Now that we’re a couple, how do we handle friendships with the opposite sex? It’s a common question, especially when the relationship has begun to move toward the serious stage. Here are some guidelines to help you handle your outside friendships in a way that supports and encourages your romantic relationship, as opposed to weakening it or even tearing it down.
Communicate your Expectations and Desires
As in so many other aspects of a relationship, it’s crucial that you communicate well about friendships with the opposite sex. Talk openly about your expectations and desires, and about how you’d each like to address these issues. Think about your various friendships, and discuss together what roles you want them to continue to play in your lives.
If, for instance, you have a friendship that’s full of flirtation or sexual tension, you might decide to tone down that facet of the friendship. Or if you have a friend who is really good at encouraging you to be a healthy person or a good partner in your relationship, then you may decide to spend more time with that person.
Keep in mind, too, that some people tend to be more possessive or jealous and are uncomfortable with their partner spending time with someone of the opposite sex; whereas for others, that isn’t an issue at all as long as there is a strong trust between you. If the person you’re dating feels threatened by your friendships and wants to control you and claim your full and exclusive attention, watch out. As always, it’s important that you maintain your own sense of autonomy, even as you learn to join with this person you care about. These are all issues you’ll want to discuss openly with each other.
Be Protective of your Relationship
Spending time with friends is one thing, but if there are elements of those friendships that threaten your relationship, then you probably need to change some of the patterns in those friendships. Or you may need to end certain relationships entirely. If you are really serious about making things work in your dating relationship, then you might need to make some hard decisions regarding some outside friendships.
This especially applies when you find yourself wanting to be less than honest with your partner. If you feel compelled to hide or shade the truth, then be careful—you could be headed for a danger area. For example, you might find yourself saying, “I had lunch with some friends from work,” when really you had lunch with only this one person. That’s a dangerous trend to see creeping up in your relationship, so take steps to address it as soon as you notice it. That way you can protect your connection, build trust, and increase the odds that your relationship will develop into something strong and deep.
Find a Healthy Balance
You don’t have to choose between your commitment to your relationship and your commitment to your other friends. The key is balance. As we said before, a friendship that is likely to torpedo your relationship is a danger you should deal with right away. And that goes for any friendship, whether it’s with a man or a woman. But as a general rule, outside friendships are good for you and even important, since it’s not healthy to depend on one person to meet all your needs. Friendships can feed and nurture you, making you a better individual as well as a better partner who can bring even more to your relationship.
Set Ground Rules
We can’t tell you exactly what boundaries you should set regarding this area of your relationship. But it’s a good idea to establish basic principles that guide your interactions with outside people. That way you can maintain your external friendships, but do so in a way that doesn’t threaten what you have with each other. Here are some examples to get you started thinking about these ground rules:
• Prioritize respect in your relationship. This is key to a good relationship in so many ways, but especially in this area. Promise that you’ll treat each other respectfully, whether you’re together or apart.
• Don’t be overly critical of your partner to someone who might take it the wrong way. Criticism of a partner can open a door that leads to danger, since your friend might interpret your complaint as an invitation for them to fill a more significant role in your life. The same goes for sharing struggles or problems you’re having in your relationship. Of course it’s important that you find healthy ways to talk about and process your emotions and troubles. But choose your listeners carefully, so a friend doesn’t take what you’re saying as a signal that you’re looking for more than a friendship.
• Agree to a general attitude of honesty within your relationship. This ground rule can cover a lot of bases. For instance, you two might agree that you won’t share something with an outside friend that you wouldn’t share with each other. Or maybe you establish a rule that you won’t keep secrets from each other regarding what you’re doing with—or how you’re feeling about—another friend.
Be Flexible and Willing to change as the Relationship Progresses
Again, all of the above are merely guidelines to help you think through how you want to handle this important area of your relationship. So don’t be rigid about these or any other “rules” you set up. Instead, recognize how important it is to be able to adapt to changing situations and relational dynamics. Over time, as your level of commitment progresses, you may want to periodically revisit your conversations regarding the roles others have in your lives. That way, your relationship can be guided by certain principles about how to interact with people of the opposite sex while allowing you to adjust as you grow together and as your relationship evolves.