Why It's Important for Your Husband to Like Your Friends
They say that you can’t have too much of a good thing.
But researchers say that having too many or the wrong kind of friends can devastate your marriage. Especially if your husband is the one complaining.
A groundbreaking, 16-year study at the University of Michigan confirmed this idea. Spouse's attitudes toward their partner's friends in the first year of marriage predicted divorce down the line.
The study, which tracked the marriages and divorces of nearly 400 couples since 1986. Researchers focused on how friendships affected couples’ relationships in the long-term.
Many people think of good friendships as stabilizing forces. The stuff of lasting marriage.
But the study found that friendships can be damaging marriage health. At least in some instances. Combine the wrong friendships with other damaging factors, such as the wrong career, and you have a recipe for trouble.
Specifically, researchers reported:
- Negative friendship perceptions early in a marriage are “powerful predictors of divorce.”
- Divorce is more likely in instances where men don’t like their wives’ friends.
- Disapproval with these friends is partially from a feeling that they are “meddling” in the marriage.
The bottom line is this: unsupported friendships can be a big part of the reason a husband files for divorce. This is true even if there are no problems now.
Knowing up front may help head off trouble. Armed with knowledge couples can create a stronger foundation for a stable marriage.
The Impact of Friendships on Marriage
“My wife has chosen her friends over me. This has been going on and gradually worsened in the last 3 years. Now she says she doesn’t love me anymore. My response is, you’re not going to love me, since you do nothing and don’t go anywhere with me anymore. She has been consumed by her friends. We have now separated.” - Anonymous
Many people consider friendships one of the benefits of marriage.
According to a 2017 study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, having a good network of reliable outsiders is good for your marriage. Social connections can increase your overall cortisol levels.
Elevated cortisol levels give you a sense of well-being and contribute to healthy brain function. Dr. Lisa Neff, the head researcher on the project said:
“We found that having a satisfying social network buffers spouses from the harmful physiological effects of everyday marital conflicts. Maintaining a few good friends is important to weathering the storms of your marriage.”
Still, the types of relationships and levels of time commitment matter. These levels can determine whether the relationship is healthy for the marriage. And also to the individual.
Social Media and Contagion
Social media can also be a problem. Researchers at the University of Texas Austin found a relationship with unhappy marriages.
Couples engaged in social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter are more likely to be unhappy. They are also more likely to contemplate divorce.
Even friendships that are not maintained by online means can have a significant impact. Any friendship can impact a marriage.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on how a divorce can affect close friends and family. They found that a person is 75% more likely to get divorced if a friend is divorced or divorcing.
The lead researcher on this Pew study, Dr. Rose McDermott, said that divorce can be a “social contagion.” This can happen with many socially-influenced decisions.
The more personal connections with those getting divorced, the more likely that a friend is to also consider divorce. Divorcing friends can prompt a re-evaluation. Especially if the friend shares similar attitudes, behaviors, and social standing.
Why He Equates Hating Your Friends with Disaster
“My wife's best friend calls early in the morning just because she misses my wife's voice and needs to talk to her to start her day right. She calls my wife at night as well and wants to fall asleep on the phone when I'm in bed with my wife.
Her best friend doesn't respect boundaries.
When I am home from work I want to spend time with my wife but her best friend still blows up her phone. I told my wife it's either me or her friend, but my wife tells me she will choose her friend.” - Anonymous
Men are driving divorce statistics related to friendships. This is a key finding of the University of Michigan study mentioned earlier. The study followed couples from the first year of their marriage to divorce or 16 years of marriage.
- During the study, researchers asked both spouses some key questions. They included:
- About how many good friends could you call on for advice or help if you ever needed it?
- About how many good friends could you, as a couple, call on for advice or help if you ever needed it?
- Does your (wife/husband) have friends that you would rather (she/he) not spend time with?
- How often in the past year you think things your spouse did with his/her friends interfered with your own married life—often, sometimes, or never?
They looked at income, children at the time of marriage, socioeconomic status and race. One of the reasons why men might be more prone to divorce is the perceived emotional value of female and male relationships.
Research suggests that male-male relationships (often activity-based) may be perceived as easier to replace than female-female relationships. Perhaps because women's friendships are often more intimacy-based.
Because of this, men may be more willing to give up friendships to maintain harmony.
But this surface-level harmony may end up fostering resentment. Male spouses may become frustrated with their wife’s deeper emotional connections with a disliked friend.
Eventually, this resentment can build into an ultimatum. “Choose me or your friend!”. At that point, the emotionally more complex, the deeper female-female relationship may win out.
Interference in Relationship Resources
Because female-female friendships tend to be intimate, husbands may the friend as a meddling outsider. Intrusion into affairs that should stay between husband and wife.
Cases, where dislike between the husband and friend is mutual, can produce a constant stream of negativity. This scenario can erode the female spouse’s emotional attachment over time.
According to the study overview, “Given that our exploratory analyses suggested that husbands’ later reports of interference partially explained the effects of husbands’ early disapproval on marital stability, our results do suggest that perceptions of the wives’ interactions with friends can play an intrusive and ultimately detrimental role in the marriage.”
Simply put, men often won't tolerate perceived interference.
A husband is more likely to use that interference as an example of why marriage is unsustainable.
Men May See Dislike of Friends as a Signpost for Disaster
Some research supports gender differences. While women often report more unhappiness in marriage, unhappy husbands take more steps toward divorce when they dislike their spouse's friends.
In the University of Michigan study, researchers concluded that “husbands may be more likely to perceive problems in their relationship stemming from disapproval of wives’ friends and more likely to act on these perceptions by seeking a divorce.”
Both women might more often feel unhappy in marriage. But men react strongly to dislike for friends. Or to displeasure with the amount of time their wives are spending with friends. They may view these unwelcome developments as a sign something is deeply wrong.
7 Ways to Stop Toxic Husband-Friend Relationships Before They Start
“My [husband] doesn't like quite a few of my friends - usually the ones that are my friends rather than our friends. But he knows better than to express that opinion to them. And I try to see them without him around.” - Anonymous
# 1 Be upfront
Discuss the importance of friends for both of you and make sure both of you know what that commitment means. Often, you may have legacy friends—friendships that are years or decades old—that are the root of marital problems.
It’s wise to talk about what kinds of relationships these are (old high school friends, ex-relationships, mentors, etc.). And what they mean to you emotionally as well as what kinds of resources these people take up in your life (time, energy, weekly meetups, etc.).
Even if you don’t agree on the value of these friends, at least you will have a clear place of understanding. Start by evaluating the core strains those relationships are putting on your marriage.
#2 Look below the surface.
Anger is called a “secondary emotion” for a reason. It is usually covering up a deeper, more private emotion.
Is your husband jealous of the time you’re spending with your friends?
Is he scared that you may be growing tired of his companionship?
Does he feel betrayed by the intimacy you are sharing with your friends instead of him?
Whatever the deeper feelings are that are causing the rift, they can be marriage-enders. Especially if they are not identified and managed early on in your relationship.
#3 Invest in connection.
One of the key issues, when a husband doesn’t like his wife’s friends, is that he feels that the friends are “taking away” his time with his wife. There are times when a rocky patch in a relationship will lead to a wife looking to outside supports to feel heard and valued.
Still, this can lead to a lack of intimacy and connection which makes the problems in the marriage worse and not better.
Regardless of how unintuitive it feels, it’s when you’re most disconnected from your spouse that you work to develop a non-judgemental, safe way to gain the emotional intimacy you need. From one another instead of an outside source.
#4 Evaluate Carefully
Evaluate the impact your friends are having on your relationship. Although it’s hard to do, sometimes it’s important to reflect on your spouse’s concerns.
Consider the time, attention, and energy that you’re putting into relationships that are not your marriage.
Do you have friends who actively resent your spouse?
Are you inadvertently contributing to the cycle of negativity between your friends and husband?
If your roles were reversed, would you want his friends saying or doing the things your friends are saying and doing?
How would you want to be shown that your marriage and the husband-wife relationship is the top priority?
#5 No ultimatums
Creating any situation where either spouse has to choose between a friendship and a marriage is a bad idea. Instead, emphasize that both relationships have value.
They are not mutually exclusive. Respect is the key, here.
When all parties are mature enough to respect the important role that the friend and spouse play in your life, they will be able to find commonalities. Simply because they both love you uniquely.
Prioritize your relationships. Marriage is a struggle. You have different needs, different backgrounds, and different values.
To make it work, however, you must both agree upon where to place your marriage relationship on that value pyramid. You should both identify that your marriage is the top priority. Then it may be easier to let go of corrosive friendships.
#6 Consider the end game
For most marriages, divorce is not the most attractive solution. But, as relationships become more and more fractured, it can become the only potential outcome.
For most couples, this step represents years of effort. They may first attempt but fail at communicating their feelings. Or may express themselves but feel their spouse doesn't value these feelings.
Consider how your close friendships may impact your marriage. Especially with people whom your husband doesn’t get along.
If these relationships are important, don’t be afraid to stand up for them.
But also be aware that if you don’t deal with the bad blood between the two parties early on, those negative relationships can fester. They could become a fissure in your marriage. that may be impossible to fix later on.
#7 Communicate and Prioritize
Communication is a vital part of every relationship.
Prioritizing your marriage together is a great first step. Create a plan to help you overcome issues that you both may have with outside friendships.
As long as your marriage is based on mutual respect, you can make it last for the long-term. Even if one or both of you don’t love the others’ friends.
But without clear communication and agreed-upon boundaries. Toxic spouse-friend relationships can be just another crack in an already fragile marriage.
Marriage is between more than just two people. Friends and family can help or harm a marriage.
With these tips in mind, you can reduce the chances your friendship will damage your marriage, right from the start. Setting and managing expectations is key.
How will you use these seven tips to head off problems in your marriage?
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