4 Keys to Healthy Friendships {Guest Post by Susan Stilwell}

All week on my Facebook page, we’ve been talking about forgiveness. One of the toughest parts of that process is knowing how that relates to keeping, healing or moving on from relationships when they’ve been hurt.

Today’s guest, Susan Stilwell, has a great take on that conundrum. I know you’ll enjoy her wisdom and humor!


Relationships are weird and wonderful and frustrating and fun and joy-sucking and life-giving! God created us for community, which opens the door to some of life’s greatest blessings. But some of our greatest struggles enter through the same door. How do we live in that community without going crazy?

Know When To Hold Them

Some relationships are fun and easy. You have the freedom to be yourself. The time you spend together lifts your spirits and refreshes you.

Other relationships aren’t so refreshing. You know who they are: Siblings who try your patience. In-laws who get on your nerves. Co-workers who frustrate the living daylights out of you.

But they’re yours. God put you in close community with them for a reason or a season, and calls you to be Jesus-with-skin-on to them. It’s not always easy, especially when the “Jesus” feelings are on vacation.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to give myself a mini-timeout. I breathe a quick prayer, usually Psalm  141:3,

“Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips.”

I keep that lip door closed, take a deep breath and then draw from the Living Water within me. And thank goodness He’s inside me because if I had water in a nearby bucket …

Know When To Fold Them

Some relationships go through periods that call for a little distance. Maybe hurtful words have been exchanged or trust has been broken. Or perhaps it’s got nothing to do with you, and everything to do with one of you needing to draw away for a personal reason.

One of my friends needed to withdraw from “normal life” to deal with a child who was going through a trial. I continued to pray for her and checked in on a regular basis, but she was overwhelmed with life. It wasn’t that she didn’t value our friendship, she just (rightly) chose to put some of her friendships “on hold” for a time.

I admit it was hurtful at first, but I tried to imagine myself in that situation. I gave her the space she needed and, when the situation passed and her life got back to normal, so did our friendship. I learned a valuable life lesson:

Healthy relationships have boundaries and allow for a little space from time to time.

Know When To Walk Away

Other people come into our lives for a season. Like neighbors who move in next-door and then transfer to another city, the Lord intersects our lives for a time and then moves us in different directions. Social media outlets like Facebook allow us to stay in contact if we want, but for the most part our paths diverge.

Know When To Run

{Spoiler alert: this post doesn’t offer “one size fits all” advice. Prayerfully examine any relationship(s) you consider harmful in any way: physically, emotionally, or spiritually.}

Unhealthy or dysfunctional relationships aren’t easy to navigate and can be especially hard to end. Addictive or abusive relationships are complicated and require professional counseling. But there are other relationships that, deep down, you know need to prayerfully and purposefully end. And never look back.

  • A friendship with someone who is a gossip.
  • A membership in a group that goes against Christian principles.
  • A relationship with someone who threatens your marriage or family.

Ending those kinds of relationships can be complicated, especially if they’re longstanding. But if we sense the Lord leading us to end it, the smart thing to do is prayerfully END IT. He knows what lies ahead in those situations, and we put ourselves in a precarious position when we ignore Him.

But when we listen and obey, He faithfully brings people into our lives who bring healing and wholeness. People who love Him and who will encourage us to press on in our faith. People who join us in community and accept us in all of our weird and wonderful craziness.

Susan Stilwell - small head shot2Susan Stilwell is a freelance writer, motivational speaker and Bible study leader who loves discovering God at work the ordinary, day-to-day stuff of life. Passionate about God’s Word, she’s a prolific devotional writer and a popular guest blogger.

She and her husband Steve enjoy their empty nest in the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia. You can connect with Susan on Twitter at @susanrstilwell and on her website, SusanStilwell.com.

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  1. Cathy Baker says

    I’m not sure how I ended up looking like Dora, but I’m delighted by the mistake! 🙂

  2. Cathy Baker says

    Great post, Susan! It’s the difficult relationships that make those you want “to hold” such a joy. Community isn’t always easy but it is always necessary.


    • says

      It’s so true, Cathy. Maybe that’s part of the divine plan. Makes me think of the scene in The Matrix when the Agent tells Morpheus that the first fake world AI made was so perfect that the humans rejected it. Somehow, we’re wired to need a little intensity…and like you said, in friendships that helps us love and appreciate the non-intense relationships even more!

  3. Dora Hiers says

    So needed to hear these encouraging words, Susan. I struggle with the last, “Know when to run.” So thankful for this blessed reassurance today!

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by, Dora. That was the part that most impacted me, too. Makes me wonder why it’s so hard for us (as women? Christians?) to move through life’s phases. That holding on to what’s passed can be such a source of stress!

    • says

      So glad to see you, Dora! I’m glad this spoke to you. Some of those “know when to run” relationships can be tricky, especially if they’re long-term. It gives you the chance to flex your “pray without ceasing” muscles.

  4. says

    Susan, the point that hit home most with me is the idea that there are friends who are for a season. I used to try to keep every friendship going forever, despite changes in location or season of life. I’m actually struggling with one relationship right now, and your post gives some good nuggets to chew on in that regard! Thanks, Susan. So glad you came and shared your heart with us all!

    • says

      I have the same struggle, Laurie. I’m glad for social media, but I have to be careful with that. I can stretch myself pretty thin if I’m not careful!

      Thank you for having me on your wonderful site!

  5. says

    Two incredible women in the same space! Love it. Susan, these 4 keys are great. They got me thinking about my own relationships. Thanks!