We have all heard the phrase ‘recurring conflict;’ but, before I got married, I did not understand the drain they put on your relationships. Eric and I were both so excited about getting married. Like any engaged couple, we looked forward to the future and wondered where we would be in five, ten, twenty, and fifty years. We said our vows, exchanged rings, took our honeymoon, and then came home to…. life. It was not mystical. There were no magical forest animals around to help me with chores. The workday still came and went.
Perhaps the Disney-lover in me was disappointed that my fairy tale felt more like everyday life. Maybe I was disillusioned by how little time we spent together. Whatever the reason, I started digging my heels in and refusing to embrace one important aspect of married life: couple friends.
From the start, Eric wanted us to invest in couple friendships. He wanted us to have couples over to our house, go out to eat, attend events, and broaden our horizons. Me? Not so much. All I wanted to do was spend time with Eric and spend time with my established, single friends (and over fifteen years later, they are still single). At the time, my three closest college friends still lived nearby and we went out to eat every (literally, every) Saturday night. (For teenagers, Friday night is the best night of the week. For “old” people with less energy, Friday night is the night you crash, and Saturday night is the night you socialize.)
Eric dealt with it for a while. He would study, play video games, or watch TV. However, it did not take long for him to feel slighted. “Do you have to go out every Saturday night? Can we not spend some Saturday nights with other couples?” My insides bristled whenever the subject came up. No, I could not change the night. That is the night all my friends expect to go out. I cannot just change it up on them.
Well, in hindsight, I could have changed it. I could have cut back to twice a month. All three of them would have been willing to work with me. The real problem was with me. I did not want to make couple friends; in fact, I was afraid to make couple friends. Finally, Eric told me, “It is like you don’t even want to be married.”
My Saturday night friend dates went on for a long time – several years, in fact. Eric continued to deal with it, but the wound in his heart was growing. He needed friends too. He needed to socialize, probably even more than I did. He wanted to live as a married man, enjoying time with other couples in our same phase of life. Even now, years later, this topic still comes up. The wound, though not as fresh, is still there. We both look back at our first few years together with some significant regrets – some bigger than others. Refusing to make couple friends is one of my big ones.
So, why was I so stubborn? Why was the thought of making new friends so unappealing to me? Even angering and terrifying? A large part of me is still trying to understand.
Here are some of my thoughts:
- Insecurity. What is usually the main reason we hold back from letting others into our hearts? Rejection hurts. Stepping out into the unknown is scary when you are not secure in yourself, and I was very much not secure in myself. I wish I had recognized and worked on this before getting married (insecurity will impact your marriage significantly if you do not).
- Fear of change. In my small hometown, not much ever changed in my childhood. My parents, aunts, and uncles stayed in the same jobs for thirty years. My grandma was almost always home when I called her. We all attended the same church. Each Christmas, we celebrated in exactly the same way. For the most part, I knew what to expect from one day to the next – and I loved it! My desire for adventure and change did not kick in until I was well into my twenties. And, one of my constants growing up were friendships. In each phase of life, there was at least one dear friend on whom I could always depend. In fact, if my friends had not left for college, I might never have moved away. I liked the security of a familiar life. Marriage changed all of that. Suddenly, I am in a new house with a new man and he wants me to make new friends. My sense of normal was already so shaken. Making new friends, in a way, felt like leaving the real me behind.
- Fear of new people not liking Eric. This one is hard to admit. Eric is mine and I love him, but I was afraid other people would not. Have you ever had someone badmouth a person you love like a parent or a sibling? Did it crush you? I did not want to put my heart on the line with new people who might push us away. Eric and I are quite I do not speak up, even when I should; whereas, he does speak up, even when he perhaps should not. He is vocal and I am quiet. Sometimes his opinions and delivery are not received well by others. Couples not liking Eric was a genuine fear which kept me from pursuing friendships. His single friends liked him. My single friends liked him. Why rock the boat?
- Fear of people not liking me. This requires little explanation. Putting your heart on the line is hard. I was still getting to know the new, married me. Quite frankly, I did not like her all that much. What if people in this new phase of life did not like me as much as my childhood and college friends did? (See “Insecurity” above.)
- Couple friends require two sets of people to get along. One of my favorite quotes is from C.S. Lewis. “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’” When I made friends in the past, it was on my terms. I looked for people who were like me. Getting to know couples adds a whole new dynamic to the mix. What if the girls get along great but the guys do not have much in common? What if the guys hit it off, but the girls cannot keep a conversation going? What if the husband of one couple and the wife of the other has a ton in common, and the other two are forced to sit in awkward silence? Finding four people who like each other is harder than finding two. I am an Enneagram 9 and an ISFP – which means I avoid difficult situations, especially if it is emotionally draining.
- Emotional energy. At the time, I was still working a full-time job and going to school. By the end of the week, I wanted to settle into the familiar. My friends were familiar. I had very little social currency left to spend and meeting new people taxes my reserves considerably. Whereas, at this point in my life, it would not be a huge problem. Since I am home working during the week, I have some energy saved up for new experiences. Back then, I was running on fumes.
- Rebelling against marriage. Living with someone is not the same as being a unit. Because I had lived with my parents and roommates, marriage did not seem like much of a stretch; but, though I had lived with other people, I was not one with them. I was single and was used to operating like I was single. Having to consider someone else in my plans took some adjustment. On Saturday nights, I got to feel single again. I got to be me and only me. It allowed me to live as a pre-married person (though, I was not). And, in a way, I got to breathe. It feels like it helped my transition, but I held onto being “pre-married” too rigidly and hurt Eric a lot in the process.
So, in hindsight, I suppose there were several reasons I did not want to make couple friends. It is too bad I did not share my heart with Eric at the time. All he saw was my unwillingness (and there was that). And he saw my stubbornness (and there was that too). He inferred from my actions that I did not care about his need for new friendships (and by my actions, he was correct). I was fine, so he should have been fine too. (But, that’s not how marriage works.)
That was not my heart, but my fears and insecurities kept me so desperate to remain in my familiar bubble that I pushed against Eric’s needs for years. Years. Though I do believe he has come a long way towards forgiving me, I know it still bothers him when he thinks about the wasted time.
Thankfully (and very slowly), I have started changing my ways. Even though I still must force myself sometimes, I have made significant strides towards being more social with couples. It makes my heart happy to see Eric soaking in the fellowship. Spending most of my time at home during the week helps me gear up for those game nights and potluck dinners. ~smile~
Some of you probably read this and thought, “Wow. What was the big deal? Making friends is a great pleasure in life.” But, others of you read this and thought, “Yep, I get that.” If you empathize with my story at all, I am asking you to please not wait as long as I did to crack open that door. You can take baby steps. You can have escape plans. It is okay to have dinner with someone once and then lose touch if it does not work out very well. Not every couple is (read: most couples are not) meant to be your best friends.
If your significant other thrives on social stimulation and you do not, either decide now that you are incompatible and part ways or determine within yourself to meet him or her halfway.
Start thinking about your future as a couple. If you are planning to get married, start making new couple friends now. Talk about what you look for in friends. Dip your toes in or jump in headfirst. One way or another, be sure to cultivate community in your relationship and future marriage.
Have making friendships been a source of stress in your relationship?