Loyalty is perhaps the most prized quality in any kind of relationship. Those who can claim this virtue are often blessed with better health and overall relationship satisfaction and happiness—professionally, personally, and romantically. Even something as small as continuing to root for your hometown sports team when you make a big move is good for your psyche!
So what does it really mean to be loyal? Researchers define loyalty:
"We love each other’s loyalty to us. Nothing would please us more than carte blanche freedom to do what we want, without risk to the security of other people's support. We dream of a loyal fan base, a loyal readership, a loyal spouse, a high plateau we could reach and stay on securely forever."
So when it comes to friendships, are you the loyal one who makes your friends feel secure? Keep reading to find out how you can create and utilize the virtue of loyalty.
1. A loyal friend is honest.
A good rule to remember: Don't expect loyalty if you can't provide honesty. "A loyal friend might not agree with you all the time and they won’t always have the same opinions as yours, but they still want you to know the truth," says writer Stan Tian. You may not feed her pity party with platitudes, but that is exactly what she needs in a loyal friend. You want the best for her, and the truth should be a benefit.
2. Loyal friends are impartial.
That might sound blasé, but it is not an apathetic attribute. Being impartial means you are accepting, non-discriminatory, and view others' lives objectively based on their life experiences. It's rare that you and your friend will come from the exact same background, family upbringing, or culture. So understanding baseline differences—and accepting them—is key for offering support and learning more about the people around you. It will help strengthen other friendships, too. New studies have shown that women especially have needs for other women in their lives: A University of Michigan study found that when women feel emotionally close to other women, their bodies produce more progesterone, boosting mood and alleviating stress—a handy survival kit if ever there was one.
3. Loyal friends do not do 'conditional' friendships.
Conditional, the opposite of unconditional, is based on contractual interaction. You read that right. A contract states, 'I do this for you, if you do this for me.' This does not apply in loyal friendships. Payback is not necessary, nor expected. If you are willing to sacrifice, that should be your decision—one you have willfully chosen to give unconditionally, without expectation.
4. Loyal friends have boundaries.
Loyalty is not equivalent to becoming a wet blanket. Abuse and misuse of loyalty for one's gain over another is a clear red flag that your loyalty might be hurtful rather than helpful. A loyal friend might be a friend through any circumstance, but personal responsibility and self-care should always come first.
"Loyalty is seen as a virtue—albeit a problematic one," defines the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. What makes it problematic? lf a friend is so loyal that she'll stop at nothing to tell you how she feels. For example, it's one thing for your best friend to express concerns about your new boyfriend. But if she completely trashes the guy without even getting to know him, she may have crossed a line—even if she had the best intentions at heart.
If you feel like boundaries have been crossed, "You need to explicitly let her know when she has overstepped them," says Irene S. Levine, Ph.D. "It is perfectly appropriate to remind her that you have responsibilities to others and to yourself. Clarify how much contact and what type of contact feels comfortable for you to have with her."
If you feel like you didn't quite measure up to these, don't be discouraged. Like all virtues, loyalty is a practiced trait. Striving each day to be a loyal friend is worth the effort, for both you and those whom you love.