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 for helping you to 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 each like to address these issues. Think about your various friendships and discuss together what roles you want them to continue to play your lives.
If, for instance, you have a friendship that’s full of flirtation or sexual tension, you might decide to tone down this 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 this person.
Keep in mind, too, that some people tend to be more possessive or jealous and are uncomfortable with their partner spending time with people of the opposite sex; meanwhile, for others, this isn’t an issue as long as strong trust exists 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 want to discuss openly with each other.
Be protective of your relationship:
Spending time with friends is one thing, but if elements of these friendships threaten your relationship, you probably need to change some of the patterns in these friendships. Or you may need to end certain relationships entirely. If you’re serious about making things work in your dating or intimate relationship, 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, 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 you really had lunch with only this one person. This is a dangerous trend to see creeping up in your relationship, so take steps to address it as soon as you notice it. In this 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 member of the opposite sex or not. But as a general rule, outside friendships are good for you and are even important, as it’s not healthy to depend on one person to meet all of 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. In this 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:
Be flexible and willing to change as the relationship progresses:
Again, all of the above are merely guidelines for helping you to think through how you want to handle this important area of your relationship. 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. In this way, your relationship can be guided by certain principles on how to interact with people of the opposite sex while allowing you to adjust as you grow together and as your relationship evolves.