I am a very open person….sometimes too open.
I have a tendency to be self-deprecating and easily admit my failures. And I am far too trusting.
In my desperation and loneliness, I have invited people into my heart and shared with them my inner struggles and even made them my confidant, absolutely certain that they have every intention of becoming my close friend. Yet time and again, I was left with a one-sided friendship.
Perhaps the person misunderstood my needs.
Perhaps they already had a full and thriving inner circle.
Perhaps they didn’t know how to be a close friend.
I don’t know their reasons. But I do know that after several failed attempts at finding that person with whom I felt I could safely bare my soul, I stopped.
It was too risky.
The ability to recognize where your friends fit into your life is a process and it requires maturity. You see, there are three circles of friendship that need to be understood and implemented properly to have a healthy balance of relationship.
This is what a healthy balance looks like:
Unfortunately, sometimes it looks like this:
Let’s examine these circles to see what this healthy balance looks like:
Building Healthy Circles of Friendship
Outermost Circle / Acquaintances and Casual friends:
This is the widest circle because it is meant to encompass the majority of our friendships. This circle can be comprised of our neighbors, parents of our children’s friends, old high-school buddies we stay in touch with occasionally, colleagues, or church friends we see every Sunday but rarely contact during the week.
These are friends we chat with on a shallow level. We don’t share personal things about our life with them because they haven’t earned that level of friendship. In this circle are also those people with whom we have had a closer relationship at some point, but have proved to be toxic and unhealthy to us and our family.
Outer Circle / Good Friends
This circle is wider than the inner circle, but smaller than the outermost circle. It shouldn’t contain too many friends because these are people in whom we make a small investment. These are our good friends. We may not share our deepest secrets with them, but we do delve into some areas of the heart.
These are people with whom we fellowship often and there should be some level of give and take here. While we don’t need to analyze how many friends should be included in our outer circle of friends, too many friends in our outer circle will only cause us to be too busy to care for those in our inner circle – the friends in whom we need to invest the most…and who need the freedom to invest in us.
Inner Circle / Close Friends
This circle is the smallest of the three because it is meant to be limited only to those with whom we feel safe enough to share our deepest depths of our heart.
We know that they will never despise us for our past or even present failures; but they also have the liberty to speak the truth in love. We can receive their truth, because we know that our best is at their heart.
These are our accountability partners, our confidants, and our kindred spirits. They require the most investment because they’ve earned our time, our energy and our trust. In return, they invest in us, too.
This circle is the most delicate and the one that will bring us the deepest sense of satisfaction relationship-wise, outside of marriage. If this circle is out of balance, it will cause our entire relationship structure to become unbalanced. The most important thing we must know about our inner circle is that we must be willing and ready to make an investment in each person we allow into this circle, which is why we must be careful about the number of people allowed in.
Those in our inner circle should be friends whom we call and who call us; whom we write and who write us; whom we visit and who visit us. There should be healthy reciprocation because close friends should both give and take. If the trust, contact, and openness only run in one direction this circle has become unhealthy and unbalanced.
This circle should include no more than 4-5 people to be healthy, because if too many people are crammed into this circle, we will be stretched too thin in order to invest well into each person.
Late last year I realized that my circles were not only out of balance, the people I had allowed into my outer and inner circles were not people who were ready or willing to invest in me.
And yet, there were people in my outermost circle who were begging me to let them in.
There were people who recognized painful moments in my life and daily contacted me to let me know they were praying and worked hard to maintain lines of communication. There were those who both offered and asked for advice. They were ready and willing to see me for who I really am and accept me – faults and all.
Such people are to be valued because they don’t come into our life very often.
It was when I began to shift my relationships into their proper order than I began to not only experience a healthy balance in my life, but I realized that I finally had a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that comes from that balance.
This article is part of a multi-part series on Building Healthy Relationships. View the rest of the articles here: