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What to Do When Friends Are Hurting Your Marriage

While friends are a good thing, how they impact your marriage matters.

So, your wife has that one friend you think she always wants to talk about your problems with? Or your husband has a buddy that you think he wants to spend more time with than you? Have you ever felt that friends get in the way of your marriage? Friendships are essential, but they can interfere with your marriage if you’re not careful. By the way, your marriage is a friendship that should always come first.

But what do you do if friends are hurting your marriage? Do you demand that your spouse ditch the friends? Do you isolate your marriage from your friends? Let’s not get too drastic yet. 

In the Early Years of Marriage Project, researchers found an interesting relationship between friendships and the success of a marriage. Friends have a powerful influence on romantic relationships, both directly – by providing or withholding approval or support, and indirectly – by acting as a sounding board for marital problems. The approval of friends and family members is a strong predictor of a relationship’s quality and stability.

So, what can you do when you don’t like your spouse’s friend? Here’s some advice from experts.

Acknowledge that friends are influential on your relationship, in both positive and negative ways. 

Identify the real issues and talk about them. If you don’t like your spouse’s friends, ask why? Do you miss your spouse? Do you feel betrayed because they are confiding in someone else? Are you jealous? Your issue with your spouse’s friends may be the result of a more significant, underlying issue.

Do an intimacy inventory on your marriage. Maybe your spouse isn’t feeling emotionally connected in your relationship, so they seek it through a friendship.

Reframe your feelings. Don’t get stuck on the negative. Focus on the positive. What does the friendship add to your spouse and your marriage that’s positive?

Don’t issue ultimatums. If you don’t like your spouse’s friends, you don’t have to spend time with them. If you are confident that a friend is hurting your marriage, you should have a thoughtful discussion with your spouse. Issuing ultimatums without discussion puts your spouse in a challenging position. Open up to them about the issues you see.

A little caveat here regarding opposite-sex friendships: You and your spouse should definitely discuss boundaries when it comes to these. This can take the above advice to a deeper level. Opposite-sex friendships can cause the most damage to a marriage. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have them; I’m advising you to exercise extreme caution – and that’s a conversation with your spouse.

But, what if your friends are the issue? Here are some thoughts from the experts.

Come clean with your friend. If you’ve been complaining about your spouse to your friend, you need to let them know they are only getting one side of the story. Commit to refocusing the conversation with your spouse. Own that you’ve been confiding in a friend when you should be coming to your spouse with issues you see.

Ask yourself, “Is my spouse right about this friend?” If your spouse wants what is best for you and is looking out for your best interests, take the time to consider their concerns. Maybe your friend is divisive or a bad influence. Maybe your friend doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Reassure your spouse that they are your first priority. Your relationship is your most significant friendship. Make sure your spouse knows you feel that way.

Friends should have a positive impact on you and your relationship.

It’s essential to nurture your marriage and ditch friends that hurt your marriage, but if you need to remove friends to have a healthier relationship, it’s best to make that decision together.

Other resources:

How To Talk To Your Spouse About Opposite Sex Friends E-book

I Don’t Like That My Spouse Has Opposite-Sex Friends

Are Opposite-Sex Friends OK?

Sources: 

Are Your Spouse’s Friends Interfering in Your Marriage?

“I Love You, Not Your Friends”: Links between partners’ early disapproval of friends and divorce across 16 years

Social Contexts Influencing Marital Quality

Social Networks and Change in Personal Relationships

So, what do you do if you think your spouse’s friends are hurting your marriage? 

It’s essential to proceed with great care. Your goal is to voice your concern in a way that’s respectful to your spouse. How you approach the subject can move you toward resolution or, in the opposite direction, toward conflict. 

Proceeding with care means you need to ask yourself some crucial questions before talking with your spouse about it. 

What exactly am I seeing, hearing, and experiencing that makes me feel this way? 

  • Can I name something specific which makes me think my spouse’s friends are bringing harm to our relationship? 
  • What are my spouse’s friends’ marriages like?
  • Is this a new friend that concerns me?

Is what I’m seeing in my spouse’s friends hurting my spouse as a person? 

  • Have I seen this person have a negative impact on my spouse? 
  • Is it causing my spouse to be someone they aren’t? 
  • Do these friends care about my spouse’s well-being? 

Is there something going on within me (rather than my spouse) causing these negative feelings to be triggered? 

  • What are my own friendships like? Is there anything lacking that may influence how I’m feeling about my spouse’s friends? 
  • Am I taking care of myself? Am I trying to be my best self in my marriage? 

Is there something between my spouse and their friends going against what we stand for in our marriage? 

  • Do my spouse’s friends know how things work in our marriage? 
  • Do they openly support our marriage? 

Having a good, productive conversation with your spouse means you will need to consider the answers to some of these questions. The hope is for you to approach your spouse calmly and respectfully with your thoughts and feelings. Can you come to a common understanding of what is causing your sentiments and agree on how to move forward?

★ Here’s how to do that. 

Try to approach your spouse when neither of you is feeling stressed. It might help your spouse focus more on the conversation if you ask them to set aside a time to talk. 

Be specific with your spouse about what you’ve observed that concerns you. Use “I” statements to own your own feelings. People usually respond better when they don’t feel like they are being accused and put on trial. Approach the conversation with a calmpaced… voice.

This is the message you want to communicate: I’m concerned for you and our marriage because… [Avoid making blanket accusing statements like, “Your friends are ruining our marriage by doing such-and-such.”] Be sure to let your spouse know your ultimate goal is for your marriage to be as healthy as it can, and you don’t want anything to stand in the way of that. Acknowledge you realize how important it is for your spouse to have friends—but friends that are for you and your marriage.

This is important: Allow your spouse to speak about this subject. Naturally, they might be on the defensive; that’s okay. Simply hear them out and calmly reinforce your primary concern. 

The place you want to get to is the security that your marriage is no longer being threatened. So, you and your spouse need to come to an agreement as to how that can happen. 

  • Does a particular activity with friends need to be modified or stopped altogether?
  • Maybe time with friends needs to be limited?
  • Does my spouse need to have a conversation with their friends about what our marriage stands for?
  • Does my spouse need to distance herself from one of her friends?
  • Do I need to change something in my own mindset to help me feel better about my spouse’s friends? 
  • Do my spouse and I need to spend more time together? 

Friends are important. But they should never cause a problem for your marriage.

Take time to ask yourself the important questions and plan a calm, conversational approach. If needed, seek professional help to determine a solution, preferably involving both you and your spouse. Remember, these conversations aren’t always easy, and it might not all be settled in your first talk. Hard conversations, handled well, are well worth having for a stronger marriage.

How to Have More Meaningful Conversations With Your Spouse

What to Do When Your Spouse Lacks Empathy

My Friends Are Getting Divorced and It’s Affecting My Marriage

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Have you had to navigate this in your marriage? What suggestions do you have? Be sure to leave them in the comments section below!

Friendships are a valuable possession. Without them, you have an increased risk of loneliness. With them come connection and support. But what about when there’s a question mark as to whether the friendship is helping or hurting your marriage? 

Friendships can play a crucial role in the health of your marriage. I’ve had friends support my wife and me through some extremely difficult times. I look back and wonder how different our marriage would be if not for some of those amazing relationships. On the other hand, I’ve listened to friends do and say things that can cripple or sabotage a marriage. 

Just like a virus, your friends can spread their values, priorities, and attitudes. Research shows that the tighter the friend group, the more easily these things spread. This can be a positive or a negative depending on your friends.

Are friends important? Yes. Can friends influence your marriage? Studies have found that being friends with someone who gets divorced makes someone 147% more likely to get divorced themselves.

When you’re in that uncomfortable place of trying to determine if a particular friend is hurting your marriage, here are some things to consider.

  • Is your friend for your marriage? Are they for marriage, in general? Some people have a sour outlook on marriage; they are generally cynical toward marriage and have difficulty believing that it won’t eventually end in pain. Does your friend encourage you to turn away from your marriage or lean into it? 
  • How do they talk about their own spouse? If your friend is constantly complaining about their spouse, unless you are intentional about doing something different, it becomes easy to join in. Therapist and author Michelle Weiner-Davis says the more you complain about your spouse, the less likely you want to go home and be more loving to them. And while she was specifically talking about wives, the same is certainly true the other way around.
  • Are you discussing things with your friends you should be discussing with your spouse? It’s ok to bounce ideas off your friends. But this should never replace intimate or tough conversations with your spouse. 
  • Is your friendship helping you be a better person? Is your friendship encouraging you to be more thoughtful or selfish? Are they encouraging you to look out for you regardless of the impact on the ones you love? Yes, there are times when a friend must help you focus on yourself. Your good friends will help you be healthy, not self-centered.
  • Does your friend always take your side? Friends who only tell you what you want to hear aren’t going to help your marriage. Good friends of your marriage will help you better communicate with your spouse. Instead of saying things like that, “I can’t believe your spouse would do something like that,” they ask questions like, “Have you asked your spouse about it?” They use some discernment to help you see things clearly. 
  • Do they respect your spouse? Your spouse may not have been who your friend would’ve picked for you. Even amid the differences, friends should learn to respect your decisions and the differences between them and your spouse. After all, you married your spouse, not your friend.

As you reflect on your friendships, it should be clear whether your friendship is supportive of you being the best version of yourself.

Not just as a spouse, but as a person. Good friends can help you see whether you’re just trippin’ or if you’re missing something important. Overall, they should help you be closer to your spouse while also helping you know if you’re losing yourself in your marriage in a negative way. 

Don’t be afraid to make necessary adjustments to your relationships. As you go through different seasons of life, what you need from a friend may change. There’s nothing wrong with that. Letting some friends go can be helpful. Adjusting the amount of time you spend with friends may change. And holding tight to some friends may be imperative. 

In all this, keeping your marriage as a priority is a must. A friend that helps you do that is a friend that’s helping your marriage, not hurting it. The study, Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Unless Everyone Else is Doing it Too: Social Network Effects on Divorce in a Longitudinal Sample did discover something extremely hopeful. “Interestingly, only outside support from friends and family predicted marital success in the time period examined.” 

My Friends Are Getting Divorced and It’s Affecting My Marriage

Can A Friendship Make You Thrive?

3 Keys to Deeper Friendships

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

We expect things to be different after marriage, and one of the more difficult changes is in our friendships, and especially our opposite-sex friends. Often, while we share similar stages of life with our friends, your marital relationship should be the primary relationship. It’s pretty likely that you and your spouse want what is in the best interest of your marriage. 

Many couples bring a variety of things into the relationship—including that comfy couch from your bachelor pad or that well-worn t-shirt or sweatshirt, mismatched plates, cookware, and friends of the opposite sex. While it may be easy for you all to decide what old items to discard, it becomes much more difficult to have the conversation with your spouse about ending and/or adapting long-standing or even newly-established opposite-sex friendships. These innocent friendships often create a rift between spouses, especially when our spouse sees the relationship as no big deal but there is something in your gut that makes you super uncomfortable.

If you find that you and your spouse are having more and more unresolved discussions about these “friendships,” you may be in the “Danger Zone.” In the Danger Zone, you and your spouse may find yourself: 

  • Emotionally disconnected from each other
  • Not communicating well
  • Having unresolved conflicts
  • Decreasing in physical intimacy

If you see, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, take heed. Dr. Shirley Glass, licensed marriage and family therapist, has found that “82% of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, ‘just a friend.’ The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love.”

How should I begin this conversation with my spouse? 

Ask Questions

Internal Questions:

  • Look at the person in the mirror.
  • What really is bothering me? Do I feel ignored? Insecure? Disrespected? Jealous?
  • Am I asking my spouse to look at their opposite-sex friendships while I have not examined my own? 
  • What about this relationship makes me uncomfortable?
  • Does my spouse share a past romantic relationship with this friend?
  • Does this remind me of something from my past relationships?
  • Do I know my spouse’s friend? Are they doing things for the friend that they won’t do at home?

Relational Questions:

  • What is the state of my marriage? Is it healthy? Do we laugh together? Play together? How well do we communicate? Handle conflict? How is our intimate life? 
  • Are we nurturing our marital relationship?
  • Have we talked about boundaries? Does my spouse include me in the friendship? 
  • Am I invited to go hang out together with the friend? 
  • Are we in the “Danger Zone?”

Once you have considered the above questions, find the right time and place to begin the conversation with your spouse. 

  • Use “I statements” (Speak from your own point of view—“I feel, I need, I think…”)
  • Be respectful 
  • Ask questions of your spouse
  • Actively listen to them
  • Being aware prevents you from approaching a slippery slope

Having this conversation is meant to create and establish relational boundaries that you both can agree on as well as be held accountable. Additionally, you should be open about how you feel about it when your spouse has opposite-sex friends, but do so in a controlled and positive way. Avoid opening an accusatory conversation because you’re feeling hurt or slighted. Choose to respond instead of react. Seek to understand your spouse and the situation first, then open the conversation as a way to strengthen your marriage. 

Being aware of the danger zone, paying attention to warning signs and being respectful of your spouse’s perspective will enable you both to be on the same page and do what is best for your relationship. This does not mean that you and your spouse can never have opposite-sex friends. No matter the difficulty, talking and being open about boundaries is necessary to build a strong, lasting relationship.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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As a young girl, I grew up in a neighborhood that was primarily boys. So, I played football, kickball, basketball and baseball with the guys. Throughout high school and college, I always felt comfortable around guys. They were like big brothers to me. I remember one incident when I was going on a date in college. The guy came and picked me up from my dorm. As we drove off-campus, my “brothers” surrounded the car to make sure that my date knew that I was to return to campus in the same condition that I left it. I remember feeling cared for and protected by their actions. As a result, I continued to foster and build these relationships with opposite-sex friends – until I met my husband and got married. 

I saw nothing wrong with having opposite-sex friendships after getting married. To me, they were purely platonic. However, my husband had concerns. After a discussion with him, I took a closer look at my past interactions with my opposite-sex friends—even the ones that I felt were like “brothers” to me.

Questions to Ask

I had to ask myself some questions about the state of these relationships and how they impacted my marriage. I found questions from Dr. Todd Linaman, therapist and executive coach, that I chose to ask myself.

  • Is my spouse aware of the closeness of this relationship?
  • Do I compare my spouse to my opposite-sex friend?
  • Has my spouse expressed concern about this friendship?
  • Have I ever ignored or resisted my spouse’s request to modify or end this relationship?
  • Is there a past romantic relationship or do you fantasize about a romantic relationship with your friend?
  • Is there any attraction (sexual/physical) to my opposite-sex friend?
  • Would I feel uncomfortable if my spouse had a similarly close friendship with someone of the opposite sex?

If the answer is yes or even maybe, I need to reevaluate my friendships by:

  1. Setting Appropriate Boundaries. I recognized that spending time with, sharing experiences, disclosing thoughts and feelings are ways to build intimacy. Prior to marriage, I may have shared my time and my experiences, as well as my thoughts and feelings, with my opposite-sex friends. Now, I realize that sharing like that should be primarily with my spouse. 
  2. Being Open To How Your Spouse Sees Things. It’s important to be open to your spouse’s concerns. Yes, this has been a long-term friendship. However, your spouse might see romantic overtures that you’re blind to. Take a moment and consider your spouse’s viewpoint.  Even if you don’t agree with it, you should respect their feelings. Remember, they only want what is best for you and your relationship.
  3. Building A “Friendship” With My Spouse. It may be sad to lose a long-standing relationship. However, making and creating time to build a friendship with your spouse can help fill the void. Explore your hometown for adventure and experiences. Seek out new interests together. Share thoughts, goals, and dreams with your spouse.

Our friend groups went through change when we got married – including our opposite-sex friendships. I have a great deal of respect for my husband because he never demanded that I give up my friendships. He only wanted me to do what was in the best interest of our marriage. I made some intentional choices when it came to opposite-sex friendships after marriage.

Looking back, I would say I have no regrets.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Pexels.com

Vice President Pence has been the subject of many conversations lately regarding his rule about not dining alone with a woman other than his wife. People have varying opinions on the matter. Some think it is a good rule; others say it is archaic.

Regardless of your opinion, plenty of research indicates that it’s worthy of our attention. Noted relationship experts – including psychologist and author, Dr. Shirley Glass, psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Haltzman, and Dr. Thomas Bradbury, psychologist and principal investigator of the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study – raise a red flag of warning regarding marriage and opposite-sex friendships.

In her book, NOT “Just Friends”, Glass says that most people don’t plan to have an affair. And, it’s faulty thinking to believe that attraction to someone else means that something is wrong at home. It IS possible to think someone else is attractive, even if you have a good marriage.

The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it’s important to make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. This is especially true when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse.

Many relationship experts understand that one of the most common pathways to an affair is when a man and woman who are “just friends” innocently begin to discuss their marriage problems. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.

Can opposite-sex friendships exist in marriage? It depends. Many enter marriage with opposite-sex friendships where they describe the person as “like a sister/brother,” yet their spouse seems uncomfortable with the relationship. What do you do with that? This is a question each couple must answer.

If you haven’t talked as a couple about how you can protect your marriage, these guidelines can help inform your discussion:

  • Establish clear boundaries. It creates great guardrails and shows respect for your marriage. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your marriage. You probably believe you would never be weak enough to fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. The reality is, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. A marriage where people believe they are not susceptible is perhaps the most vulnerable.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Talk with your spouse about how you can avoid creating walls of secrecy between you. How will you make sure you do your marriage work with your spouse? How can you avoid creating unhealthy attachment or dependency on someone else?
  • Be aware, and value your mate’s opinion. For example, a couple attended a party where the wife observed another woman flirting with her husband. When they left, the wife told her husband the woman was being flirtatious. With big eyes, he emphatically denied it. But after encountering the woman again, he agreed that she was indeed flirting. He thanked his wife for bringing it to his attention.
  • Recognize the danger zones. Sometimes people can be oblivious to tempting situations. Being on guard in social and business settings where alcohol is present (and spouses are not) may prevent unnecessary drama in your marriage. It’s common knowledge that drinking can impair judgment.
  • Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Have an open conversation about how behavior impacts your marital health. For example, images of Prince William drinking and dancing with another woman went viral. We don’t know what was really happening, but it left room for questions. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can’t hurt your marriage.

So, we all know what Mike Pence has chosen to do in an attempt to safeguard his marriage. Perhaps the best thing we can do is focus on what is best for our own marriage. And let’s cheer others on to do the same.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on April 9, 2017.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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As people marry later in life, many are bringing long-term opposite-sex friendships into their marriage relationship. While the friendships were great during singlehood, in marriage, it can be hard to know if these opposite-sex friends are ok.

“I think it is OK for married people to have opposite-sex friends,” says Lisa Stewart. “However, I believe out of respect for your spouse that even if you were close friends before the marriage, there ought to be strong boundaries around that relationship.

“For example, I would not be comfortable with my husband meeting a woman for coffee on a regular basis to talk about what is going on in his life. That is a conversation he ought to be having with me.”

“It is possible for married people to have healthy opposite-sex friendships,” says Dr. Todd E. Linaman, founder of Relational Advantage. “However, give special consideration to a number of factors that, if ignored, can potentially threaten your marriage.”

Wondering whether or not a close friendship with someone of the opposite-sex poses a threat to your marriage? If so, Linaman offers 20 questions for you to answer. Here are a few of them:

  • Is your mate unaware of your opposite-sex friendship?
  • Would you behave differently around your friend if your partner were present?
  • Would you feel uncomfortable if your fiancé or spouse had the same quality of friendship with someone of the opposite sex?
  • Do you have a physical and/or emotional attraction to your friend?
  • Do you ever compare your mate to your friend?
  • Have you ever entertained romantic fantasies about your friend?
  • Do you and your friend ever exchange highly personal details about your lives or complain about your relationships to each other?

“If you answered ‘yes’ to one or more of the questions above, your opposite-sex friendship may be a real threat to the quality of your marriage,” Linaman says. “It may even be in the best interest of your marriage to either significantly limit or actually end your close friendship.”

An informal survey shows that both married men and women were uncomfortable with their spouse having close friendships with the opposite sex. Not all opposite-sex friendships are dangerous, but it is important to err on the side of caution. It is helpful to discuss the nature of your friendship on a regular basis with your spouse. If not kept in check, a totally innocent relationship could end up causing unnecessary harm to your marriage.

“I think it is OK to have friendships with the opposite sex. But I don’t share with other women what I haven’t shared with my wife,” says Will Honeycutt. “I think sometimes it is healthy to get input from another female. But on a regular basis I should not be sharing intimate issues with a woman who is not my wife.”

Here are Linaman’s tips to help you manage opposite-sex friendships so they don’t threaten your marriage relationship:

  • Develop and consistently nurture a “best friend” relationship with your mate.
  • Develop and consistently nurture close same-sex friendships.
  • Make sure your spouse knows your friend. Also, be certain your mate is completely comfortable with the type and level of interaction you have with him/her.
  • Honor your spouse’s wishes concerning your friendship – even if it means ending it.
  • Avoid establishing close friendships with opposite-sex singles.
  • Avoid close opposite-sex friendships if you are struggling in your marriage relationship.
  • Address unmet needs and unresolved anger in your marriage with your spouse in an open, honest and timely fashion.

While opposite-sex friendships do have the potential to create problems in a marriage, these friendships can enhance your relationship with your spouse if appropriate boundaries are in place. 

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***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***