Healthy Same-Sex Friendships

by D’Ann Davis, Director of Women’s Ministry

Most of the people we encounter at Living Hope find it difficult to have deeply meaningful, intimate relationships with others of the same sex without eroticizing those friendships or falling into Emotional Dependency (ED).  To overcome this cycle and have healthy relating, there are many practical things one can do.  What follows is a practical guide to having healthy friendships with others of the same sex.

First, to understand how to have healthy relating, it is essential to understand from where most people who struggle with Same Gender Attractions (SGA) or ED are coming.  Emotional dependency in itself is not just an SGA issue, as heterosexually attracted people fall into emotional dependencies all the time.  Most typically, those who struggle with ED are looking for a super intense, one-on-one relationship with a best friend who will meet all of their needs and will make other relationships unnecessary.  A struggler typically loves to fuel all of her need and longing to connect into one person who can be her all-in-all (essentially her idol, or god, little “g”).  She will be very entrenched in relational idolatry, whether or not she realizes it.  She does not want to waste all of those precious seconds developing a friendship slowly over years; she wants intimacy, NOW, so she exchanges it for intensity.  She will prefer to only tell one person about the deep, inner things in her so that A) she does not have to risk rejection with anyone else by letting them know her, B) she can then “need” the other woman because “she is the one who really knows her or gets her” and C) she feels free to live selfishly with an exclusive clique mentality without feeling conviction.  She will look to the other woman to give her worth and to feel loved, and when things are going well, it will feel like a mountain top experience.  However, when things are going bad between her and her one friend, it is her worst nightmare. There will often be huge, roller-coaster emotions. She will become very possessive, and she will feel a constant need for connection and to be okay with the other. All of her emotional eggs will rest in the other woman’s basket.  She will either try to control the other woman through being the “best friend ever” (more realistically, she is just being a doormat) so that the other woman will need her, or she might withhold love and acceptance and only give enough to keep the other person there.  The root behind this is typically a need to be needed coupled with a desire to feel total control within the friendship.  Manipulation plays a key role in driving these types of relationships.

If a woman finds herself in a pattern of relating like this, she often has difficulty feeling in a healthy way and expressing those feelings to others.  Part of stopping this pattern of relating involves learning how to change this reality in her life.  Usually a woman will fall into one of two main categories.  The first type of woman needs to learn to allow herself to feel if she is detached; she needs to learn to open up her heart and let others into her world.  She needs to get in touch with her own emotions and feelings and develop intimacy with the Lord that she might learn to feel in a healthy way.  The second type of woman needs to learn to not let her feelings dictate her actions if she is boundary-less.  She has to learn to have strong boundaries with others and respect their boundaries as well.  She needs to work on running to the Lord with her feelings first and not look to others to define her or distract her from what she feels.

Both types of women need to learn healthier ways of interacting with other women.  For instance, a woman needs to be able to give without motive, as opposed to giving frequent gifts or cards to another woman as a form of tying the woman to her.  She also needs to be able to receive with humility.  For example, she needs to not reject all grace others try to give her as a form of manipulation.  In this scenario a woman will often constantly reject love and extensions of grace from others so that she could never be classified as a burden to them, but will then in turn always try to outdo whatever gift or favor they might offer her so she can make herself useful to them.  In the end, she will only resent them for using her, without realizing that throughout the course of the relationship she has actually taught them to do so.

A struggler needs to invite others into her relationships, and other people should have fun and feel included when around her and a friend, not uncomfortable by how creepily close they are.  She must not view others as a threat to her relationships, but she must learn to share in the joy of deep relationship with multiple people.  A truly deep friendship need not be exclusive to be deep.  The intimacy allots for others to be welcome because a genuine friendship does not suffer due to the existence of others.  Most ED relationships are closed off, exclusive, and  consumed with having one-on-one time.  A healthy relationship values one-on-one time, but it is not needed on an obsessively consistent basis to keep the relationship afloat.  Any friendship that needs that amount of one-on-one time to survive is not truly deep.

A woman must also realize that others are not responsible for her feelings.  She must expunge the idea that others are responsible for her good or bad feelings.  Friends are not ultimately responsible for making her feel loved, accepted, and worthy. They cannot sustain her, and they should not try to do it.  True life and fulfillment rests only in Jesus Christ.

For women who have been engaged in these types of relationships, they know exactly what I am describing.  To healthy people, this type of situation sounds bothersome and uncomfortable.  But to the ED or SGA, this not only feels normal, but is usually desired.  The ED struggler craves this kind of intense connecting.

To begin to develop healthy relationships we encourage all of our women to begin to invest in multiple people in groups. We encourage them to get to know two to five healthy girls in a setting.  It is important for a lady to confide the same things in each of them, so there is not one “special” one that has an exclusive relationship with her.  She must allow the other women to get to know her slowly as she gets to know them slowly.  She should avoid dumping all of her issues on them after knowing them for forty-five minutes.  On the other hand, she needs to avoid withholding all information about herself by letting them do all of the vulnerable sharing.  Mutuality is key in healthy relationships, so there needs to be an equal, slow opening up and vulnerability that is shared between her and the group.  It does not need to be an all or nothing scenario, which is how many unhealthy women approach the situation.

A woman needs to focus on slow-cooked intimacy, not fast-food intensity.  Like a crock pot she needs to let the relationship marinate and stew, as opposed to microwaving the intensity of it.  She needs to be patient. The kind of deep, intimate connecting she truly longs for and was created to have develops over years and years of walking with people, not days or weeks.   It is important to let the other person take part in dictating the frequency of communication.  If a woman calls one of her friends and the friend does not answer, she should not call over and over until she receives a return call.  She should wait a reasonable amount of time until the other woman has a chance to call her back.  If the other woman seems to only be able to talk once a week or every two weeks, that is okay and does not mean that she is uninterested in friendship or that it is time to force the issue. A relationship is between two people, but a struggler is often so consumed with getting a fix of intimacy that she will try to begin to control the situation through contacting others over and over and trying to manipulate them into responding.  A good example of this is always texting questions to others so they have to respond, or calling and just leaving a message that says, “I really have to talk to you,” when it is really not important.  In the old mode of connecting a woman is used to several texts and phone calls a day, so once a week will seem like an eternity and like others do not care at all.  This is one’s brokenness talking though, not reality.  Again, in healthy relating, constant contact is not necessary to maintain the relationship.

At the base of things, what a woman really has to do is work through her own issues of feeling like she needs others to fulfill her and submit to God’s healing work in her life.  Emotionally dependent strugglers have deep wounds, and if they continually try to avoid God and use people, they will never have healthy relating.  A woman will find herself in the same old, same old place if she continues to place others on the throne in her life.  She has to work through those deep issues to make progress or to ever hope for healthy relationships.  Jeremiah 2:13 rings true when it states, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.(NASB)”  There are fewer situations where this is more applicable than with relational idolatry, or ED.

Inevitably in this process, a woman will find herself feeling emotional dependency or attraction to a woman with whom she is in a friendship.  If the woman about whom she feels like this is a healthy, straight, godly woman, then she needs to learn to push through these feelings to the other side.  She needs to not panic and run away, or she will never have friends. She needs to ask, “Why do I feel like this about her in particular, what needs do I think she would meet?”  She then needs to take those hurts and wounds to the Lord.  She does not ever need to tell the other woman about her feelings.  If she does it might make the other woman uncomfortable and can lead to her rejection of the friendship, or worse yet, it might put ideas and curiosity in the other woman’s head. All that said, if the other woman is someone with whom she would have any danger of falling sexually or emotionally, she needs to distance herself and invest in other relationships.  No matter what the case, she needs to have relationships with others to whom she can be accountable and confess these feelings when they are first awakened, not after they have been stewing for months and months. There is something about bringing things to the light and processing them in the very beginning that just disarms them.

Essentially, ladies need to learn to stop approaching relationships with the attitude of, “How can I get this deep ache in me to go away?”  That is selfish and sinful.  A woman needs to approach relationships with the attitude of, “How can I serve others so they may grow in their relationship with the Lord?”  And let that be the honest motive. (This also means not approaching others with a false attitude of service with the real motive of drawing them into one’s self through the use of a “selfless” façade.)   Emotional dependency is not pretty, in fact it can get very ugly, and it will destroy one’s walk with the Lord.  Avoiding relationships does not help because it only fuels the felt deprivation of the one longing for companionship. It is only through letting the Lord come in and heal those wounds and then letting that healing extend out of one’s self into the lives of others through deep, healthy, godly relationships that anyone can have healthy friends.

Also, part of this process is learning what healthy affection and attachment looks like. Often women will say to me, “Aaagghhh! Oh no! I feel attached to this person! I need to end the relationship now!!!”  The truth is, we are supposed to be attached to our friends: that is what makes them our friends.  We are not supposed to be obsessive or idolatrous, but love them and care about them? YES!!!! That is the joy of friendship! We get to be connected deeply to people we love and who love us!  There is definitely hope for the ED struggler.  Emotional dependency and unhealthy relationships can be overcome and redeemed.  Through the power of the cross and the blood of Jesus, nothing submitted to the Lord is irredeemable.  Jesus does save, even from the bonds of emotional dependency!  There is hope in Him.  And there is hope for healthy relationships.