When Are Outside Friendships Ruining Your Marriage?
Having friendships with individuals and other couples is healthy for married couples.
We should all have a variety of people to engage with socially and consult for advice. Your best friend doesn’t have to be your partner’s best friend, but if your spouse can’t stand your BFF or vice versa, it’s going to create some tension.
So, how do you know if one of your friendships is negatively affecting your marriage?
1. Your Spouse Thinks Your Friend is Toxic
If your spouse has seriously negative feelings about one of your friends, you cannot ignore it. If the person who you’ve committed to as a lifelong intimate partner expresses this level of concern, failing to take their advice will damage your relationship.
Allow your partner to explain why they dislike your friend, and discuss options for handling the relationship.
As someone on the outside looking in, and someone with your best interest in mind, your spouse may be able to identify unhealthy behaviors that you’ve just accepted as part of the friendship. If you have a friend who frequently manipulates you, takes advantage of your kindness, or uses you as a dumping ground for their negative emotions, that likely won’t play well with your spouse.
Avoiding the conversation with your spouse or defending your friend’s bad behavior will lead to conflict in your marriage.
Especially if it becomes clear to your spouse that you are more loyal to your friend than you are to them. If you find yourself squabbling with your partner about a friendship, you’ll need to come to an agreement about how this friendship fits into your life. You will likely need to set boundaries with your friend, and let them know that you can no longer tolerate their destructive behavior.
If they can’t respect that, you may have to walk away.
2. Your Friend Doesn’t Approve of Your Marriage or Your Marital Culture
Adjusting to life as a married couple takes time. Even couples who’ve dated for years find life after the wedding is different than they imagined.
However, eventually, couples slip into routines and behaviors that uniquely mark their lives together and collectively make up their marital culture.
This culture is like any other with its own rituals, style of communication, foods, and distribution of roles among other things. Couples usually gravitate toward others who have similar cultures, describing the experience as “clicking” or “connecting”.
Having a friend who doesn’t approve of your marriage is kind of a deal breaker.
If your friend can’t support you in this major area of your life, their disapproval will become a source of constant conflict. If the issue is with your marital culture, there may be some room for compromise and acceptance. Communicate openly and determine what the issue is. If it’s something simple like public displays of affection that bother your friend, you may be able to take a break when they are around. More deeply held convictions that make up who you are as a couple may require some grace and understanding from your friend rather than an overhaul of your beliefs.
3. A Friend is Demanding a Level of Relationship Reserved for Your Spouse
A close friendship is a blessing and can be a safe place to process your feelings and talk about important things. However, friendship dynamics may change after marriage, and it’s natural to begin going to your spouse to talk about many of the things you used to communicate with your friends. You may even decide to share most things with your partner first and just recap with your friends.
Healthy friendships can handle this shift, even if it takes a period of adjustment. The line begins to grow blurry however, when a friend becomes jealous, resentful, or competitive of your spouse.
Good friends will be understanding of the changing dynamic of your relationship, even if they grieve the loss of your exclusive attention. Toxic friends will punish you for not meeting their relational demands, and they will try to make you feel guilty for being devoted to your spouse.
Removing Toxic Friendships from Your Life
If you’ve given your friends the benefit of goodwill, and talked through the changes brought on by your marriage, you should be able to step into a new and healthy era of friendship. Your connection with your spouse may even help your friendships become healthier as they offer perspective and help you communicate better with your friends.
But if you’ve clearly identified that your friendship is unhealthy and there are no signs it will improve, it may be time to move on.
Letting go of a friend is never easy, even if walking away from their destructive habits frees you from emotional pain. I’m not even sure you can un-love someone who you’ve cared about and invested in relationally. When friendships end, it is rarely mutual and positive, so you will have to trust your decision and be as respectful as possible.
Developing a Friendship With Your Spouse
Healthy marriages are marked by a strong friendship between partners. They have fun together, communicate openly, and want what’s best for each other. They aren’t greedy or possessive, and they support their partner having all kinds of friends. They love spending time together, but they also see the joy that outside friendships can bring to their partner and their relationship.
Partners who are good friends will also help you identify the people in your life who aren’t good friends.
They may do it verbally, or you may just start seeing the contrast between the way they care for you and the way an unhealthy friend tears you down. Either way, your marriage can provide a safe place to process outside relationships and a safe haven when you have to remove a toxic friend from your life.