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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Toxic Friends?

This is Part 3 in our "marriage adaptation" of James MacDonald's "Five Logs on the Negativity Fire".

This is a hard log to move, because it's about friends.

Friends are supposed to lift us up. They're our boon companions, and they're the ones who are supposed to be there for us when everything else goes wrong.

Small wonder that our mate is ideally our best friend.

But what happens when friendships go wrong, when they start damaging our marriage?

Almost no one starts out with the intention of hurting someone's marriage. It starts from a small thing, like a burr under a horse's saddle blanket.

But leave the burr there long enough, and the horse is ruined by a sore.

The friends we had before we married can hurt our marriage in two ways - jealousy and judgement.

When you get married, a friend with whom you'd spent a lot of time, shared laughter and confidences, can feel abandoned. Your life has changed; you've set off on a new journey.

Your friend is left on the dock, waving goodbye and hoping for a postcard.

And what greater temptation than to drive a wedge, to bring things back to where they were?

The evil twin of jealousy is judgement, the feeling, spoken or unspoken, that "he/she isn't good enough for you". Jealousy is usually folded into judgement, of course..."how could you prefer your mate's company to the fun we used to have?"

The friends we make as a couple can also fuel negativity - and the methods are surprisingly similar. If your marriage is seen as better than that of a married friend, there's the instinctive desire to "bring you down to their level".

Misery loves company, and a friend with an unhappy marriage would prefer to be able to complain in chorus with you.

Judgement comes from above, and if a negative married friend sees your marriage as struggling, it's tempting for them to be "supportive" by criticizing your spouse. And this can be attractive - when you feel beleaguered, it's always good to have a friend.


And then there are the divorced friends. Their negativity can be the stuff of legend, and they often paint a wonderful picture of the "free" lifestyle they enjoy, while you're walking behind the nuptial plow.

What to do, when you realize that a friendship has started to have a negative impact on your marriage?

  • Don't sweep it under the rug - tell your spouse that you are having a problem with a friend, and keep the choice you make - however you deal with it - transparent.
  • Talk it through if possible - often, our friends don't realize that their well-intentioned words are damaging. Tell them, and make it clear, in a friendly but firm manner, that the damaging conversation has to stop. This will have an effect on the friendship - your friend will feel like he or she is on probation, and that will be exactly right. But probation ends, and friendship can be restored.
  • End the friendship if necessary - your marriage is your first temporal priority...ahead of parents, ahead of kids, and certainly ahead of friends. If the relationship is so damaging, or potentially damaging that you don't feel it can be contained, end it. Sounds easy, but it's terribly hard, and sometimes heartbreaking. But when you married, you made a vow, either explicit or implicit - "forsaking all others". You've got to be prepared to live it, together.
You may have noted that we've made an assumption of either same-sex friends, or "couple" friends.

What about opposite-sex friends?

Billy Graham says, "do not have friendships with those of the opposite sex". He goes so far as to say that, as a married person, one should not ride in a car or even enter an elevator alone with someone of the opposite sex.

He has a point - avoid the slightest temptation.

But it's not very practical. If you're a male writer of romances, the other writers you meet will be overwhelmingly...uh...female.

What to do? It's fairly simple...remind yourself of the vows you took, every single day. Remind yourself that while you can be a friend, you can be kind, compassionate, and supportive, there is a line you must never, ever cross in your communication. (And I'm talking about people you only see through email, as well as those you see in person, because emotion isn';t shackled by distance.)

Can't trust yourself? Well, if you don't want to go the Billy Graham route, you've got to.

It's not all that hard. If you drive a car...there are things you don't do, even though you're tempted (well, I'm always tempted to see how fast the thing will go...).

If you own a weapon, there are rules that are written in blood.

And you always face the temptation to buy things you can't afford. Well, again, I...uh, let's not go there.

Anyway, you have examples of self-discipline in your life. Let them come to your aid.

And if you can't, or don't think you can...well, Reverend Graham has the answer to that.

Have you had friendships that have threatened your marriage? Please share!

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.


  1. Very good post, Andrew! Similar to my recent post on relational idolatry...but from a different perspective.

    Yes, I have had friendships that had to be let go for the sake of the marriage. I think it's even harder trying to set healthy boundaries to maintain a friendship without hurting the marriage relationship.

    1. Thanks, Joe! You're right - setting boundaries is hard, and sometimes, for the sake of the marriage, we have to let the friendships go.

  2. It is sometimes hard to know which boundaries to keep regarding friendships. We've been blessed not to have many issues regarding outside friendships, and we do have a few guidelines that we try to go by, but we realize that life isn't always black and white with those and that sometimes exceptions have to occur for the sake of the greater good. Another great post, Andrew.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. Setting guidelines as a couple is a great idea.

  3. Andrew ... my best friend growing up married my old boyfriend growing up. It has always been a struggle to keep my best friend's friendship. If that makes sense. I love her dearly, but I keep my distance. It's really a sad situation that I've spent years trying to figure out.

    1. That is a tough situation, and you have my prayers. Remember that with God, nothing good is ever truly lost. You may have to keep your friend at a distance now, but in the Eternal all will be healed for Christians.

    2. Yes, Andrew ... one day, maybe we'll be together in Heaven. We see each other maybe once a year ... just the two of us. We all were married so young ... she didn't think what that choice would mean for her and me ... I knew. I was in her wedding ... it was one of the most awkward, painful things I've ever lived through. They are both dear to me ... friends ... but it's just toxic ...

    3. It can be so hard to see ahead sometimes. You've got my prayers, Shelli.

  4. Great thoughts here! :) It's nice to meet you, Andrew.

    1. Thanks, Courtney! And thanks for stopping by!

  5. Great thoughts and words to reflect on further. As a single person I appreciate your insight and can relate since I was once married. Thank you for visiting my place too! Mary

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Mary. The concept of 'negative friends' can be applied to the friendships you have in the single life, too...it's something I wish I had cottoned to much, much earlier!