What is Good?

How Ethics Can Help Us Be a Good Partner and Friend

If we want strong, loving relationships with partners and friends, ethics can help us.

When we have a strong ethics, we adopt certain principles that aim for a higher good both for ourselves and others. And we act consistently according to these principles.

Some examples of common ethical principles are the following:

Act with virtues like love, courage, generosity, and friendliness in all situations.

Treat people, including yourself, as an end in themselves and never merely as a means to your end.

Do the action you could make a universal law, and don’t make yourself the exception to the rule.

In all situations, work for the moral happiness of everyone, and minimize their pain as much as you can.

Show loving kindness to people and help relieve their suffering.

How Ethical Principles Help Us

Ethical principles are extremely beneficial because they require that we work for people’s happiness and our own self-improvement.

For example, if we decide to act with virtues like love in all situations, this requires us to show love to people. And if we want to show love to people, this means we must listen to them, empathize with them, and support their projects. (By projects, I mean people’s goals, dreams, and cherished endeavors.)[1]

And if we decide we will treat people as an end in themselves and not just a means to our end, this also means we must listen to them. And it also means we must empathize with them, supporting their projects.

In fact, all ethical systems imply that we should do such things. And as you can see, the more we show love to people in these ways, the more we contribute to their happiness. And we also improve ourselves.

That’s because most of us naturally tend to prioritize our own projects and happiness over other people’s projects and happiness.

As such, it is easy for us to become selfish, narrow-minded, and stubborn. As you can imagine, such character traits harm, rather than help, our character. They also harm our relationships.

Now it’s important to note that we are important, too, just like everyone else is. However, since we already tend to prioritize ourselves, following an ethical code encourages us to pay attention to other people and their concerns.

How This Helps Us Be a Better Partner and Friend

And as you can imagine, when we work for people’s happiness and support their projects, this helps us be a better friend and partner in two important ways.

First, ethics helps us build positive feelings with, as well as positive habits of relating to, our partner and friends. When we listen to our loved ones, we understand what they care about. And we work to support them in those endeavors.

In addition, we are more likely to encourage our partners and friends, which helps our partners and friends feel supported. This builds trust and positive feelings, which strengthens any relationship.

Second, ethics helps us respect ourselves in relationships. For example, as mentioned above, ethics teaches us that everyone is valuable in themselves. This implies that we are also valuable in ourselves and are not just a means to other people’s ends. So we don’t just exist to serve people.

If we recognize such things about ourselves, it can protect us when people try to form relationships with us for unethical reasons. For instance, sometimes people befriend other people so they can use, manipulate, and act cruelly to them.

Ethics can help us better recognize such behavior and prevent us from forming harmful relationships with other people. It can also help us confront partners and friends if they treat us unethically in a relationship.

Why We Need This Ethical Guidance

As you can imagine, ethical guidance like this is essential for good partnerships and relationships.

And such guidance is important for several reasons. For instance, some people grow up with excellent examples of good partnerships and friendships all around them. But other people do not. When people lack such good examples in their life, ethical principles can help them gain a clear picture of the way strong partnerships and friendships function.

And even when people do grow up with excellent examples, strong ethical principles can help them maintain good relationships. Such guidance is important because there are a lot of examples all around us and in the media of unethical partnerships and friendships.

For example, many people in the media and in life often form partnerships and friendships for some of the following unethical reasons:

  • To have someone make all their life decisions for them.

  • Or to get people’s praise, time, attention, or validation without reciprocating these gifts.

  • To control and manipulate others to feel more powerful.

  • Or to use other people’s fame or reputation to improve their own.

  • To belittle and abuse others to feel better.

Ethics can help us better detect unethical relationship patterns like this and to avoid following these patterns in our own relationships.

If You Want to Be More Ethical

If you want to become a more ethical person, you certainly can. Ethics is a matter of knowledge and practice. Here are three steps you can take.

First, acquaint yourself with different ethical systems. For example, you can read some or all of the posts linked below to acquaint yourself with some different ethical systems.

Second, don’t worry about which ethical system is the best system. Instead, choose a system that seems reasonable and clear to you.

Third, practice living according to this ethical system. Don’t worry if you make mistake—just try to do it consistently.

Fourth, every week or month, take some time to reflect on your process of living according to your ethical system. I recommend writing or vocalizing in some other way your progress in ethical living. (For example, you could make an audio recording.)

In your exploration, I recommend you  discuss some ways in which you have succeeded in living ethically, as well as some ways you have failed. And you might also explore some ways you want to grow in ethical living.

Fifth, if you think it would help, consider talking to a trusted friend, counselor, or spiritual leader.

You might also like these posts:

How Ethics Can Help Us Avoid Toxic Behavior.

Develop Your Own Moral and Ethical Code

How to Flourish by Cultivating Virtues

And, How to Cultivate a Good Will

How to Maximize Happiness and Minimize Pain

The Ethics of Compassion

And you might also like this book for a more in-depth look at ethical systems: Ethics in a Nutshell


[1] Of course, ethics would not require us to support people’s un-virtuous or self-destructive projects.

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