jess and schmidt

I consider myself a good friend. My friends and I have fun together, but I understand friendships aren't only about the good times. I try to listen to my friends when they have problems, support them in times of need, that kind of thing.

To me, really good friends are more like family, and I feel so fortunate to have some wonderful friends who have been there for me when I needed them most. I try to return the favor. But there's a line that shouldn't be crossed when it comes to how involved we get in our friends' lives or, at least in my experience, there should be. A few years ago, in my (at the time) tight-knit group, a couple of friends started dating each other. And when that relationship ended and then others in the group started dating, with some overlap, feelings were hurt. Sides were drawn. My friends came to me for comfort and advice. Others shared their excitement about the new relationship, even though it brought other friends pain. I had opinions. I became too involved and our friendships, if they continued at all, were never the same.

Here's what I learned from sticking my nose too far into my friends' business:

Before trying to help a friend with a problem or give advice, consider where you're coming from

Why do you feel the way you do? Are you biased for any reason? Is this advice you wish someone had given you? If so, mentally separate yourself from your friend. You aren't the same person. And even if you are sure you're right about something, what does "being right" mean to you? Is it worth losing a friend?

Think about whether they want your honest opinion, or just some support

I've had friends who want me to be completely honest with them, no matter what. And of course if you see your friend heading into a situation that you think isn't just unwise but potentially dangerous, you should speak up. But not everyone is really looking for complete honesty all the time. And that's OK. As long as the person's actions aren't hurting you or someone else, you probably don't need to say anything if your friend isn't open to it. Or you can state your opinion, but don't push it. The challenge is when you think the person is hurting themselves or someone else with their actions. If it's not actual abuse, just a difference of opinion, you should carefully weigh how involved you want to get in your friends' business. After all, it's theirs, not yours.

Recognize that you can't make everyone happy

It's a good thing to want to see your friends be happy, but their idea of happiness may be different from yours. Or maybe they just need to learn from their own mistakes. You can't control how other people act, what they think or how they feel. On the other side of this, if your friend agrees with you or is leaning on you for emotional support, you can be there for your friend, but you can't fix him or her. You have to let your friend grieve in a way that's organic for that individual. How your friend feels shouldn't have a timeline so just be willing to listen and be a shoulder to cry on, when needed. Even if your friend needs support for longer than you expect.

I love my friends and want to see them live joyful lives. But through trial and error I learned that I shouldn't get too emotionally invested in their choices. Supporting your friends through tricky times doesn't mean you shouldn't give them your opinion on anything, it just means you should give them the respect and space they need to live their lives the way they see fit. Part of being a good friend is loving someone for who they are, and sometimes that includes choices you don't always agree with, in good times and in bad.

[Image via FOX]