The two major types or relationship we have, outside of blood relations, are friends and romantic partners – and while they might seem like two separate categories altogether, they are more closely connected than you might think.
Even if you don’t realize their influence, the relationships (or sometimes, lack thereof) you have with your friends have a direct impact on the quality of your marriage. Here’s what we mean:
Everybody Needs Friends
Ultimately, you want your spouse to be your “best friend” – the person you know you can rely on through thick and thin, turn to no matter what, and do the same for them without so much as a second thought…
But even if this is the case, maintaining friendships outside the marriage is a critical part of keeping your relationship happy and healthy. Of course you should make spending quality time with your spouse a priority, but spending time with your friends – especially a “guy’s night out” or “girl’s day” or what have you – is an opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, gain perspective, and perhaps most importantly, have a confidant other than your spouse.
Now, the relationships you build and share with your friends are important in their own right – but in terms of your marriage, having these people around to talk to, to learn about their lives, to let them know about the good and bad things you’re going through… All of that helps you build some perspective about your marriage, and can help you realize where you might be making mistakes, things you should be concerned about, or just the opposite – they can help you remember how good you’ve got it!
Without those things, however, you risk living in something of a “feedback loop” – where the only person you confide in is your spouse, and you never get any outside perspectives or experience to guide you beyond that of the person you spend most of your time with. This is also a potential fast track to feeling sick of each other…
Spending time with others that share your interests, sense of humor, etc. (qualities friends tend to have) helps make you feel connected and fulfilled, can improve your mood, and so on. All of these things make you a better spouse – simply because they make you a happier, more active person!
The Dangerous Side
Now, having friends IS a good thing for your marriage, but beware – not all of friends are good for you. Some types of friends can actually be a very terrible influence on your marriage, whether or not they’re doing it intentionally.
First, your friends’ individual behavior can rub off on you, even if you don’t realize it. Are they constantly badmouthing their spouses or significant others? Are they flirting with other people behind their partner’s back? Are they engaging in dangerous or destructive behavior?
All of those are “bad influences” that can creep their way into your marriage simply through “exposure” – that is, hanging out with people who do these things can slowly (and unconsciously) chip away at your resistance to such marriage-threatening behavior.
There’s also the “wrong kind” of couple to spend time with, and we’ve probably all seen marriages like this…
One type is where apathy and complacence seems to the theme of the relationship. These are couples who appear stable, but don’t engage with one another, do everything by routine, who don’t seem angry, but don’t seem very satisfied either. This is dangerous because, well, it can make you settle for placid discontent instead of seeking to constantly grow and improve your marriage.
The other type is the “trouble couple” who can’t seem to make it through a social occasion without a public argument. In the same way that individual friends (and the type of couple mentioned previously) can rub off on you, these types of couples make it seem normal to blow up on each other, to drag other people into the problems, to make a big scene or act irrationally… All of which only serves to make the problems more difficult to resolve down the road.
And not every couple (or every individual friend) will fit conveniently into one of these descriptions, but it’s a good idea to keep some of the “extremes” in mind when spending time with others, and be aware of how it may be affecting your own relationship.
Friends are an essential, fulfilling part of life, but because they have such a direct influence on our marriages, it’s important to know who you’re spending time with – and what kind of influence they are having on you. Encourage each other to cultivate healthy friendships and spend time socializing, and understand that it’s an important part of being a fulfilled, happy individual… Which will ultimately benefit the marriage.
Together and separately, spend time with the important people in your lives. Don’t shut them out, and don’t assume that you have to spend ALL of your time together. Cutting friendships out of your lives will do little to strengthen the marriage, and may end up leading to resentment.
Build your marriage by building up your friendships too!
For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com