When we talk about how life changes after marriage, the focus is normally on the couple's relationship. And that’s for a good reason: You and your partner are embarking on a new stage of your lives, and it can feel like a huge shift. But that shift isn't just felt in that one relationship. It can have a domino effect and, in some cases, you might find that it ripples out, changing many other areas of your life.
One area that can really be affected is your friendships. Supposedly, a strong marriage should involve two people who come together but maintain separate lives—including great friendships, interesting hobbies, and time apart. But for one reason or another, newly-married couples sometimes find their friendships unable to survive their new marital status. Why does that happen? Should marriage really change your relationship with your friends? The answer is no...well, not necessarily. If you're worried that your friendships won't survive after your I Dos, here’s what you have to keep in mind.
Acknowledge That Things Are Changing
Marriage is transformative—for everyone. The couple, their families, and their friends are all in a transition period. Whether the couple just moved in together post-wedding or have been cohabiting for years—something shifts in the dynamic, in expectations, and in day-to-day priorities when a couple gets married. "In our society, there is a huge emphasis on finding 'the one,'" says Sara Nasserzadeh, Ph.D., a social psychologist and couples counselor. "With this mentality, people are encouraged and expected to be enmeshed with their romantic partners which does not leave room for other meaningful connections."
Meet the Expert
- Sara Nasserzadeh, Ph.D. is a social psychologist, couples counselor, co-author of "The Orgasm Answer Guide," and creator and host of BBC radio program, "The Whispers."
- Hatty J. Lee, M.S., L.M.F.T, is a marriage therapist and founder of Oak and Stone Therapy based in California.
It is no surprise then that when time, priority, and energy configurations change, the newly-married person may not be able to sustain friendships in the same capacity he/she once used to. Unfortunately, when this happens, some friendships don't survive.
"It happens more often than we’d like for them to," says Hatty J. Lee, marriage therapist and founder of Oak and Stone Therapy. "A lot of different factors can play into friendships falling apart like a traumatic bridal party process experience (the common one), or maybe the partner doesn’t like the friend and it ends up becoming another barrier."
It gets even trickier for friendships where one is newly-married, and the other, single. Being in different life stages makes it more difficult for people to understand these changes and accept that the friendship is naturally shifting.
Understand That It's Difficult for Both Parties
Because marriage is such a huge life step, it can bring out intense emotions (not to mention introspections) in both friends.
One thing to remember is that any life change requires mourning the loss of what once was—even if there was an extravagant party (and an enviable honeymoon) thrown to welcome a new married era. "Even though it’s a really exciting time in your life there, there’s definitely a grieving process when you get married. There are a lot of things you’re losing and a lot of things that are changing," says Lee. "It’s important to be adaptable that sometimes you may lose them forever. I’ve seen married women have to own not being able to be a good friend even to their best friends."
For the single friend, it may also bring up certain bottled up feelings or insecurities from societal pressures. According to Lee, for many single people, a close friend's marriage may bring up fears of not experiencing marriage themselves, or that their friends' lives are moving ahead while theirs is at a standstill.
Depending on personality and attachment styles, the single friend can also feel neglected and abandoned, especially if both communication and time spent with the newly-married friend abruptly decrease. "If insecurities come up, it’s important to be open, to share those things in a vulnerable way instead of withholding back, being resentful, and then slowly disappearing," advises Lee.
You May Have to Fight for the Friendship
No one wants friendships to end because of marriage. Of course, you can't discount the fact that maybe some friendships don't have a strong enough foundation, and maybe one or both parties are more than willing to let the connection fade. People naturally weave in and out of your life.
"More often, friendships just need to become redefined," says Lee. "Especially if it was a valuable relationship that was close, I think it really deserves attention and it deserves to have hard conversations to really work." Being mutually intentional with time and effort is Lee's advice. Both parties should be clear and acknowledge changes in needs, priorities, and capacities. It's also important to communicate how important the friendship and the person is.
Nasserzadeh offers an exercise: She asks couples to write down their different roles (e.g., friend to Emma), their goal for each role (e.g., nurture friendship), the action required to serve the goal (e.g., call her once a week), and the resources needed (e.g., time and headspace). Once that's done, the action item should be scheduled on a weekly calendar. Mapping out (and scheduling) what friendships need in a digestible way makes it easier to sustain them.
Remember, only you can determine if a friendship is worth working through, but know that the rewards are worth it. "It can be such a gift for the married friend to involve the single friend in her life as a family with her partner, and for the single friend, it’s healing to watch the friend grow into more of themselves and enjoy a different part of them," says Lee. "It can be a really enriching experience."