Surround Your Marriage with Healthy Friends
Updated: Jun 3
With the arrival of COVID19, the world has been turned upside down, and it has affected all of us in different ways. For our family, it meant postponing a wedding ceremony that had been in the works for 16 months. I have watched how our wedding planner, my future daughter-in-law’s family and our family have come together to tackle these changes. We have all kept everything in perspective and laughed and cried our way through. We have chosen to be happy in the midst of all the chaos. When talking to one future bride recently, she mentioned how she had to take a break from social media during this time, because there was so much negativity that it was affecting her attitude. I was very proud of her. Instead of exposing herself to this toxicity, she walked away. My only comment to her was, “Very wise.”
In continuing with our marriage series, I want to point out that we need to take this same approach when it comes to protecting our marriage. It is important that we surround ourselves with healthy relationships that lift us up and do not bring us down. The Gottman Institute cites research that says couples who have friendships with other couples have better marriages. One reason is because, as individuals, we all have different strengths. This allows each person, and each couple, to learn from those around them. You might gain a better understanding on how others handle conflict by watching couples that do this well. You might pick up ideas in the romance department or how to be more intentional with your partner. Healthy friendships can enrich our marriages.
Just as our engagement with social media should be a healthy one, so should our relationships. As the young bride mentioned above, she had to cut out the negativity. To put this into very applicable terms in all our lives, when there is a virus circulating, how do we protect ourselves? We quarantine from the bad, and we keep our bodies and minds healthy and strong by feeding them what is good.
Our marriages are the same way. In order to help protect your marriage, you need to surround yourself with other couples who have healthy relationships. The Gottman Institute teaches couples to bring the good examples close while at the same time learning from the bad examples. We need to practice staying away from those that show contempt for their spouse, talk badly about each other or display a lack of respect for their partner.
One of my husband’s favorite phrases that he would tell the football players he used to coach was, “You are who you hang with.” Spoken in a little bit of slang, but we all clearly understand the message. We WILL become like the people we hang around. Imagine you are climbing up a ladder in order to reach the roof. There is a person on the roof that is reaching down to help pull you up. There is also a person below you that is trying to pull you down. Who will usually win this battle? It is the person trying to pull you down. It is much easier to fall than it is to reach new heights.
If you regularly hang around couples that tear each other down, talk behind their spouses back, demean their partner (even in the name of humor), this will affect your marriage. Best practices are to quarantine yourself from unhealthy relationships.
This can be hard, especially if these people have been in your life for a while. Maybe it’s a best friend who is now married, but their marriage is not an example of what you want your marriage to be. Do you cut off the friendship? In some extreme cases, the answer might be yes. Or, to use a phrase that is all too common these days, maybe you practice a little social distancing. Maybe you only interact with this person in larger groups, or you learn to keep this person at arm’s length.
Instead of seeing them once a month, maybe you reduce that to a few times a year. And when you do see this person, maybe you invite someone else to join you. Negative and toxic people tend to behave better when others are around. Your tag along friend will serve as a buffer.
If you have relationships in your life you are concerned about, you should ask yourself, “Is this person a friend of my marriage?” That simple question will reveal a great deal. Do they encourage me to make my marriage better? Do they remind me of all the wonderful qualities my spouse possesses? Does having this person in my life help my marriage to grow? Or, is the opposite true? Instead of pointing to the positive, do they take these opportunities to tear down my union? Do they speak negatively about my spouse? Does having this person in my life make my marriage worse? By asking yourself these things, you will very quickly see which one of these people is a friend of your marriage and which one is not.
Here are some questions you can ask to determine if your friendship is healthy or damaging to your marriage:
1. How much of your time do they take away from your spouse? Most of us do not have a lot of extra time in our day. If a friend is taking you away from your spouse, on a regular basis, that can be damaging. Time together with your spouse is where you build your marriage and learn how two become one. This does not mean your friend is a negative influence, but you might need to focus on spending more time with your spouse.
2. Do you confide in your friend things that you do not confide in your spouse? Do you run to your friend, first, with issues and problems, before going to your spouse? If so, you are developing a deeper emotional attachment with your friend. This can be dangerous.
3. Does your friend help you build a wall of protection around your marriage? If so, this is good.
4. Does your friend say things like, “I don’t like it when your husband/wife does x,y,z.” Or, a more subtle approach is if you are complaining about something your spouse has done (be very careful about this) to a friend, and your friend says, “You should not let him do that to you.” It may appear that she is supporting you, but by supporting you in this moment, she is tearing down your spouse. When you married, you took a vow to honor and cherish each other. You made a covenant with God. One of the promises we make is to protect each other. One way we do this is by defending the other. What an awful feeling if you cannot look at your spouse and say, “I know you ALWAYS have my back.”
5. Does my friend talk badly about her own spouse? If so, just remember the ladder example above. Misery loves company. This person will spend more effort trying to pull you down into their misery than they will trying to lift you up. Does this mean we never talk to our friends about our spouse? That might be unrealistic, and if we are surrounded with healthy friendships or mentors, then they can be a great resource for us. But we should be very careful. If you are having trouble knowing if you should share something, ask yourself, “If what I am about to say were being videotaped and played back for my spouse to watch, would I be happy with what I said?” This simple trick helps most people discern what is acceptable to share and what is not. Side note: this advice has nothing to do with counseling. In fact, we strongly encourage couples (or individuals) to seek like-minded counseling that can serve as an unbiased third party.
6. Does your friend like marriage, in general? This may sound like a strange question, but if you surround yourself with others that are soured on marriage, for whatever reason, then you have stepped into a virally infected area. You need to remove yourself from this situation. You want friends that love marriage and love your marriage and are willing to pour into the health of your relationship with your spouse.
If there is someone in your life that is causing division with your spouse, then that person might not be a true friend of the marriage. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel your spouse is the one being influenced by someone that is not a friend of your marriage, then you and your spouse need to have a heart-to-heart discussion. Approach the situation with kindness, love and a gentle tongue. You might be dealing with a longtime friend of your spouse, and you know it will be hurtful for your partner to take a step back from this relationship. Tell your spouse how you are feeling, and why you feel this way. Ask if they, too, see some of the things you are seeing. See if you can come to a better arrangement where this person is involved. If the situation becomes too toxic, and you and your spouse just are not seeing eye-to-eye, my recommendation would be to seek out a counselor that can guide both of you to a healthy result.
Couples will, on occasion, resist reducing time with bad relationships, even if they know they are bad. Sometimes this is done because they fear they will have no friends left. We are here to say, it’s better to have no friends and a healthy marriage, than bad friends and an unhealthy marriage. If you find yourself in this situation, where you feel you are starting over in the friendship category (or maybe you have moved to a new city and really do need to begin building from scratch), here are a few suggestions to cultivate intentional and healthy relationships.
You and your spouse need to create a list of what you enjoy doing, and what you would enjoy seeing in new friendships. Then, figure out some steps you can take to be intentional in finding these new friends.
An example of things you enjoy might be dancing, tennis, theatre. Some ways you can take intentional steps to find these friends might be: host a dinner party; attend a bible study class; take community dance lessons; form a dinner group with other foodies; volunteer for philanthropic causes you support; join a sports league; form your own hobby group (chess, movie club, wine tasting).
It takes a while to forge new relationships, so be patient, and don’t give up.
Keeping with the viral mentality we all live with today for our physical health, your marriage should follow the same guidelines:
a. Keep your body and mind healthy by what you feed it. Keep your marriage healthy by surrounding yourself with strong relationships.
b. Keep the toxins away from your body by not consuming harmful things. Keep the toxins away from your marriage by not feeding on toxic people.
c. If you cannot maintain good health by enacting a and b, then you may need to take the more extreme step and quarantine. In marriage, we quarantine by cutting out poisonous relationships and by putting boundaries around our marriage. Boundaries keep the bad out and the good in.
If you find you have people in your life that are not friends of your union, taking these steps can be painful in the short term, but in the long run your mind, body, spirit and marriage will heal and thrive.
Together with you,