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Can I Have My Friends and My Marriage Too?

Dear Dr. Chani,

I would like your advice on a long-standing concern about friendship and marriage that I am currently facing head on. When I was in yeshiva, as a twenty-three year old, I began watching my closest friends get married, one by one. At first, I was genuinely happy for them and looked forward to their weddings. Yet, after each one got married, I was shocked by the tangible rift in our relationship that I experienced. I valued each friendship so much that It was painful to let go each time one of my friends got married.

Since I experienced this abandonment by my own friends, I vowed that I would never do this to my single friends when I got married. I have reassured my friends that our friendships are not just matters of convenience. My friends are friends for life.

Over the course of the past six years that I have dated, I talked about this issue on my dates. Whenever I met a girl that had potential, I would share with her my commitment to keeping my friends when I got married. Most girls seemed to understand what I was talking about. In fact, they usually shared their own similar disappointment of feeling forgotten once their friends got married.

Now I am dating an incredible girl that I hope to spend the rest of my life with. We have only been on a few dates, but I can see that she has the elusive qualities that I have yet been unable to find all in one person. Unfortunately, when I brought up my vision of maintaining my friendships when I would get married, I was surprised that she disagreed.

At first, she listened to my passionate speech about how friends are not disposable and how it is important to continue to invest in friendships even when you get married. She seemed to understand. Then, she asked me what I meant about investing in friendships. What would I want to do with my friends after I was married?

I described how a group of my closest friends hang out every Thursday night at a restaurant until at least 1 am. This weekly get-together is a crucial part of our connection to each other. We are a close-knit chevra. We also are always there for one another. Whenever one of us is feeling down, or has to get over a disappointment like losing a job or a relationship break up, at least one of us will take him out for a good time. This helps him to take his mind off his worries and shows that he always has our support.

The girl I am dating said that she admires my commitment to my friends. She thinks that it shows amazing middos like empathy and loyalty. But she said that she thinks friendships need to be somewhat different once you get married. She says that friends can be important, but your spouse has to come first. I do not know what she meant by that, and I feel that she is not getting me. It also sounds like she is going to be a bit controlling, which concerns me.

Should I feel threatened by her approach to marriage and friends? Is it a red flag that I should be paying attention to early on?

Yours truly,

Effie

Dear Effie,

Your heartfelt expression of the way you value friendship is exemplary. It sounds like anyone would be fortunate to have you as a friend. It saddens me to hear your experience of feeling abandoned by your friends once they got married. It makes sense that this fortified your commitment to not let history repeat itself, and to maintain your current friendships once you became married.

Keep in mind that, like most things in life, it is best not to take an all-or-nothing approach. You should not ignore the feelings of your future spouse, nor should you abandon your friends. The question is, how can you strike the proper balance between maintaining your friendships and embracing your marriage?

One of the reasons why this issue is so delicate and sensitive is because you feel a need to choose between people: your wife and your friends. It might be easier to think about this predicament coming up in a different situation. What if you started a new position in a law firm, or you began a medical residency program? You would need to cut back on your availability to your friends in order to succeed in your career. When an institution, such as your job, demands your time and attention, even though it is emotionally difficult,  it is understood by you and your friends as vital to your well-being. Your friends would not feel personally insulted.

Likewise, your marriage can be seen as an institution. It is greater than the sum of its parts. When you prioritize your marriage above all of your other relationships, you communicate to your wife that she is most important to you. This is essential to establish a rock solid foundation for a happy home. At the same time, it does not mean that you have to turn your back on your relationship with your friends.

How can you do both; invest first and foremost in your marriage and demonstrate to your wife that she is your priority, yet still maintain your precious relationships with your friends? One key part is to discuss with both your friends and your wife about how important that is to you and your efforts to balance these priorities. 

You may need many conversations with your wife (or the girl you are dating) to flesh out all of the aspects of the issue, and for you to both understand each of your perspectives and expectations. Together you can come up with different ways to include your friends in your life. When you work out your expectations together with her, it sends a message to her that she is your priority. 

Allow time between your conversations for the ideas and feelings that you each share to sink in. You might be surprised by how you influence one another and eventually develop a shared, balanced approach that satisfies both of you. If you end up not being able to develop a shared vision, seek more guidance.

When you talk with your friends about it, something important can result. They will sense how significant your relationships with them are. Even if you are not always able to be there with them, they will know that they are an important priority in your life.

This is a great challenge that you are faced with, balancing two blessings in your life, your spouse and your friends. Heartfelt and open communication can advance the relationships you have to make them even better.

Wishing you much success,

Chani

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