How to Handle Friendships While in a Relationship
Relationships come with challenges that don’t exist when you’re single.
One challenge that’s particularly difficult is learning how to handle your partner spending alone time with their friends. And, in turn, learning how to handle spending time with just your friends, too.
Maybe one of you hangs out too much with others at the expense of your connection together. Maybe you or your partner spend a lot of alone time with someone of the opposite sex.
There could be some jealousy. There could be some stress about what could potentially happen. There could be some questioning of, why do they want to hang out with that person so much?
But these challenges don’t have to be problematic. They only become an issue when one of you feels like your needs aren’t being met or you struggle to trust your partner. So before you or your partner get caught in a tailspin of wondering about each other’s motives, you have to talk.
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Start by letting go of control
You first have to understand that you and your partner are different people. You can’t force them to be like you or be everything you want them to be. So you have to be willing to let go of the idea that you can control them.
Let’s imagine your girlfriend is hanging out with a guy friend. If you’re like me 10 years ago, that conjures all sorts of horrific imagery. You imagine the worst and fear they’re going to become attracted to each other (if they aren’t already).
You want to fix the situation. You want to take control. You tell your girlfriend that you’re not comfortable with her seeing that guy and want her to stop.
Usually, I’ve found that your girlfriend will listen. She cares about you and will sacrifice that connection to please you…for now
But eventually, your partner is going to miss that connection with her friend and with others. (It happened to me.) And there will come a point where her need for other connections outweighs appeasing your control.
She’ll start to feel frustrated, lonely, and trapped. She may resent you for forcing her to give up her friendships.
This will eventually cause her to pick a big fight or just see people behind your back. She needs her own friends. Some of them were around long before you. And the truth is, if she’s trying to cheat on you — she’ll find a way.
Being controlling is unhealthy and encourages your partner to rebel against you. In the end, it’s a wasted effort that causes MORE conflict and MORE long-term problems.
Instead, all you can do is express your boundaries, find a compromise that satisfies both of you, and see if your partner can respect that.
Figure out the ground rules and expectations
A lot of the time, insecurities in a relationship stem from the fact that neither of you communicated about what is and isn’t acceptable to you. You haven’t laid out your boundaries. You haven’t explained what constitutes cheating. You haven’t been honest about your limits.
You have to think through and eventually discuss your relationship expectations so you are both in the know. You need to figure out “the rules” because they’re different for every couple.
As far as friends go, though, I personally believe anyone should be able to hang out with friends of any gender. My wife has male co-workers that I personally know are good guys. I also know there’s nothing between them so I have no concerns.
From there, opinions may vary.
For example, you may feel it’s fine for your boyfriend to hang out with a female friend in a group setting or while doing an outside activity. But you may want to draw the line when he spends time alone at her house during the night. You’re worried she may get the wrong idea.
Physical cheating is an obvious no-no for most people. Anything more than a hug or a few kisses on the cheeks is generally too far. But again, check with your partner because you may have different expectations.
And what about dancing? Some people consider close dancing with someone else too intimate while other couples don’t mind.
Emotional cheating is where we enter more of a grey area. It’s fine to have deep talks with friends about life, fears, new endeavors in your career, etc. It gets more touchy when you’re constantly seeking emotional comfort and/or complaining about your relationship. Your partner should be the first one you go to instead of someone else.
Only when you and your partner both know the boundaries can you truly respect them.
Open up a dialogue
So now it’s time to have the talk. A productive discussion always starts from a place of acceptance and compassion.
Let’s pretend you’re concerned that your partner is spending too much time with their friends.
First of all, you have to accept it’s normal and healthy for them to see their friends. And it’s okay if they have to learn how to manage their time with all of the important people in their life, it can be tough throughout the course of a relationship.
Remember, you’re in a relationship for a reason – because you care about each other. So give them the benefit of the doubt and an opportunity to remedy the situation.
When speaking to your significant other, share your feelings in “I” statements rather than “You” accusations. It’s important to voice your concerns constructively without putting your partner on the defensive. You don’t want them to feel like you’re trying to be controlling or steal them away from their friends.
Remember that you’re not trying to “win” or make them feel bad. You’re trying to find the outcome that best satisfies both of you.
Reassure them that you’re happy they’re so close to their friends but you also want to spend more time with them. Tell them you want to work towards more of a social balance in the relationship. You just want to discuss expectations so there’s no miscommunication.
And when both of you DO hang out alone with other people, share those meaningful experiences. Let each other in. (Obviously, if you had personal moments or someone told you something in privacy — you don’t have to give that up.)
Getting defensive and leaving your partner in the dark encourages them to speculate and create stories in their own head.
When you let your partner into your social life (whether they are there or not) you build a deep level of trust. You show them you have nothing to hide and make them feel secure in your independence.
This conversation doesn’t happen only once, either. Open communication and sharing should be never ending in our relationships.
Along with these discussions, taking smart precautions can avoid unnecessary pain and conflict. Get ahead of these two common sources of conflict in couples…
Accept that all friends don’t have platonic intentions
Hanging out with friends gets really complicated when someone outside the relationship has feelings for one of you. When you spend enough time with anyone, there’s a chance they’ll develop a romantic interest.
Women, you need to accept there is a HIGH chance that your male friends want to hook up with you. Or at least they would if given the opportunity. That’s just how it is. When they’re flirting with you, it’s not necessarily “harmless” and can often be their way of testing the waters.
That goes for you too, guys. You shouldn’t be grabbing drinks with your hot co-worker because she flirts with you. Even if you think it’s innocent.
The worst thing you can do is downplay these suspicions to your partner. You cannot possibly be sure that your friend has saint-like, completely pure intentions when spending time with you. And telling your partner not to worry about someone who’s showing interest in you is the opposite of reassuring.
Instead, remind them that if anyone tried to make a move, you’d politely tell them you’re unavailable. And if someone couldn’t respect your boundaries, you’d walk away from that friendship to protect your relationship. Then actually follow through if it happens.
The purpose of a true friend isn’t to make you feel attractive or desirable. Keeping someone around because they give you that kind of attention is unhealthy.
You have to prioritize the love of your partner over the validation of others.
And reconsider why you’re spending time with an ex
If you’re fighting hard to hang with an ex, be critical of your motivations.
You and your partner should only be spending time with exes if everyone has genuinely moved on. But in order to figure that out, each of you has to dig in to your true feelings.
Ask yourselves honestly:
If you broke off the relationship because you were mistreated, disrespected, or cheated on…why would you want to be friends with that person? Are you trying to make them jealous?
If they’re the one who left you, are you just trying to keep them around to feel less rejected? Are you trying to get them interested in you again?
Would you ever hang out with your current partner and them together? If not, why is that?
What if your partner saw or knew the things you said and did with your ex. Would they be mad? Would you be scared to tell them?
If your motive to hang out with your ex is really about friendship, then that’s perfectly fine — just give your partner a heads up.
When your significant other feels like you’re coming from that place of acceptance and compassion, they are most likely to hear you out. Give them a chance to work towards a compromise and they may just surprise you.