There is a reason the saying, “three’s a crowd” exists. People are dyadic (meaning two) in nature. For this reason, people tend to pair up in friendships and love. And when there are three people in any long-term group, the dynamic can become unclear and competitive.
As everyone wants to feel a sense of belonging, members in groups of three sometimes go to great lengths to vie for their position. Often, one or more people feel excluded at various times in groups of three.
Three becomes a particularly dangerous number when it concerns marriage or committed partnerships. And when a third entity of any kind (even one considered good) is caste into a system where both primary parties do not agree to this, trouble in paradise will very likely result.
Friendships are no exception to this and run the same risks as any other seemingly benign outside entity.
In many cases, friendship precedes the marriage or committed partnership. Friends often take part in the ceremony. We may have grown up together. We may know each other inside and out.
And with friendship, the very things that glued us as the hip as youngsters, in college or at work can serve to undermine the relationship with our partner for reasons including:
- Friendships where the single friend continues to engage in single’s activities and encourages the committed friend to do the same.
- When the friend is going through a difficult life experience such as a death, a divorce or financial difficulty and one partner becomes preoccupied with supporting this friend.
- When one or both partners are prioritizing socializing with friends over spending time together as a couple.
- Opposite gender friendships that might create discomfort and mistrust for the other partner.
- When friends speak poorly about their spouse or your spouse.
What can you do about to prevent friendships from interfering with your relationship?
Be clear with yourself and your friends about where you stand from the start. Know up front that there may be a changes in your friendship, and that it is normal. It is okay and sometimes necessary to set boundaries with friends to prioritize your relationship.
With opposite gendered friends, additional sensitivity, transparency and trustworthy behavior may need to be exercised- particularly if your partner or spouse feels uncomfortable with this friendship.
Foster good will between your significant other and your friends. The friendship that develops between your partner and your friends can be a beautiful one. When I met my husband I vetted him to my closest friends to make sure they felt we would be good together. Those friends came to adore him because they knew how much he meant to me. This reinforced good will that has continued from both sides.
Refrain from sharing everything about your relationship with your friends. Over sharing about your partner with friends on topics such as weird habits, family secrets, sex and arguments has the power to erode your relationship and very likely your friendship over time. While talking about our partners with others in a casual way is natural, do not share anything that has the potential later to cause you embarrassment, doubt about where your own loyalties lie or remorse about your hurting your partner.
Create friendships with other couples, as a couple. This is the part where you get to choose something of value together. Whether you prefer friendship with couples who share similar hobbies, values or developmental stages as you or friendship with couples who differ from you, creating friendship with other couples has the potential to be very fun, empowering and affirming to your relationship.