How friends help marriages stay strong and healthy? How having friends outside your marriage benefits the marriage itself
Being friends with your spouse is a gift and directly benefits you both. As relationship researcher and psychologist Dr. John Gottman has said,
“Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.”
But all too often, as couples deepen their bond and spend more and more time together, the other friendships they had prior to the primary relationship start to fall away.
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily. While replacing friends to satisfy unmet needs is not healthy, having friends outside your marriage is not only important but healthy, too—and not just for you. We’re taking the term “friends with benefits” to a whole new (but completely platonic) level.
3 Reasons to Develop and Maintain Friendships Outside of Marriage
1. Friendships help you live longer.
The evidence clearly shows that our lifespan, or how long we live, and healthspan, how long we maintain good health, are attributable to many obvious lifestyle choices, like exercise, good nutrition, and the avoidance of smoking.
But research shows that strong social ties improve your lifespan, too—by as much as 22 percent, according to at least one study. In fact, having few to no friends is as if not more risky for your health and lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes per day, being obese, or not exercising.
Interestingly, this data points to a specific benefit of friendship with people outside your family.
This is not to say that being close to your spouse or children doesn’t matter. It simply suggests that making an effort to develop meaningful friendships with non-family members is important for your health, too.
2. Friendships help you pursue your interests—even if you don’t share them with your spouse.
Without question, it’s possible and often enjoyable to pursue interests solo. Likewise, it’s wonderful and indeed important to pursue shared interests with your spouse.
But what if you’re interested in something that your spouse just isn’t? No problem—just make friends with other people who are!
When you develop a friendship with someone who shares similar interests, you’re creating the opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve. You’re also honoring yourself and your spouse by scratching your own itch, so to say, without making your spouse feel compelled or obligated to join in.
3. Friendships are a great place to see and hear different perspectives.
Let’s face it: Our spouses and family members aren’t always willing to be upfront with us about certain things. This may come from a place of good intent—for instance, they don’t want to hurt our feelings by pointing out we’re always late. But this ultimately reflects a disconnection in communication, which is worth investigating and addressing.
To be fair, we’re not always willing to hear what our family has to say, either. Even if criticism or feedback is coming from a place of non-judgment and love, we often bristle in the face of it or try to play it down if it happens to be coming from our spouse.
As we work to acknowledge and improve this communication with our family, it can be helpful to have close friends. For whatever reason, we’re often more willing to take their feedback and constructive criticism less defensively. In all likelihood, our friends’ points of view (whether about us directly or about something else) can often impact us in such a way that we come back to our relationship with a fresh and enlightened perspective.
Beyond Your Benefit: How Having Friends Outside Your Marriage Benefits the Marriage Itself
Friends matter to your marriage. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Having your own friends—in addition to mutual ones—helps you and your partner stay connected to a greater community.
2. Good friends provide models for healthy relationships that you can discuss with your spouse and apply to your primary relationship.
3. Friends give each of you additional outlets for self-expression and fun. This way, you can come back to the relationship feeling fulfilled and energized.