Part of the package.
It’s a basic truism of coupledom: You get to pick your partner or spouse, but you can’t pick his or her friends. In fact, a lot of these friends probably precede you; they were part of the package when you met.
So what do you do when it turns out that you and your partner’s best buds are far from a match made in heaven—or worse, their friends become recurring source of conflict in your relationship?
For starters, it might help to take a step back and understand some of the reasons why this can happen. For one, especially if they’ve been close for a long time, friends often view one another as one another’s protectors. When you factor in that your relationship with your partner is bound to take time away from his or her friends—fewer guys’ or girls’ nights out, for instance—they might be primed to judge you unnecessarily harshly. So when your fiancé isn’t available to watch the big game with them because he’s going to a concert with you, voila! Suddenly you’re the bad guy, trying to control their friend’s social life. They may even resent your relationship because your partner, who once flew solo when spending time with friends, is now a package deal and their friends now get much less one-on-one time with them. The point is this: it isn’t always personal.
Sometimes a person’s friends and their partner seem like natural-born enemies, at least to a small extent. As long as they are basically polite, try to ignore the occasional eye-rolling if you all go out for drinks and you’re the first to suggest calling it a night because your partner has to get up early the next day. You all have your partner’s best interests at heart…it’s just that you won’t always agree about what that means.
And while you might—sometimes rightfully—think it’s not your job to please their friends, it won’t hurt to at least make your best effort to break the ice and get to know them better. Your partner has room for more than one companion in their life, so while you come first, he or she values them, too. They’ve probably stuck together through some tough times; they share common interests and years of memories; and for reasons you might not always understand, your partner enjoys their company. Your partner may go so far as to consider them to be family, so try to approach them the way you might a mother-in-law with whom you sometimes butt heads. Be civil. Offer to make snacks (or at least some chips and dip) if they come by to watch sports. Show some interest.
If instead you are always giving them the cold shoulder, it will only force your partner into the position of constantly defending you or mediating to keep the peace. It could even cause problems in your own relationship if your partner tires of being the peacekeeper.
A two way street.
Of course, that’s all predicated on your partners’ friends making an effort of their own. Civility is a two-way street, so if one or more of your partner’s friends is disrespectful to you, it is time to set some ground rules. The first step might be for you to address the problem directly with the friend(s): “I love that you and Bill have such a close friendship, but I feel like there may be some animosity between us that needs to be resolved.” It might be enough just to make them aware their behavior is hurtful to you. However—and this is important—your partner needs to stand up for you as well. They need to make it clear that your relationship takes precedence, so they won’t tolerate their friends being rude or trying to stir up trouble. They should be polite but firm—if they aren’t, the problem will fester. And, lest your partner need reminding, if the two of you are ever going through a difficult time, complaining to buddies who are already primed to resent you will only fuel the fire—and what has been said is difficult to take back, even after the conflict is resolved.
After all, just as you don’t get to choose your partner’s or spouse’s friends, they don’t get to choose you, either. But even if you’re not exactly one of the gang when they come over—or want to be—it’s in everyone’s best interest to get along if possible.
If you are having difficulty getting along with your spouse’s or partner’s friends and it’s causing conflict in your relationship, we are here to help you. Please give the counselors at the Relationship Center of Orange County a call at 949-220-3211 to book your appointment today, or use our online scheduling tool. A little professional guidance can go a long way in keeping your relationship on the right track.