Remember those days when you first met your spouse and everything felt like springtime? Those initial months were full of all the best firsts—first dates, first smooches, first adventures, and of course, the first time you introduced him or her to the other “loves of your life”—your besties. In an ideal world, your pals like your partner just as much as you do, and vice versa. But when they don’t? It can wreak havoc not on the friendships, but rather, on your marriage, according to a new study.
For the study, researchers followed 355 heterosexual couples to determine the impact of friendships on marriage after 16 years. None of the couples was interracial, to rule out race as a potential source of tension). What the researchers found was fascinating: In white couples where the husbands liked their wife’s friends, 70 percent of couples were still together by the end of the study. However, in white couples where the husbands didn’t like their partner’s pals, only 50 percent remained together. For black couples, liking the friends didn’t seem to impact the relationship.
What do psychologists think of this theory? Sex and relationships therapist Courtney Geter, LMFT, CST says that connecting friend groups is an important aspect of a relationship, and not getting along with one another’s tribe can lead to arguments. “It is typical for spouses to bring up friends in conversations. If your husband makes a negative comment about your friends, you may feel unsupported or torn between two aspects of your life,” she explains. “If you don’t address your feelings and resolve the conflict, it could impact other areas of the relationship, such as enjoyment spent with your husband or even areas such as sex.”
The disapproval of your friend group is worse when it’s coming from your partner, whose opinion usually means more than anyone else’s. “This is the person that we love and trust the most, so their assessment of others around us matters to us,” says psychologist Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC.” We want to know that they agree that someone is a good person, that they are likable, and that they enjoy being around them,” she says.
One possible reason we may be bumping into this problem more and more in recent years is that dating patterns have shifted from in-person to online. So whereas we used to meet people at parties or through friends, where there was already a built-in connection and like-mindedness, increasingly we’re meeting people on dating sites and apps, where there’s no such framework.
This Internet lens can be tricky to navigate, as your partner gets to know your friends not at a bar or a BBQ but via their profiles and posts, which can be heavily curated. “Social media does not provide a realistic view of another person’s life, as they are posting the best-looking or most exciting pictures and status updates about their lives,” Geter says. “Since there is a screen between you and the rest of the world, humans are more likely to make comments they typically wouldn’t make in person or they can avoid conflict resolution with one click of a button or closing a window.”
So is your marriage doomed if your husband isn’t a fan of your BFFs? Definitely not, according to Geter and Martinez, but you might have to manage expectations on both sides. One key way to approach it is to have couple friends and individual friends, neither of which have to mingle.
In fact, it’s a good idea to have your own set of pals for support. “I encourage women to have friends outside of the couple relationship as well as hobbies outside of her husband’s interest. Not only does this allow distance for you to miss your husband, but it also provides opportunities for sharing when you are together,” Geter says. “Since you have your own personal friend group outside of the couple friend group, this may limit how often your husband is around those friends.”