Good friendships have a positive and healthful effect on our lives. They make good times better and bad times bearable. It seemed easier when we were younger; common interests systematically pooled us with others like us, if only by age and aptitude.
Once we leave the sandbox though, friends become a little trickier to define and keep. Many people drop their friends as soon as they become involved with a potential partner, or spend all of their friendship time talking about their partner.
It is natural to get caught up in a relationship, especially in its beginning stages, so it is very important to stop yourself for a second and reflect on whether your friendships are suffering from lack of attention. I am not suggesting that a friendship should receive an equal amount of time as a love relationship, but I am suggesting that friendships are helpful in balancing your life by not putting too much undo pressure on your significant other.
Remember, just like “it takes a village to raise a child”, it takes friends to support a healthy love relationship.
People, most often women, give up their social life and exclusively focus on their love relationship, especially in the beginning. Remember that continuing to pursue your social interests helps to give balance to your life and make you a more exciting person. While love relationships are indeed important, if you give up too much of what makes you who you are, you can become overly dependant on your lover and thus less interesting. Balance is the key!
History and common interests is the tide that binds friendships. Often when you give up the friendship, you give up the interest. Many of my patients have friendships that go back to elementary school where they had shared good times, difficult times, and countless love interests. These relationships are priceless; these bonds can offer consistency and lifelong support.
Have I been seeing my friends less since I’ve been in a relationship with my partner? Am I over-involved in my partner’s life? Have I given up activities that I love? Do I pressure him/her to give up their other interests and activities? Is this affecting our relationship in a negative way?
The simple fact is: Too much of anything is a bad thing. If your partner is the only person that you’ve been seeing, communicating with, and spending down time with, then it is time to re-analyze your needs. Long term love relationships require space and balance. There are certain things that you may not want to discuss with your partner but wish to discuss with your friends, and vice versa. Sometimes you may want to talk about your partner or get another honest opinion before discussing something with him/her. There is nothing wrong with this. As social beings, we have a longing to share our thoughts with others. Often friends are able to relate to our experiences and offer a dose of reality.
If you have become totally engulfed by your love relationship, and spend little or no time on pursuing personal interests or sustaining friendships, you run the risk of overwhelming your partner and being minus close relationships in times of need.
There are a number of ways that you can maintain friendships, while sustaining a close relationship with your partner. First and foremost, assess if this is an issue for you. What created (or could create) distance between you and your friends? Does it have anything to do with your partner’s opinion of your friends? Are you perhaps afraid that she/he will feel neglected if you choose to spend time with your friends rather than him/her? Have your friends distanced themselves from you? If so, why? Once you answer these questions honestly, it will become easier to make adjustments.
One of the best things you can do to maintain your friendships is to be straightforward; not only with your friends, but with your significant other as well. Inform everyone involved that you are trying your best to maintain a full and balanced life and that you would like their support in this effort. Make it clear that you care about them, and that each of them play a unique role in your life. It is important to set priorities, and convey these priorities to both your friends and your partner. For example, if your friend wishes for you to spend the evening with her/him after he/she has gone through a bad break-up, while your partner wants to have dinner with you, maybe you will want to make it a late lunch or postpone the dinner for one day. Whatever your decision, be honest with all involved and most importantly, with yourself.
If you have been noticing that your friends are gradually distancing themselves from you, try to put yourself in their place. In other words, look at yourself from a third-person perspective. Do you tend to only talk about your partner/your relationship when spending time with friends? If so, do you give them equal time to talk about their issues? Be a good listener; your friend has a life too! Don’t focus only on yourself; hear what your friend is saying (and not saying). No matter how committed your friend is, they can become tired of endless discussion about your relationship joys or woes which can cause them to pull back and become distant. There are some basic criteria fundamental to a good friendship–
If you want one; be one. Make an effort to keep in touch: technology makes this easier but can’t do all the work for us. Technology cannot be the only source of communication: We need face time – some fun, some tea, a hug, a smile.
Like love relationships, friendships need nurturing. Remain connected and interested in your friends; don’t let your love interest totally consume you so that it prevents you from activities and people that you enjoy.
It does not take very long to realize that, when in a love relationship, the act of compromising goes beyond the two people involved. It extends into social circles, into families, and even into the relationship that you have with yourself. In order to maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, it is crucial to maintain healthy relationships with other people you care about, in particular, your friends and your relationship with yourself. Spending time with friends can provides nourishment for the mind and spirit, and this replenishment will forever reflects itself in all other aspects of your life.
Friends for Life
Special Thanks To My Research Assistant: Aisha Qadeer