Why is it that so many of us neglect or forget our friends when we get into a relationship? Whether it’s the quality or the intensity of our friendships that change, we often see friends less frequently, or we no longer make new friends when we’re involved in a serious romantic relationship.
Relationships Change Us
Granted, being in a relationship changes things. People’s interests can sometimes change. Our needs are not the same. We may not want to go out partying or socializing as much, or our reasons for socializing may change. In the beginning of a relationship, many couples withdraw from friends to be able to spend more time with each other. While these changes are understandable, and may even serve an important function in the beginning stages of a relationship, if a couple remains isolated for too long problems usually arise. People start to feel isolated, miss their independence, and often misinterpret this to mean that there is something wrong with the relationship, when all they need is more independence.
Do You Still Need Friends?
Some people in relationships say they no longer need separate time with friends. They prefer to socialize with other couples and have only mutual friends. Some feel that their partners meet all of their emotional needs, so why have other close relationships. Others feel that their work and relationship take all of their emotional energy, and they have little left for friends. Some people avoid independent activities because they worry that they would be tempted to stray.
Relationships often lead to changes in priorities, interests, friendships, and social activities, and this is to be expected. However, relationships do not eliminate our need to meet new people, to get together with friends on our own, to feel close to and have fun with other people — to be independent without the relationship being threatened.
Why Does Independence Feel Like a Threat?
Some gay men and lesbians in monogamous relationships are convinced that other people are a threat to their relationship. Those with more open relationships can also feel concerned that other friendships may threaten their relationship. Ask yourself the following questions:
Are you afraid that if your partner goes out socializing that they may have sex with someone else, and eventually leave you?
· Do you always want to be included when your partner goes out with friends?
· Do you have trouble understanding why your partner would want time alone with friends?
· Do you not trust others to respect your relationship boundaries? If you are in a monogamous relationship, are you worried some people may come on to your partner?
Do You Trust Your Partner
If you trust your partner and feel secure about yourself and in your relationship, it probably would not bother you when your lover sees friends, or when someone flirts with her/him/them. It could feel disrespectful if someone comes on to your partner, but it won’t be a big issue for you because you trust your partner to handle it well.
If you feel insecure about yourself or your relationship, or you don’t trust your partner, it may feel threatening when your partner goes out with friends. There are many reasons why people feel insecure, and lesbians and gay men have the added burden of heterosexism and homophobia to contend with. It is very hard to feel secure in a world that denigrates our sexuality and relationships — a world in which many are forced to hide their love and are even killed for being gay. Lesbian and gay relationships often receive little or no support, sometimes even our own community isn’t supportive.
Other reasons for feeling insecure include hurtful experiences in childhood and past relationships. If your feelings of insecurity predate your relationship, you may want to see a counselor rather than have them interfere in your relationship.
If your relationship is going through a difficult time, that can lead to insecurity. You may want to try couples counseling. You may also find keeping a journal, talking to friends and your partner, and reading relevant books helpful.
Whatever the source of your insecurity, it’s important to look at the deeper issue, and not get stuck on the events that trigger your insecurity. If you focus on your partner seeing friends when that’s not the deeper issue, you will only end up alienating her/him/them.
If you don’t trust your partner, you may want to talk to her/him/them about that, and see how you feel about her/his/their response. An important question is whether or not your partner has given you reasons to not trust her/him/them. It’s really important to distinguish between any fears coming from your past, and fears arising from untrustworthy behavior on the part of your lover.
An Affair to Remember
If you have a monogamous relationship and your partner has had an affair, both of you will need to spend a fair amount of time dealing with the aftermath. If your partner has had an affair, it’s not a solution to restrict or be critical of your partner’s friendships or independent activities. It will only anger and upset both of you.
The real issue is that you do not trust her/him/them anymore. You’ll need to find ways — that work for both of you — to help rebuild trust again. Sometimes an affair will trigger feelings from past experiences unconnected to your partner, and it all gets mixed up together. The one who didn’t have the affair may need additional support that a partner may not be able to provide. Again, counseling can help here.
Other than monitoring or restricting your partner’s activities, maybe there’s something else that could help you feel more comfortable with your partner seeing friends. For example, after an affair some couples agree that they will not see the person they had the affair with for awhile, or in the case of a one night stand that they will not go to the bar where they met. Be creative negotiating back and forth what works for both of you, and be clear about how long this arrangement will last.
While it’s important to trust your intuition when you suspect that your partner is having or had an affair, sometimes what we think is intuition is really fear or insecurity. If you truly believe that you can’t trust your partner, and you’re not satisfied with your partner’s responses to your questions, you may want to reconsider your committment.
What About a Close Friendship with an Ex?
Some lesbians and gay men feel fine about their partner seeing friends independently, but may feel threatened by a particularly close friendship, or by an ex-lover. This can be hard to deal with. It’s important to talk about your feelings with your partner, and hopefully s/he will be able to hear and reassure you. Again, the issue is not about the friendship, but about your wanting to feel close to and secure about your own relationship. This can help you feel more comfortable with their friendship. Maybe you need to spend more special time together? Even if your partner has a strong connection with, or some sexual feelings for another person that doesn’t have to threaten your relationship. The more you focus on it, or give your partner a hard time about it, the more likely it is that the two of you will argue and you’ll continue to feel insecure.
Going to Extremes
Just as people can be too dependent on one another in a relationship, people can be overly independent as well. Both will create problems in a relationship. If there is too much separateness in your relationship, you may want to focus on spending more quality time together and talking more personally. When people are overly independent, some friendships can feel threatening because they may have more emotional intimacy. Here again the issue is not the friendship, but that you want more closeness with your partner. Find ways to do that.
Some people believe that their partner’s friendships are an indication of something missing in their relationship, as though they should be able to meet all of their partner’s needs. No one can meet all of another person’s needs. In fact, seeing friends can improve your relationship. Having enjoyed an evening with a friend, your partner will feel happier and revitalized which can benefit both of you, especially if you don’t give her/him/them a hard time about it.
Sometimes underneath insecurities and jealousies is the belief that if your partner really loved you, s/he’d love only you. You might think that if your partner goes out with a friend when you’re free, s/he’s choosing the friend over you. This is a misunderstanding about love. Everyone is capable of loving a number of people at the same time. The choice to see a friend is just that — a decision to see a friend. It is not a competition with you. So don’t make it into one by giving your partner the third degree or by guilting her/him/them. Instead, encourage and support your partner to see friends, and do the same for yourself. If you feel insecure, talk about it. You may find that rather than threatening your relationship, seeing friends leaves both of you feeling better about each other.
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