April 10, 2019

Why Your Spouse Needs You to Have Other Friends

Gary Thomas — 

There’s something wonderful you can do for your marriage that will feed and protect it.  I’m not talking about reading a marriage book, attending a marriage seminar, or even praying together. Those are all good things, but they’ve been mentioned many times before.

This is something different.

The gift you can give to your marriage that I want to talk about this week is intentionally building solid friendships outside your marriage.

When my wife and I faced a situation in our own lives that left both of us hurting perhaps as much as we’ve ever hurt, several long-time friends poured healing into my soul. Because they cared for me, I could care for Lisa. I am so blessed with the quality and godliness of my closest friends. They are amazing brothers and when they rise on my behalf, they do so in spiritual force. I never feel alone.

Two of them actually cried for me.

The reason outside friendships like this are so important is the dilemma marriages face when both spouses are hurting. If a hit assaults two of you at once, the person you should normally expect the most care and empathy from (your spouse) is reeling as well. This compromises your spouse’s ability to care for you. He or she is numb, just like you are. They have their own questions, their own anger to process. They need to vent, not listen. The challenge is that both of you need to vent, so if neither of you have a different outlet, you’re in trouble.

That’s one of the many blessings of wise friends. They can temporarily step in and serve the nurturing role normally played by a spouse so that you can receive care and go back to nurture your spouse.

The kinds of friends I’m talking about aren’t “couple” friends as much as they are my friends. They know and love Lisa and spend time with both of us, but our conversations and care are more frequently one-on-one. This makes the friendship more personal and provides more care. If there is a time when I need to support one of them with an issue in their marriage, being his friend more than just a “couple friend” makes that a lot easier. It’s not about “taking sides,” as wise friends don’t do that. Wise friend admonish as well as encourage. It’s about focusing care.

Lest there be any confusion, I don’t build friendships primarily as a “safety net.” I build friendships because I believe the Bible (“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, as you are already doing” 1 Thess. 5:11)  and psychological science, for that matter, urge me to do it; but when the “safety net” is needed, I realize once again the profound practicality and wisdom of Scripture.

One of the worst things a trial can do to a marriage isn’t just the first hit. It’s the “second hit” you need to be aware of. The “second hit” is how your grief or the circumstance (financial or health or employment issues) causes stress in the marriage and begins to pull the two of you apart.

Solid friends can lessen the blow of the second hit.  When a couple loses a child, or a child becomes profoundly ill or addicted, or financial calamity ensues, this is usually one of my primary concerns when working with a couple. The first hit is bad enough, but don’t let the first hit become a double hit and pull the two of you apart. Contain the “bleeding” to the issue at hand; don’t let it seep into your marriage.

Which means, every wise believer will invest in solid, one-on-one friendships outside the marriage. When my kids were young, I did this much less for the simple reason of time. Looking back, I don’t regret that choice; you only have a relatively short season with your kids at home, and I already had solid enough friendships that they could survive on less time for a season.

Just a reminder: all this needs to be done before the crisis hits. True friendships are give-and-take. If you’re not ever giving, the friendship won’t last. You can’t ignore someone for months on end, fall into a life crisis, and expect them to listen with the same empathy and passion. If they’re a spiritual superstar they can rise to the occasion, but that’s different. When someone really knows you, they can provide a whole different level of care.

Release your spouse to pursue and maintain such friendships. Take the time yourself to cultivate and grow new friendships or renew old ones. It may seem like you’re taking time away from your family, but you’re actually investing in your marriage and family in an entirely different way.

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22 responses to Why Your Spouse Needs You to Have Other Friends

  1. I’ve always told my husband this. We have always lived 3 paths. I have my path. He has his path and we have our path. I think it is extremely important to maintain your identity because at the end of the day that is who each other fell in love with.

  2. Great article! We all need friends! My husband encourage me to have friends and I also supported him of having good family-friends.

  3. Great article! There are Good Types of friends like your best friends, company friends, family friends and there are Bad Types of friends like those bad influence friend. I encourage my husband to go with his company friends as they are family-first of characteristic. Where ever he goes, the family goes. We call our group ” Manassas Towing Family”

  4. Divorced need Good friends too for all the same reasons. Living and sharing lifes ups and downs, fellowship and accountability. But most churches do not even address this. Will not off Divorce Care or Singles 60 plus mixed groups either. Yes I know this isn’t your ministry. What I hear too at church. Whose ministry is it?

  5. Gretchen Burket April 11, 2019 at 7:22 am

    Excellent article and advice. I’ve read and enjoyed all of your books. I see the need for friendship outside my marriage(with those of the same gender), but having trouble finding those friendships. I’m 45 years old, married for nearly 25 and have had trouble making friends my entire life. I’ve read numerous books, prayed, and finding nothing more than shallow, “basket party” type friends. Any suggestions you have will be welcomed. Thank you.

    • My name is Gabrielle and I am 40 and have been married going on 16 years. I pray God send you the good friends you need Gretchen 😊❤️

  6. This post is good and wise advice, Gary. I understand the importance of both husbands and wives having friends of their own. In my situation, I do have friends, church and other outside activities, but my husband has none. He is very anti-social and essentially never leaves the house except for shopping or work. His free time is mostly spent playing games on his phone. I have gently tried to nudge him many times towards having friends, and he always says he doesn’t need friends, he has me and the kids and that is all he needs. That he has no interest in other people. I feel this is really sad and also unhealthy. I wish with all my heart he would let some friends into his life. He needs male companionship – I cannot be everything to him. If anyone is reading this I would appreciate so much if you could say a little prayer for my husband. Thank you.

    • Laura,

      Prayer said! Perhaps you could gift him a copy of Nate Larkin’s “Samson and the Pirate Monks,” written for men, that stresses the need for strong male friendships. Nate is an excellent writer.

      The other thing I’d suggest is inviting some of your friends and their husbands over in hopes that your husband will connect with your friend’s husband. One of my current closest friends came about when Lisa befriended the wife; at first we just hung out with our wives, and now we spend a lot of time one on one.

  7. Great wisdom! Would just be sure that readers are aware of one thing that is alluded to in this article (“brothers” for his friends) but not explicitly stated…be sure that your close friends are of the same sex as you…husbands with male friends and wives with female friends. Building and intimating relationships with those of the opposite sex is a recipe for affairs. Thanks again and make it a great day in The Lord!

    • Thanks for the clarification Greg. Important!

      • You’re welcome and thanks for all you do! You actually “bumped” me out of a marriage conference in Corbin, KY last year (you would never have known this) but so glad that they got to hear Sacred Marriage as I know The Lord always uses it powerfully as it is from Him and rooted in His Word and Spirit! Thanks again and God bless in Christ!

  8. My wife and I endured this very thing in the last few years. Both of her parents health was failing. Her mom was hospitalized for pneumonia so she drove out to help, and when she got there she realized that her dad was completely unable to take care of himself. He had suffered some sort of cerebral event that left him with dementia in a very short time. She had visited only 4 months previously, and he was fine. Anyways, my wife dropped everything and stayed as a primary caregiver until she couldn’t manage alone, and I took a leave of absence and joined her to give her some much needed help. I could look after her dad while she was pursuing other options. There was no question that he was going to have to be placed into a facility that could provide 24 hour care, just for his own safety. In 3 weeks we were totally exhausted. In top of that, when her mother got home, her health had deteriorated to the point that she could not cook or care for herself. She couldn’t even make it to the restroom without assistance.

    We finally got her dad in a home that could care for him, and we got some help from one of my wifes siblings so we could go home and regroup, and figure out long term care for her mom.

    As soon as we got home, my mother was hospitalized with pulmonary hypertension, and placed on an experimental treatment. She never left the hospital. I went and got a room so I could spend time with her, and I really needed my wife, but she was spent. There was nothing left for her to give. I wasn’t bitter, but I was really hurt that she made the trip once, and didn’t even stay overnight. I understood from a purely logical standpoint, but getting it from my head to my heart didn’t happen immediately. We had endured some hard times in the past, but I felt completely abandoned. My mother passed on, and I was essentially alone with my grief.

    Then I had to set even that aside as we resumed care of her mother. We finally convinced her to move in with us, and within a week of that decision, both of her parents passed on 6 days apart.

    We are both still recovering from that. We went thru all of our savings, and she lost both of her parents, and I lost my mother all within a year. To say that I still carried some hurt from what felt like abandonment at the time, was a massive understatement.

    But we got thru it intact, and maybe closer than ever. She leaned on me mostly, thru the trials, and I had Godly people who held me up. In the not so distant past, neither would have been true.

  9. I love this Gary,but I would have loved it more if you would have balanced this write up well,because a lot of people will capitalize on this building friendships outside couple to backup or support their affairs like a married man having a christian single Lady as a confidant and friend and vice versa for ladies all in the name of building friends support.

    • Smilles

      Good point. Greg made exactly this comment above. Sometimes I think certain things are just assumed, but they’re obviously not so I appreciate the warning

  10. This is sooo true! Thank you for writing about this vital truth Gary. I have tried to teach my daughter’s this as they have gotten married. I tell them, I need girls!! Papa is my best friend, but I still need women to give me what he cannot, simply because he is a man. It takes time and energy to build godly wise friendships, but they are worth more than anything money can buy!

  11. Gary,
    I’ve read a number of your books and they’ve been so helpful. In this blog post and in your books you don’t address something that maybe you assume is a given. My husband always seems to gravitate toward friendships with women. He’s always worked with predominantly women and for the past few years has been working with one woman exclusively. It’s put a huge strain on our marriage. I’m trying to encourage him to make friends with other men at church but outside of work there’s not a lot of time and he just seems more comfortable with women.

    • Susan,

      As this is the third comment addressing this issue, it’s clear I wrote with a gigantic blind spot and a not so obvious assumption. I made a similar mistake early on in my own marriage and learned my lesson, so now Lisa and I have a policy where if either of us are uncomfortable with any relationship the other might have with the opposite sex, it’s over. The spouse gets a veto without having to justify it. My wife can’t feel cherished if I regularly hurt her in order to maintain a relationship with someone else. When the bar is “cherish,” I think this question is easy to answer. Some may try to say “but it’s not cheating.” You can argue that it still might be, but it’s open to argument. The question, “but is it cherishing?” is more definitive. To cherish someone is to protect them. And if my spouse feels threatened by anyone, that’s my answer.

      I appreciate you joining the others in raising this issue Susan.

  12. I agree but one needs to have these friends be of the same sex. Men should have guy friends not a woman and same for wives. I’ve known too many couples split up over those friendships that crossed the line.

    • Bev, in principle. In fact, I have been guilty of an affair, and it was because I did not shield my heart. I was hurting, and my marriage was a source of more hurt rather than a refuge.

      I also know that all the rules and boundaries in the world would not have prevented it. It was already wrong, I knew that, and I did it anyways.

      Right now I have a few close male friends, and a few close female friends. What makes a difference is their character, not their gender.

      I trust my female friends to always, always, always put loyalty to my marriage and my wife before me. I trust them to speak truth to me from a womans point of view, not so much now, but in the past, when things she did was so hurtful and outside my understanding. I am also vigilant in observing where they are in their own marriages. If I am strong and they are struggling, I make a point of being there for them. If it is the other way around, I can trust them to be there for me. When I know I am struggling and I suspect they might be, then it becomes necessary to build some separation.

      Also, in every case, either my wife or the spouses of my friends have veto authority.

      I know a lot of Christians might think that is playing with fire, but I know for a fact that I am a better husband for it.

      • Although there can be exceptions, as a general rule of thumb friends we rely and lean upon need to be the same sex. It is absolutely playing with fire not to. I can see many who would take your words and use them to justify friendships that may not be as wholesome as yours.

        If I need to get a male perspective, I can go to the elder of the church and ask. Just as my husband could go to the elder’s wife to get a female perspective. Being emotionally vulnerable to that extent with another of the opposite sex is just not wise.

        • I can’t argue that it is wise. As a rule I would counsel against it.

          That said, I know I am not the only one who has benefited from opposite sex friendships. I also know that there were things that I would not then, or now, share with anyone in my Church family. I won’t go into details, but will say that decision is made to honor my wife and her feelings.

          Having to deal with those issues alone probably would make me more vulnerable than working thru them with a sister.