One of your girlfriends gets engaged. You’re happy for her, but you know what’s coming: She’s going to disappear after the wedding.
Or so it seems. I remember the change in relationship with a good friend who married years ago. We got together less frequently, and I never spent time with them as a couple. Eventually, our times together became rare.
Now, I’m the one on the other side of the coin. I married for the first time at age 41 a few months ago, bringing change to my longstanding group of single friends—a change that’s more challenging the longer you’ve been single. I certainly haven’t forgotten my friends, and I don’t think I’ve disappeared. However, things are different. I know they feel it, but I do, too. It’s a bit tricky even from the “other side”: continuing a friendship when one of us moves from single to married.
Reasons for Change
As a single woman, I never fully understood why the change seemed so drastic. I’m still a newlywed, but my limited experience as a married woman has been enlightening. Why does marriage change friendships? I can think of a few reasons:
Marriage creates major transition. Besides the obvious transition of moving and merging two households, marriage disrupts an established lifestyle of time-tested routines, well-worn habits and unchallenged preferences. For me, it’s been a little overwhelming to find the “new normal,” one that blends my husband’s routine, schedule and habits with mine.
Marriage changes your relational focus. Most of my single friends and I don’t have family in town, so our friendships became our relational focus. We spent weekends, some holidays and even weeknights together, which was wonderful.
After marriage, a person’s first priority and responsibility is his or her spouse, not family or friends. According to Genesis, a man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. A new and unique partnership of forming; a new family unit exists and must be established and developed for a marriage to work as God intends. That doesn’t mean married people don’t need friends or family, but it does change the social dynamic.
Marriage requires a lot of time. The previous two reasons naturally lead to less available social time. Establishing a household, relationship and way of life requires a lot more time and energy than I have time to write about!
The Oneness Factor
These reasons may be pretty obvious to you, but I never thoroughly considered their implications when I was single. While reality is pretty clear to me now, so is something else: The underlying reason why marriage creates change in friendships is because two become one.
Dr. Timothy Keller calls the Bible’s “one flesh” state of marriage “whole-life oneness.” I could not fully understand it before experiencing it myself, and I think it could be a key reason why the change in relationship is especially challenging for the single friend.
The effects of oneness reach farther than I could have guessed. It’s what makes me husband-centric rather than Joanne-centric, family-centric or friends-centric. I think an analogy that Jesus used fits well here: You can’t put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins will burst. Marriage is new wine that requires a new infrastructure to sustain it. My old framework for experiencing, viewing and planning my life won’t support the new life I’ve been given.
How to Navigate the Change
About two months after my wedding, I spoke with another woman who had married later in life about adjusting to changes in friendships. She got me thinking about ways to make the experience better for both the single and married friend. If you’re the friend who got married, these first two suggestions are for you:
Let your friends know you still want them in your life. My married friend suggested communicating to your single friends that while things are different, you value their friendship and want them to be part of your life. To back up your words, take action to identify specific times you can allocate as friend time, then be intentional about initiating time together.
Allow your marriage to increase everyone’s sphere of relationship. As a single woman, I always appreciated the few married couples who invited single people over for dinner. Socializing in the context of a couple’s home brought insight and perspective I didn’t otherwise have. Determine to be a couple who provide context for married and single people to mix, becoming a sister to single men and a brother to single women. Marriage brings freedom to combine new groups of people, potentially introducing people who will become great friends or even spouses.
Before I got married, my house was a common gathering place. Although I can’t have people over to watch movies every weekend anymore, I’ve been thrilled to host, along with my husband, friends for holiday meals and a Super Bowl party. If you’re not the hosting type, you can always initiate a night out.
If you’re the single friend of a newly married person, these two suggestions are for you:
Cut your married friend some slack, but don’t ignore her, either. It might be easy to think, She’s busy, so I’ll just wait for her to let me know what fits her schedule. That may be appropriate sometimes, but the responsibility of friendship works both ways. Your newly married friend also wants to know that you care about her and support her in her new season, even though she hopes you understand she can’t always meet. A huge burden lifted from me when one of my single girlfriends said to me, “I’ve been through this many times, and I know it takes about nine months to find the new normal. I have grace for your season right now.”
Ask and expect the Lord to fill the gap in your friendship needs. During a particularly lonely season in my singleness, I cried out to God for help on those desperate nights when I didn’t need to be alone. On one such night, someone contacted me at the last minute to see if I could attend a concert with her. The event was so meaningful that I still thank God for it whenever I listen to that band’s music.
Trust the Lord to meet your needs, and believe He is going to do a new thing in your life. The shift that comes from your friend’s marriage may create time for a new activity or friendship that God wants to bring into your life.
Let Love be Your Guide
If you’re experiencing a friendship change due to marriage, remember the other person is also feeling the effects of that change. If you’re the married person, be sensitive to the social gap in your friends’ lives without feeling responsible to meet their needs. If you’re the single person, don’t be offended by your friend’s decreased social activity, even though you feel the loss. No matter your marital status, don’t be afraid to talk with your friend about your relationship, letting love guide your thoughts, prayers and conversations.
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