It’s a tale as old as time: social, adventurous extrovert (me) marries homebody, social minimalist (my husband.) We’ve been married nearly 10 years now, and so far, I’ve mostly solved our personality discrepancies by going on adventures by myself or actively pursuing friendships on my own. After all, loneliness researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University told CBC News that loneliness has a risk comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. I was doing it for my health!
But after moving to a new state, my base of friendships has dwindled, and I also find myself wanting to do more exploring with my husband since everything is new to both of us. How, then, to make new friends without eating at all the must-try restaurants without him?
Well, I realized, we could make friends with couples.
Beyond the convenience aspect of couple friendships, there are benefits to your relationship too. “You see your partner happy and interacting and that can bring out the best attributes of one’s partner,” says Dr. Geoffrey Greif, professor at the Maryland School of Social Work and the coauthor of the book Two Plus Two: Couples and their Couple Friendships. You may also learn from the other couple about how to be a stronger couple, he said. “In addition to the obvious fun couples can have together, these can also be problem-solving interactions that you have.” From how to deal with your kids to how to handle vacations to how to handle issues with extended family, having other couples as a resource can prove to be invaluable.
And the convenience of getting to socialize with your spouse and other people? That’s nothing to turn up your nose at. “The hardest thing for any one in a couple to sort out is how much time do we have for ourselves as a couple, how much time do I have to myself,” Greif said.
If you’re sold on the idea of cultivating more friendships with other couples, here are a few ways to get started.
Couples, he said, need to understand what their partner is looking for in a friendship. One person in the couple may want to go out several times a week with different people. The other might want to build more consistent relationships with the people they already know. Talking about these things beforehand can help the couple know what they’re looking for ahead of time.
Also consider what kind of friendships you both value. “Some couples want to go out and have a deeper connection and are emotion-sharing,” Greif said. “Others say, 'I work really hard during the week. I have a really intense job. I just want to go out and have fun.'”
Once you know what kinds of friendship you’re looking for, you can look into joining a new group or evaluating the ones you’re already part of. Do you join some kind of regular group, like a hiking meetup or beer-tasting club? Maybe you decide to volunteer somewhere together or maybe you can reach out to the couple you always run into at your kid’s soccer game. Whatever it is, the best way to make friendships is to have consistent interactions with the same people — so choose an activity that will allow for it.
There’s a good chance one or both of you already have a few friends who are in relationships. If you already have a friend who has a spouse, see if they would be interested in hanging out as a couple.
“Let go of the expectation or need for all spouses to be best friends with each other,” says Shasta Nelson, author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness. Any time you introduce your friend’s partner to your partner, they’re starting at ground zero in their friendship when you’ve already got an established relationship. This new friendship will take time — and it’s also OK if they’re only ever friendly acquaintances.
Just because your new couple group gets along doesn’t mean you should only ever hang out as a foursome. Nurture friendships with the individual you get along with best, and encourage your partner to do the same. “If any two people are trying to build a stronger relationship, one of the most important things they can do is to create their own rituals and shared memories together,” Nelson says. “As yourself, ‘Is this a person I’d want to still be close to even if one of us was no longer coupled for some reason?’” Especially if your answer is yes, you need to pursue a friendship outside of your couple date nights.
“It’s unnecessary to think any two people need to be best friends just because their spouses are,” Nelson says. If you get together with a new couple and for some reason there’s tension or even just disinterest, accept it. You or your partner might still meet up with them on occasion, but accept that the group dynamic won’t work all the time.
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