If you asked any married person who the most important person in their life is, the large majority of these would name their spouse. No surprises there.
So we move on to the next question – who are the other important people in your life? And this is where it gets interesting.
Because how this question is answered can potentially predict how satisfied you are in your marriage.
Friendship is a highly important element of everyone’s lives, and we tend to really suffer without it. In fact, the strength of someone’s social connections is the biggest predictor of their general happiness.
Having friendships is beneficial for both your physical and mental health.And friendships, both shared and individual, are also highly beneficial to the health of your marriage.
When you get married, your husband or wife often takes on the role of your best friend – which is a great thing.
It makes sense that especially in the early days, your individual friendships may need to take a back seat as you and your spouse start setting the foundations of a life together.
And no doubt, friendships can be hard to maintain after marriage. Your priorities can change, and especially when children come along, there is usually time for little else.
But there are times when you do still really need your friends. And maintaining friendships throughout your marriage can really boost your marital satisfaction. Here’s why:
1. Having friends takes the pressure off each other
Marriage can get pretty lonely when you are relying on each other for all of your social stimulation and emotional well being. This is where you can get sick of each other and end up bickering all the time. Because living with one other person 24/7 can be HARD.
Having the support of friends means that you and your spouse aren’t relying on each other to meet each other’s every emotional need 100% of the time.
Just because your spouse is the most important person in your life, it doesn’t mean that you ONLY need them. Even though you may sometimes feel you have it all, with your spouse and children (if you have them), you may be really cutting yourself short in the long run if you let your friendships go.
Having social support outside of your marriage is beneficial to your mental health, and therefore can actually help you to cope with and work through marriage problems.
As one example, research has showed that people who have more frequent positive social contact with adults other than their spouse are a lot less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression.
2. Friendship allows outlets for venting and confiding
Sometimes our spouse is simply not the best person to help us with a particular problem. Or you may want to be able to get the perspective of more than just one person. Either way, it is great to have friends to talk to if there is something on your mind.
Just try not to make your closest shared friends the ones that you confide in with any marital troubles. If you feel you need to talk about these with someone, try instead going to one of your more personal friends.
This way, they can shed light on the situation, but won’t be as divided in their loyalties or affected negatively by hearing about any problems that are present in your marriage. Also, it makes it less likely for these issues to awkwardly be brought up during a social occasion.
Talking about relationship problems doesn’t have to mean that you are being disloyal to your spouse. Of course, if your spouse has specifically said or you KNOW that they don’t want something personal being discussed, then don’t bring this up.
But with someone you trust, it is okay to ask for a bit of advice on any general issues you are struggling with. As long as you maintain respect for your spouse and aren’t just using these discussions as a means to bag them.
3. Couple friends can act as good relationship models
One of the greatest benefits that couple friends have are acting as relationship role-models for you and your spouse.
Especially at the beginning of your marriage, where you may still be finding your feet, you can look to any friends that have been married for a while to help you to get your bearings.
For example, observing how these married couples handle issues such as balancing their work and love lives, raising children, taking care of their parents, and resolving conflict. Through these observations, you and your spouse might learn more effective ways of interacting and solving problems.
Married friends can shed light on relationship or parenting situations, as they are looking from an outsider’s point of view. They can also offer shared stories and support, as they may be going through some of the same marriage troubles you are facing, or have experienced these in the past.
There can be nothing more relieving than being able to laugh with good friends about how helpless you all feel trying to get your children to go to bed at night. This release of tension can give you the strength you need to keep trying.
It can be a real relief to find out that you aren’t the only ones out there facing difficulties (because believe me, you’re not).
4. Friends add flavor to your lives
Think of all the fresh ideas, novel activities, and perspectives friends can introduce you to. If you’re a parent, friends can allow you the relief of stimulating adult conversation which can give you a much-needed break from the child world.
You may have a variety of friends, who meet different needs and complement you in different ways. Whether they are friends who you can discuss deep emotional issues with, or ones you just have fun with, there is so much to gain.
For example, you might have some friends who you see often and discuss personal issues with, but other friends who you might just occasionally see at dinner parties, or go out for the odd walk with in the weekend.
You might also have shared interests with some of your friends that perhaps you don’t share with your spouse, or vice versa. Which again takes the pressure off your spouse to help you to feel fulfilled in this area.
For instance, you might like playing tennis, while your spouse really likes going to the art gallery. Rather than doing these together (if you really don’t enjoy this activity of your spouse’s), you can each have outside friends to do these with.
Another great benefit of having mutual friends is that you can go away on the occasional family or couple holidays together, rather than always just going away alone. This can make it a whole lot more fun for everyone, especially if you all have kids.
And later in life, when your children have grown up and you have the time and energy for socializing and pursuing your hobbies and interests, you will really find a need for these outside friendships again.
5. Couples who have more shared friends from different areas of each other’s lives are more likely to stay together
In fact, a recent Facebook study showed some really interesting research about relationships and mutual friends.
This study showed that couples who reported being ‘in a relationship’ were more likely to stay together if they had more shared friends from MULTIPLE AREAS of each other’s lives, rather than just more shared friends in general.
For example, being friends with some of your partner’s childhood friends, work friends, sports friends, and neighborhood friends, rather than just the group you hang out with together from your college days.
In fact, the couples who had a lot of mutual friends, but these friends were all from the same social group, were just as likely, or even MORE likely to break up than those who had few mutual friends.
Although this study was based on couples who reported being ‘in a relationship’, rather than married couples specifically, it still gives a good indication that having friends across multiple areas of each other’s lives is beneficial for relationship health.
This makes sense. Because if you and your spouse have just one mutual friend group, if things goes pear-shaped in that group it has the potential to have a more damaging effect on your marriage (or vice versa).
So make sure you and your spouse do both keep up individual friendships outside of marriage, and make an effort to get to know some of the different groups of people your spouse socializes with.
A note on opposite sex friendships
Opposite sex friendships is a topic which can lead to a lot of debate.
Friends of the opposite sex can be great as they may help to offer the perspective of the other sex on a particular subject, and in doing so help you to understand your wife or husband better.
But they can also be a sore point in relationships, especially if it is only ONE partner that has opposite-sex friends. For some people, the idea of their spouse having opposite sex friends can lead to a lot of jealousy.
For an opposite-sex friendship to work, the baseline rules are that it needs to be purely platonic (involve absolutely NO sexual attraction) and not be hidden in any way from spouses.
And if your spouse is NOT comfortable with your friendship with any opposite-sex friends, you need to respect their feelings and be prepared to distance yourself from this friend if necessary.
In fact, my general advice is to keep opposite-sex friends to those who are ‘couple friends’, and avoid meeting up with any alone, especially when you are experiencing marital problems.
It is usually not a good idea to confide about your marital problems to any opposite-sex friends, as this is often when boundaries can get crossed.
You may think I am being way too cutthroat here, and disagree with these ideas. But unfortunately, the hard truth is that a high percentage of affairs start through opposite-sex friends becoming close when one (or both) of their relationships is in trouble.
And when you want to save your marriage, you have to put your spouse first.