healthy friendships matter during porn recovery?
Fighting porn can feel like a long, uphill battle. That’s why having a faithful friend who cheers you on during difficulties is so vital.
But what happens when you’ve burned through friendships, hiding behind screens?
“Loneliness can be lethal,” says psychologist Adam Dorsay, noting lack of friendships as a common theme he hears from his patients.
Hiding empowers the shame and porn cycle
Especially in religious communities, people who struggle with unwanted or problematic porn use are fearful and isolated – hiding guilty secrets behind closed doors.
Even ministers or religious leaders struggle with porn, a Barna study reveals.
Finding a safe, trustworthy person to share your struggles with may be challenging. But you can’t break free from the porn and shame cycle alone.
Consider paying a sexual addiction counselor that’s bound by HIPAA privacy laws. Or, another safe option is joining a porn-recovery group online, where others face the same struggles. These connections will help you to heal and grow!
Building friendships can improve your romantic relationships
Being your sole emotional support person is too heavy a load for your spouse or partner. If you start building friendships outside your romantic relationships, you’re relieving pressure from your relationship.
“Friends give each of you additional outlets for self-expression and fun. This way, you can come back to the relationship feeling fulfilled and energized.” Psychology Today
Finally, as you build a healthy friendship within your romantic relationship, you also build a fulfilling life:
“An analysis of nearly 8,000 respondents to the British Household Panel Survey showed that life satisfaction was about twice as high among people who said their spouse was also their best friend.” – The American Psychological Association
How to build healthy friendships - 5 tips you can try today.
Don’t become a lonely senior citizen, forgotten in an assisted living home! You can change directions, even if you’ve been a lousy friend or your current friend pool needs improvement. Try applying these tips to see positive changes.
Apply the golden rules of friendship to yourself
First, start by applying the golden rules of friendship listed above. Do you see any weak spots in yourself? Also, ask your friends or people who know you well, How can I improve?
Prioritize friendship on your schedule
Life is so busy that often we have to schedule “spending time with friends” on our regular calendar. Here are a few ideas:
- Walk/hike together
- Grab a cup of coffee
- Explore a new museum or local event together
- Have a game night
- Invite a friend over for dessert
Spending even small bits of time purposefully together forges bonds and friendly intimacy
Don’t let weeks go by without reaching out in some way to friends, especially during times of stress. Make certain these times are “no strings attached”!
Choose quality over quantity
While having a variety of friends is healthy, invest the most time in friends who reflect who you want to become!
“Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
Admit your failings and ask for forgiveness
Where to start with a relationship in tatters – or you just slipped up? “I’m sorry. I was wrong for ________. Would you please forgive me?”
Though it’s not a formula, saying and actually meaning this can be miraculous for your friendship!
“You want to convey that you truly feel sorry and care about the person who was hurt, and promise to make amends, including by taking steps to avoid similar mishaps going forward…” – Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter
Recognize your worth
“How can I repair my damaged relationships?” It’s a gut-wrenching question we hear, which we can’t answer for your situation. Yes, we’ve seen people actually rebuild trust in relationships.
Sometimes, though, relationships are beyond repair or will never return to an old “normal”.
Whatever your past history with pornography, you’re worth the effort. You need and deserve healthy friendships.
Despite past challenges, new and worthwhile friendships are waiting for you. You just have to keep putting in the effort to reach out!
“Every time your heart is broken, a doorway cracks open to a world full of new beginnings, new opportunities.” ~ Patti Roberts
Anticipate joy as you build healthy friendships
The world is full of interesting people. You are one of them! When you choose to become a person free from pornography, a whole new life and reality awaits you.
“Over the course of my fight, there were numerous positive side effects of quitting porn that I had not anticipated.
- I found a reason to live again. I no longer wanted to rid myself of the world’s struggles and instead face them head-on.
- With my better, stronger emotional and mental health, I now had the motivation to go to the gym regularly.
- My sleep schedule improved.
- I even had an increased determination to go back to school!
My friends started complimenting me on how they noticed that I’ve been happier lately, and that there is a much better “light” around me. “ – Cole
Building healthy friendships is an investment you’ll never regret!
Good friends will cheer you on when your journey is rough.
They remind you that hope and joy are possible ahead as you leave behind your old self. We’ve seen it time and again. Accountability brings you many steps closer to the joys of lasting friendships.
We regularly see beautiful people behind the scenes – accountability partners who willingly say “yes” to supporting someone. They’re amazing! They show up and create a safe space for someone else to heal. Such a friend is “riding the bus” with you, so please remember to nurture this friendship.
Wouldn’t you love living in a world filled with kindness and friendship?
If you’re living and breathing, it’s not too late! Today is the best day to start building healthy friendships. Start small. Chances are solid – someone will happily join you on your journey to becoming the person you wish to be.
Abrams, Zara. “The science of friendship.” American Psychological Association, 1 June 2023, https://www.apa.org/monitor/2023/06/cover-story-science-friendship. Accessed 15 November 2023.
Bilodeau, Kelly. “Fostering healthy relationships.” Harvard Health, 1 July 2021, https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/fostering-healthy-relationships. Accessed 15 November 2023.
Brown, Brené. “The Practice of Story Stewardship – Brené Brown.” Brene Brown, 5 December 2021, https://brenebrown.com/articles/2021/12/05/the-practice-of-story-stewardship/. Accessed 15 November 2023.
“Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health.” Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/friendships/art-20044860. Accessed 28 November 2023.
“How’s Life at Home? New Evidence on Marriage and the Set Point for Happiness.” YouTube, 16 June 2023, https://www.nber.org/papers/w20794. Accessed 15 November 2023.
“Loneliness In America.” The Cigna Group Newsroom, https://newsroom.thecignagroup.com/loneliness-in-america. Accessed 15 November 2023.
“Lying to friends: Examining lie-telling, friendship quality, and depressive symptoms over time during late childhood and adolescence.” Journal of Adolescence Volume 84, Pages 123-135, October 2020, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0140197120301226. Accessed November 2023.
Seitz, Amanda. “Loneliness poses health risks as deadly as smoking, U.S. surgeon general says.” PBS, 2 May 2023, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/loneliness-poses-health-risks-as-deadly-as-smoking-u-s-surgeon-general-says. Accessed 15 November 2023.
Seppälä, Emma. “The Best-Kept Secret to a Highly Successful Relationship.” Psychology Today, 4 November 2013, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201311/the-best-kept-secret-highly-successful-relationship. Accessed 15 November 2023.