Why you should never give up your friendships in favor of a relationship

Jenna Birch
Contributing Writer
Illustration: Hannah Jacobs for Yahoo Style

It’s easy to get excited when you’re in a new relationship. Everything is tinged with the glow of infatuation. You end up doing crazy things you never thought you’d do, like driving an hour to give your significant other tea when he’s sick, or binge-watching all seven seasons of her favorite show just so you can talk about it, or giving up all your friendships.

…Waaaait, whaaaaat?

With respect to that last bit: Plenty of couples give up many or all of their outside friendships when they enter a new relationship. We’ve all had a friend or two completely disappear when he or she coupled off, and it’s one of the biggest relationship mistakes you can make.

It’s easy to see how the friend-fade happens. You’re spending time alone with your new S.O., which leaves less time for other friends. You’re also transitioning into a new stage of your life, and trying to figure out what that’s going to look like. This process is great and necessary. What’s neither great, nor necessary, is abandoning friendships that used to bring joy, support, and balance to your life.

Before you find yourself becoming too entrenched in your relationship and letting go of your friendships, let’s take a look at why this is such a detrimental (if often inadvertent) practice.

One person shouldn’t be your everything.

Without realizing it, spending all your time with one person puts a lot of pressure on your relationship. If you lose contact with friends, and your significant other is your sole relationship, then you live and die by how that relationship is going. If you’re getting in petty fights with your partner for a few days? Your whole mood is down. If he’s gone away on a work trip? You feel the absence deeply.

In contrast, if you maintain your friendships, you always have other sources of comfort and encouragement — and you’ll likely bounce back faster from relationship hiccups.

Women, especially, tend to keep a broader social circle and at least a few tight-knit friendships while single. This balance between friends, dating, and overall group engagement is vital for a well-rounded life. Going from many relationships to just one can inadvertently cause you to derive too much self-esteem from this one tie, and you might find yourself on an emotional roller coaster.

Karla Ivankovich, PhD, a clinical counselor at OnePatient Global Health, says maintaining friendships is a major component of self-care within a relationship. “Close friendships are key to a sense of belonging,” she explains. “Giving that up for one relationship can be likened to giving up on relationships that are grounded in the basics of esteem, where identity is shared, fueled, and celebrated.”

In essence: One person cannot constantly engage you, uplift you, encourage you, and feed your sense of self — nor should they. It’s incredibly unhealthy to place that burden on one bond.

If you break up, the infrastructure of your life will fall.

Sometimes even the best relationships do not last. We’ve all had that friend who disappears for a year while in a relationship and then contacts us out of the blue after she’s split and wants to rebuild her circle.

This is dicey. After a breakup, it’s key to have friends to lean on; friends who can take you out on the town, or come over with wine and ice cream for a night of self-indulgence. But if you totally retreat from your circle when you’re coupled off, you can’t expect those friendships to remain 100 percent intact. People evolve and change. (Not to mention, your close friends might be miffed if you abandoned them for months or years.)

On top of the extra damage of a breakup, creating your entire social infrastructure around one person can keep you mired in a bad relationship. It’s hard to imagine breaking up with someone with whom you literally spend every waking moment. Even if it’s conflict-ridden or stagnant, you’d still be giving up your after-work Netflix partner, your weekend farmers’ market buddy, and your perpetual plus-one for vacations.

Having strong friendships can help you realize that you’re not not alone, even if you break up with someone.

Friends can provide valuable feedback.

If your friends tell you to break up with your significant other, are you immediately expected to do it? No. Absolutely not. You are the person dating him or her, and you should be the person to decide whether or not that relationship continues.

That being said, sometimes our friends have valuable perspectives on our significant others that we do not. At times, being in a relationship is sort of like living in a bubble; you can’t really get outside of that bubble to see what’s happening from an unbiased, third-party perspective. Your friends, however, are outside the bubble and observing the bigger picture.

Maintain strong friendships with people you trust. You don’t need to tell them every problem you have in a relationship, but it’s totally fine to bring up concerns that you’re struggling with. That’s what friends are for. And don’t just unload; consider the outside feedback on the people you’re dating, especially if the same message is coming from multiple friends.

Friends can tell you if your worries are overblown; for instance, some people have an anxious attachment style and frequently read way too far into signals from their partner. They can tell if you if maybe you were acting distant or distracted or unsupportive toward a partner. They can also tell you if they’re worried about a partner’s behaviors or personality traits, like if that person seems manipulative, dismissive, angry, or untrustworthy. If you trust your close friends, as you should, you should trust them enough to consider their thoughts and opinions.

The moral of the story: Don’t give your good, trustworthy, supportive friends up for anyone or anything. You’ll have a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life as a result — and when you think about it, more often than not, those friendships will last a whole lot longer than your relationships. They are 100 person worth the time, the effort, and the nourishment.

Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and the author of  The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to jen.birch@sbcglobal.net with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.

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