By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
Friendship is a gift. We need our friends, and that need doesn’t come to an end when we get married. Here you’ll find tips for choosing wise friendships that will enrich your marriage, as well as balancing the intimacy in your marriage with the important friendships in your lives.
1. MAKE PAST FRIENDS PART OF YOUR SHARED LIFE
When you get married, the landscape of your relationships changes. There are many adjustments to make because it becomes impossible to cultivate your marriage while supporting the same time investment you put into past friendships.
While there’s nothing wrong with each of you having individual, separate friends, it’s best to try to make each of your friends a part of your shared life as a married couple. You feel a sense of loyalty, ownership and responsibility for friends you’ve been close to through your single years. You can maintain a healthy sense of continued connection with them as you transition into this new season of your life.
If you’re the first of your circle of friends to get married, they won’t want to “give you up.” Be sure to have empathy for them, as this is a major change in their lives, too. By being the pioneer in your group of friends and striking out into uncharted territory, you’ll have the unique chance to model marriage for them.
2. SET BOUNDARIES FOR OPPOSITE-SEX FRIENDS
Opposite-sex friendships don’t threaten a marriage unless you or your spouse feels uncomfortable. If your spouse is feeling unnerved by your friendship with a member of the opposite sex, then you need to respect his or her feelings and talk about it.
Maybe involving your spouse in the friendship will help make him or her more comfortable about your friend, or maybe you could make the relationship a couple friendship with that friend and their significant other. Ultimately, show your spouse that his or her needs are most important to you, and that you respect your commitment to the marriage.
You don’t necessarily have to sever relationships that might be enjoyable to you, but you do have a responsibility to find ways to build up your spouse’s confidence and reassure him or her. Setting healthy boundaries around these friendships will allow you and your spouse to maintain healthy relationships with opposite-sex friends.
You might set boundaries around the settings where you interact with your friend; maybe your spouse feels comfortable with certain settings, but uncomfortable with others. Find out what makes your husband or wife relaxed and comfortable about your friendship, versus what makes him or her uncomfortable and anxious.
In your friendship with that member of the opposite sex, always be sure to talk about your spouse in a positive way. If you’re in an office setting or a public place, display pictures of your spouse where they can be seen, to let people know you’re committed to your spouse and prize your relationship above all others.
Decide now to not get involved in situations where you omit discussion about your shared life with your spouse, or where you might feel tempted to talk negatively about him or her to a member of the opposite sex. This will set the tone for a safe, healthy friendship.
3. PROTECT YOUR MARRIAGE FROM DESTRUCTIVE FRIENDSHIPS
If your spouse’s friends are not your top choice (or vice versa), be open to allowing them into your life anyway. Shared history is a big deal, so honor that shared history as you get to know your spouse’s friends. Sometimes the hardest individuals to build a relationship with at first become your best friends later.
On the other hand, it’s important to use careful discernment when it comes to incorporating past friendships into your marriage. Is this friend someone who is dishonoring or disrespectful of you or your spouse? Is this person toxic and destructive? Does he or she negatively affect you as a couple? Does this person bring turmoil into your relationship? If you answered yes to any of the these questions, it’s time for a serious discussion with your spouse about whether to allow this person to remain part of your life.
When you approach your spouse to discuss a friendship that is making you uncomfortable, be honest, but be tactful and genuine. Don’t pass judgment, and don’t accuse your spouse of having an unwise relationship; simply let him or her know how vulnerable you feel about it.
In the case of an opposite-sex friendship that is making you uncomfortable, approach your spouse carefully. Often, he or she doesn’t realize that the friendship is making you feel unnerved. One way to approach your spouse might be to say, “You might not realize this, but when I see you interact with your friend, they seem more drawn to or interested in your than I’m used to. It raises concerns in me and makes me feel threatened.”
You don’t want to seem paranoid or suspicious, but you also want to open an honest dialog about your fears and hesitations regarding this relationship. Be patient with your spouse as he or she tries to process the discussion; there may be initial hesitance to change the tone of the friendship, set boundaries around it, or (in severe cases) end it.
Your energy and your focus should first be on your marriage; the most precious thing to protect is your marriage relationship. Maintaining friendships that are detrimental to your marriage, or that cause your focus to be shifted away from your marriage relationship, is counterproductive to this goal.
4. CULTIVATE COUPLES RELATIONSHIPS
Having a shared circle of friends is a source of happiness for married couples. You can expand the social horizon of your marriage by building intentional friendships with other God-honoring couples. Mentoring occurs when you watch another marriage play out in front of you.
Friendships are built on having things in common, so connect yourself with groups that include peers who are walking through similar life circumstances to yours–maybe they’re in same season of life as you are, or maybe you have shared interests.
Don’t limit yourself, however, to only having friends whose ages and lives are similar to yours. Maybe you’ve met an older married couple who can mentor you as your grow in your own marriage. Or maybe you and your spouse can model marriage for a couple younger than you are.
When you’ve identified couples you’d like to get to know better, invite them into your home. Be intentional about cultivating that friendship as you get to know each other better.
It takes work to combine friends and to bring other couples into your relationship, but it heightens the level of enjoyment of the activities you share together. You might share one another’s dinner table, go on outings, or even share vacations together.
As you wisely choose friendships as a married couple, remember, above all else, to cherish and protect your marriage. You need a solid footing, great confidence, and commitment to ensure longevity. Build a hedge around your marriage and care enough about it to protect it at all costs.