Marriage and Family — 14 August 2008
Do personal friends help or hurt your marriage?

While it is advocated that people develop individual friends to enrich their health and psychological wellbeing, some spouses are disgruntled about a non-romantic, close relationship that their partner may have with a friend.

Dr. Marks’ book, “ Three Corners” refers to three domains of activity: the inner self, the primary relationship and important “outside” interests such as work, recreation and other relationships. He explores how a relationship with a third party may affect the primary relationship: It “may calm down the relationship, or bring new energy into it, or heat it to a boiling point, or drive the couple far apart”. How couples understand the value of the external connection appears to be crucial in its impact on their relationship.

Dr. Cancian points out that the American culture promotes the flawed model of “companionate marriage”, in which spouses are seen as each other’s best and only necessary friends. That can be a partial explanation for a partner’s feelings of inadequacy and hurt when the spouse develops a connection with another person. Yet, a study by Dr. Weiss about loneliness found that happily married people who were also close to their families still felt lonely and depressed if they did not have their own friends.

Men and women have different needs in spending time with friends. Dr. Rubin found that men chose their friends for companionship and women sought emotional support and intimacy. Some husbands may fear that their wives talk about them in an unfavorable way or divulge private information to their girlfriends. These men may view their wives’ closeness to a friend as an attachment that may threaten the marriage. Actually, Dr. Rubin found that friends supported the marriage: “Woman after woman told of the ways in which friends fill the gaps the marriage relationship leaves, allowing the wife to appreciate those things the husband can give rather than focus on those he can’t.”

Jealousy is another concern partners may have about their spouse’s other friends. The time, energy and enthusiasm a mate displays for another person may be disquieting. One man put it this was: “I wish I could get her to be as enthusiastic and animated when she talks to me as she is when she talks to her girlfriend” Mates need to understand this and make sure that they keep their excitement about each other active and obvious.

Dr. Helms-Erickson described other differences between the genders in terms of friends. Though both men and women talked to friends about a variety of subjects, husbands talked more about financial concerns while wives talked more about their relationships and used their close associates for identity enhancing. Both men and women received personal and marital support from their close third party.

• Avoid believing that the marriage should be the sole source of friendship. It is erroneous and demanding it may cause loneliness, depression and deep unhappiness to both of you.
• Accept that your partner needs his/her own personal friend/s for a sense of wellbeing. It does not negatively reflect on your primary connection or his/her love for you.
• View your partner connection with a third party as a vehicle for your mate’s personal happiness. He/she is more likely to be a better adjusted and more consistently stable in his/her primary relationship with you.
• Realize that your wife’s friends help support and strengthen your marriage as they encourage your wife to appreciate you more fully.
• If your partner’s friendships evoke feelings of fear, rejection, threat, exclusion, insecurity, or un-lovability, look into yourself for the source of these unwarranted emotions. Tell your partner what you need in order to feel more secure in your mutual love.
• Regularly exhibit your enthusiasm, support and interest in your partner despite the small daily frustrations. Being valued opens the heart and mind to a more fluid and secure love.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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