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Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Marriage-Proof Your Friendships

They were there for you when you dated what's-his-name, and when you dumped what's-his-name. They leaped for joy when you got The Big Job and crossed their fingers when you went for The Big Promotion. They ooh-ed and ah-ed when he put a ring on it, and they bustled your big white dress before you took to the floor for your first married dance. These are your friends, and while they survived through thick and through thin, they sometimes bite it after "to have and to hold." So what gives?

Numerous studies have talked about the health benefits of coupling and the stability that a legal union brings, but the negative toll that marital bliss takes on friendships can be measured in more emotional ways. Want proof? If you're married, take a look at the people who were your bridesmaids and your groomsmen and ask yourself when was the last time that you talked to them, had a meal with them, shared a confidence with them.

If you're not pleased with the results of this walk down memory lane, you're not alone. A lot of us, both married and single, received bad advice. Newlyweds are expected to be sequestered in connubial bliss for the first year of marriage. Writing thank-you notes, finding a home for all of the wedding loot, and, of course, making mad, passionate love are what you're supposed to do. If you come out of your love den to attend the odd family event, you're greeted with knowing smiles and snickers, especially when asked "so, what have you two been up to?" You almost expect to see Benny Hill pop up and deliver a "hello, hello" in his best Cockney accent!

After the Honeymoon Year, the married couple continues to settle down, maybe buying a new home or beginning home improvement projects to the home they already own. I call years 2-5 The Project Years, which can include redoing a kitchen, a bathroom, an entire house. There will be many hours spent at Home Depot or Lowe's, as well as Benjamin Moore, and your kitchen table will become a repository for paint samples, floor and tile samples, and an Ikea catalogue, in case you scrap the whole DIY thing altogether.You're also supposed to be making mad, passionate love, but this is part of another project - making babies.

By the end of year 5, if you've successfully completed The Project Years, then it's time to raise your children with that newly remodeled kitchen/bathroom, or, if you haven't done so already, move into a more child-friendly home and/or neighborhood. Now it's at this point that you will meet other parents or parents-to-be, either in the neighborhood or at yoga class, and you'll become friends.

By now you should be asking, "But what happened to my old friends?"

The answer to that is complicated. If you had an amazing sense of timing, then you and your friends went through this cycle of engagement and marriage around the same time. But, if you're like most people, then while you were in the Honeymoon Year, your old friends, who were also following bad advice, were giving you your space.

Space. Let's think about that word. When people are in a romantic relationship and they say they need their "space", you don't have to be Phi Beta Kappa to know that you're at the end of the line. So if you say that you're giving your newlywed friend space, does that mean you're throwing in the towel on your friendship?

Well, sort of.

Let me explain. As the old friend, I am supposed to be understanding of the needs of my newlywed friends, and I'm supposed to amend my expectations for our friendship lest I be called "needy" and, worse, jealous of their coupled happiness. As the old friend, my job is to be undemanding, which means tossing out the unwritten rules of what friendship actually means. Phone calls, lunches, dinners, trips to museums, trips to the movies/flea market/shopping mall - these are all optional now. Don't get me wrong, these activities were optional before marriage, too, but they didn't feel optional. They felt vital. And at some point, your old friend finds a new friend - someone whom they can call without guilt or reservation. In essence, they hit the "delete" button on your friendship before you do.

Some friendships limp along with interactions confined to group dinners or holiday open houses with sprawling guest lists, and the quality of the friendship declines. Once the children begin to arrive, along with a move further out to the bigger home, then you're down to holiday cards and occasional telephone calls. But it doesn't have to be this way and here are some tips to help your friendships survive the marriage trap:

  1. Leave the Significant Other at home (or, "Guess Who's NOT Coming to Dinner) - You love your spouse, and your spouse knows that, so you don't have to spend every moment with them, and neither does your friend. Going out to dinner sans spouse might seem odd, at first, but if you want your friendships to grow and deepen, then you must provide for the ability of your friend to share new and fun experiences with you alone. I'm not saying that you can't invite your friend to a family dinner, too, but if you make that your only interaction, then you're making a mistake.
  2. Zip the lip (or, "Put it in the vault") -  I've never bought into the bunk that says that spouses must share everything with each other, including their friends' personal business. Why? Because, guess what, YOU'RE  MY FRIEND, NOT YOUR SPOUSE! A friendship is an intimate relationship which means it involves trust. If I know that you're blabbing away to your husband about what I've told you in confidence, then I'm not telling you anything more.
  3. Phone NOT Facebook (or, Don't "Friend" Me, Just be my Friend) - Facebook has made lots of things more efficient, but true friendship is more than efficiency. While you may post about your new car, don't forget to call your best buddy during the whole car-buying process. Think that something like that's too trivial to call and tell your friend about? Well, you just posted it for hundreds of other pairs of eyes - think about it!
  4. Let Your Friend Play Hostess (or, Su Casa, Not Mi Casa) - So you've got all of the pieces to your wedding china, as well as that Tiffany's serving dish and you can't wait to show them off, but if you want to keep your friendship from becoming a perpetual "away game" for your friend, then do them the courtesy of visiting them at their home. They love their home as much as you love yours. They have favorite recipes they'd love to cook for you. Let them, and love them for seeking to share this most personal part of who they are - their home.
It may not be easy, at first. Instead of giving each other space, think, instead, of redefining the space of your friendship.

I'm just saying:)

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