Everyone cultivates different types of relationships with the people around them. Some people maintain huge social circles and keep in close contact with them all. Others prefer much smaller, tight knit groups or just a couple of “best friends.” Still others have many acquaintances, but don’t go out of their way to cultivate deep friendships…
But what about people who don’t seem to do any of those things? What about the people who don’t seem to have any friends at all?
Well, the short answer is that it depends on how that person feels about it… Some people are extremely introverted and don’t much mind their mostly solo lifestyle, but it may also be a sign of other, deeper problems. Worse, it can have a seriously negative impact on your marriage if a lack of friends isn’t intentional.
Before we get any further into this, let’s imagine a scenario that may be all too familiar:
Picture an average couple, let’s call them Joe and Jane. Joe and Jane are very much in love, with a relatively stable life and happy marriage. Joe loves to spend time with Jane, and Jane loves to spend time with Joe… The problem is, Jane also loves to spend time with her friends, and Joe doesn’t really have any.
If Jane wants to spend time with her friends, Joe either comes along (not an ideal scenario for Jane, who needs to enjoy her freedom and connect with people other than Joe to feel fulfilled), or he stays home by himself (which he does not enjoy – he wants to be with Jane).
Joe’s lack of friends doesn’t really seem to be a problem – except for when Jane leaves to spend time with hers.
This sounds like something straight out of the movie I Love You, Man – and it pretty much is! Unfortunately, though, this isn’t a Hollywood romantic comedy, and a husband without his own social circle can lead to some problems in “real life” marriages.
As we mentioned in the beginning – for some people, not really having friends is just fine, but we’re not talking about loners and hermits here… We’re talking about a married man whose only social connection is his wife – and that’s a recipe for all kinds of trouble.
Jealousy and Control
The largest – and most common – problem in this kind of situation comes in the form of jealousy, possessiveness, and other attempts at controlling behavior. He feels abandoned when you go to spend time with your friends, left behind with no one to connect with…
Knowing that you’re out having a good time while he’s sulking at home makes him feel envious of those connections, even if he doesn’t seem to want to build any of his own. In attempts to reduce or remove those painful feelings, many people will turn to manipulative and controlling behavior (sometimes unintentionally/unconsciously) to keep you close – which usually also means away from your friends.
Behind The Behavior
Any time jealousy becomes an issue in a marriage, that’s a big red flag that there are some underlying problems going on. Coupled with a spouse with no friends to speak of, this can be a glimpse at the real roots of both issues.
Jealousy and control are often masks for insecurity, and it may be the very same insecurity that keeps a husband like Joe from making friends, or even feeling confident enough to connect with strangers at all. Insecurity can also be a driving force behind obsessive codependence – that need to be together all the time.
The insecurities could stem from nearly anything, and each person is different, of course. It could be the feeling that no one likes him, self consciousness about appearance, general and social anxiety, or any number of “source issues.”
The point is that insecurity takes many forms, and even if your spouse doesn’t recognize it, it’s likely at the root of their problems. Even for the people who act stoic and “don’t want any friends,” there may be more at play under the surface. They may have given up on forming new connections with people, they may be afraid of opening themselves up to others, or even have painful memories of losing friends or alienating people in the past.
All of these things can stack up, and make it very difficult to form friendships – or even see the need to. It may be “normal” for your spouse… But it isn’t healthy.
What To Do
This isn’t the movies… It’s not going to just be as easy as telling your husband to go out and find friends – even though that’s exactly what you ultimately want to happen. For the underlying reasons mentioned above, such a suggestion is likely to be met with resistance, so it’s better to approach the topic gently.
Instead of accusing your spouse of “having no friends,” ask them questions about why they choose to isolate themselves, talk about the importance of your own social relationships, and eventually (maybe not the first time you talk about it), try to uncover some of the insecurities or fears that are holding them back.
Depending on the nature of the problems, and especially if severe anxiety is a driving force, it’s a good idea to seek the help of a professional counselor.
Now, assuming you can get past the “why” part of this problem, helping your spouse see that it’s important to be two fully developed individuals in the marriage (not detrimentally codependent), the challenge still remains: how can your husband make friends?
It’s not quite like the days on the schoolyard, and the older you get, the more closed off and set in their ways people tend to be – making it harder and harder to forge new connections or be accepted by an existing social group. Just like the those days in school, though, friendships most often form around similar interests.
So, the logical step is for your husband to identify his favorite things to do and talk about, and seek out communities related to them. Online is a great place to start – but it can’t end there. After searching for a book club, a musical gathering, a cooking class, a pick-up sports group (or whatever strikes his fancy), the critical part is actually getting out of the house to attend these gatherings…
It might not be easy for him to do, but even facing up the pressure of an unknown social situation can, in hindsight, be a victory that inspires him to carve out his own identity and social scene. Help him find a group he likes and encourage him to keep going, to interact with people, to be open to the idea of forming friendships.
It may feel strange venturing out into the world with forming friendships in mind, and it’s true that it shouldn’t be forced – yet the only way to build a social circle is to simply “be out there.” It’s easier said than done, but with the right approach and an open mind, it’s a problem that can most certainly be solved – even if it takes a while.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be spending time together, of course, just that when there’s a serious imbalance in your respective social lives, problems are bound to follow. It’s essential that you have both your personal identity AND the an identity as a couple. Too much individualism leads to neglect of the relationship, and too much focus on the marriage alone can make one or both members feel stifled and out of touch with their other social and family relationships.
This won’t be a quick fix, but if your husband’s lack of friends is a problem for your marriage, you can both take steps to address the root cause of the issues, address the importance of social relationships and individual identity, and make gradual progress on developing the friendships that will give him new identity and a social life all his own!