This is my take on what friendship can look like in the early years of marriage. To start, another analogy:
Marriage is like a house, and the more time you spend building it, (then decorating it!) the stronger and safer place it is to shelter you and your spouse, then your kids, and even friends and other relationships. (As for Me and My House by Walt Wangerin explores this concept beautifully.) You can think of every decision you and your husband make as either ‘House’ time; building, decorating, cleaning, just enjoying it, or not.
Other than your relationship with God, your relationship with your husband has to come first, even if previous friendships have to take a back seat for a while. You shouldn’t feel bad or guilty that you don’t have as much time to spend with your friends or as much energy to invest in developing new friends.
This part of the discussion will focus on existing friendships and I’ll talk about new friends in Wife Life pt 3.
It might be helpful for you to recognize which friendships in your life are low and high maintenance. I think of low maintenance as the friends who I can go months and months without seeing or speaking to, or just rely on quick texts and Facebook messages. When we do talk it’s like no time has passed at all and nothing has to be reestablished between you. These are friends who uplift you and make you feel refreshed after your time together.
I think of high maintenance friendships as needing a great quantity of time to talk with, who may take some warm-up time after long separations or those who even take some energy out of you. This kind of friend can be just as amazing and enriching in the long run as any other.
Obviously, this is over simplifying it, but here’s another analogy close to my heart. There are several different kinds of recipes you can choose to make the same kind of meal. Some of them are 4 ingredients, 30 minutes, 1 dish kind of recipes. If you’re in a hurry or on a budget, these are the kind of recipes you should probably use. On the other hand, some are your gourmet, 18 ingredients you’ve never heard of, spend all day in the kitchen type of recipes. If you get it right, the result is amazing, so it’s often worth the time, but you can only do it once in a while.
I do not throw out my fancy cookbooks when I am in 4-ingredient mode. I may pull out and use the 4-ingredient one a lot more often, but that fancy one has a special place in my heart and gives me great joy when I can put one of those meals on the table.
Maybe the way we choose in which friendships to invest in that first season of marriage is a little like picking which recipe to use.
This analogy also works for looking at the nourishing value of friendships. We should be aware of what nourishes us and what doesn’t. Just like a pregnant woman has to think about what will be harmful or beneficial to her baby, a new wife needs to be thinking about the impact of the choices she makes on her marriage. You need friends who will provide sharpening, wise counsel and gentle accountability.
The difficult thing is making some space for yourself with those HM-types. The LM-types will understand and may not even notice. We give new moms plenty of space to bond with their newborns and don’t expect them to return to the same kind of lifestyles they had before baby. We need to do the same kind of thing for new wives (and ourselves).
I’d say give yourself at least a year to be a husband-focused wife, give or take a month depending on what kind of people you and your husband are. There is no set formula, though.
Extroverts need a lot more people around them, while introverts may never feel like taking the initiative to see friendship outside their marriage. Most of us marry people who balance us out, so embrace it if your spouse challenges you to change the way you approach people, as long as it’s healthy and beneficial to your ‘house.’
I’m about 50% introvert/extrovert, so while I enjoy the times with other friends, I don’t instinctively seek them out. My husband is about the same, but fortunately for us, we can operate in either mode when necessary and completely understand where the other one is on any given day. He is also very good about encouraging me to have girl nights when he knows the girls will be able to speak something into me or just refresh my soul when I need it. And I try to do the same for him (with guys, of course!).
The appropriate amount of time to spend in those foundational months of marriage will also depend on your relationship with your husband. Some new couples come out of a pretty tumultuous or dramatic courtship or wedding season, so they need to hunker down and figure out who they are as a couple. Others may have been high school sweethearts and have already figured out how to integrate couple-time and others-time by the time they say “I do.”
In addition, for your health and sanity, you may need to turn down social engagements, cut back on volunteering or the other extra commitments, and you shouldn’t feel like a bad person or friend because of it. Others who have been ‘in-country’ longer or not at all may not understand, but you can graciously let people know you are soaking in that ‘newly-married’ smell as long as it lasts and will get back into the social lane when it’s the right time for you and your husband.
Just think of this time as the season for intentional relationship investment, and if you invest in the right order of priorities, your payback will be beyond measure. I know I haven’t been in this new country that long, but I’ve seen that as my marriage matures, so increases my capacity for other relationships.
Reading over this entry, it seems I’ve taken a self-focused view on friendships. I’m comfortable with that as long as the CS Lewis friendship circle principle is used (see Pt 1). Being intentional about what is influencing me is also intentionality about what I’m able to offer others, including my husband.
I’d love to hear your comments on other factors to consider in friendships during the early days of Wife Life. So far I’ve mentioned recognizing the types of friends you have, the value of choosing wisely the friendships to invest in, the type of person you are and the type of relationship you have with your husband.
Stay tuned for Part 3, where I will discuss making new friends in Wife Life. (First, though, I have to figure it out!)