You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Misery loves company.” Well, you may be surprised to learn that this is doubly true for couples. I spoke with a friend recently who was having some marriage problems. He spoke at length about all the ways his wife was falling short in their marriage. After a few minutes of sitting patiently, listening to his long diatribe, I decided to ask him about the type of friends they spend time with and what type of marriages they have. I can honestly say I wasn’t surprised with his answer, but I was definitely disappointed because he is a bright guy and should know better. You can probably guess at this point that a high percentage of their friends do not have the best marriage. The advice they get is not healthy, and it is not helping them. I am a firm believer that “whoever you spend a lot of time with is who you become.” I’ve mentioned before that there are friendships that can damage your marriage. Here are a few problematic behaviors to watch out for that can negatively affect your relationship with your spouse.
Complaining is by definition an activity we do with someone else. If we’re being honest, we can admit that there’s a certain guilty pleasure in listening to our friends complain about their spouses, especially when our own marriage is happier by comparison. But there are a couple of reasons why this is a problem. The first is that getting any enjoyment, however small, from listening to complaints doesn’t make you a very good friend. The second is that nodding along with all that complaining can normalize it. This doesn’t help your friend and pretty soon you may find yourself complaining too, just to have something to contribute to the conversation.
Real friends always have your back, right? This sounds great in theory, but it’s important to think about what that phrase really means. If “getting your back” equals “agreeing with you even when you’re wrong,” it’s not very helpful, is it? A true friend doesn’t just validate your short-term feelings. He or she looks out for your well-being in the long run. That means being honest with you, even if they have to tell you you’re out of line, or reschedule plans they have with you so that you can focus on what’s more important – your family.
Enabling can be a hard behavior to detect, because it makes it easier for us to do what we want in the moment. An enabler will convince you it’s no big deal to go out for a drink or spend time away from home, even if that’s not what your family needs. Being enabled feels good when it’s happening, though there are usually consequences later. The bottom line is that if hanging out with a certain friend means that you are consistently coming home to an overwhelmed spouse or a pile of tasks you’ve put off, you’ve probably got an enabler on your hands.
Some friends don’t limit themselves to complaining about their own spouses or making it easy for you to neglect yours. They jump right in and criticize your spouse as well. It’s important to gauge the reasons for this behavior. After all, if your friend is genuinely concerned about your well-being, speaking up is an act of courage and integrity. But criticism can be self-serving, too. If a friend says negative things about your spouse and you don’t shut it down, it can drive a wedge right into the heart of your marriage. That makes it easier for your friend to get what he or she wants. Criticizing your spouse can also reinforce a false narrative they tell themselves in order to justify their own behavior, like, “all marriages are basically unhappy.”
Maybe your friend isn’t doing any of these things…or is doing all of them! Or maybe both members of a couple are a problem. Remember, “Misery loves company,” and “whoever you spend a lot of time with is who you become.” If you and your spouse find that spending time with a certain couple or individual friend typically results in negativity or drama, maybe it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate your friendship.
This is not to say that you should never spend time with struggling couples. But in order to support friends who are having a rough time, you’ve got to fill your own cup. Make plans to spend more time with couples who have the same attitude and priorities as both of you when it comes to marriage and family. I promise you’ll reap many benefits if you do!
Please feel free to share this with others.