Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to him at: TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
You have many choices in life: you can choose where you live, where you work, the church you attend, what you eat and what you watch on television. But, you can’t choose your mate’s friends—as much as you might like to do so.
For as much as your mate’s friends impact you, it might be nice to have some say in whom your mate chooses for their friends. But, this is rarely the case. Your mate comes with a family history—and you have no choice about that. They also come with a set of friends—and you have no choice about that either.
What can a person do if they love their mate, but don’t like their mate’s friends? What can you do if you resent the impact your mate’s friends have upon your mate? This was the problem presented to me recently.
Dear Dr. David. I have been dating my boyfriend for the past two years, and we have a fantastic relationship. We enjoy the same activities, share the same values and goals in life, and have a common faith. But, there is one problem we fight about again and again—his friends.
For the life of me, I can’t understand what my boyfriend sees in his friends. They are rougher than he is, tend to be coarse in their language, and don’t have the same goals and values my boyfriend and I have. When I point this out to him, he gets angry. When I show him the negative impact they are having on his life, he gets defensive. This one area of our lives has become the stumbling block to us getting married.
I love my boyfriend very much and like everything about his life, except for his old friends. When I think about our future together, I can’t imagine his friends being a part of it. When he thinks of our future together, he can’t think of it without his friends. There seems to be no point of compromise. Can you help us sort this out? ---Worried About our Future
Your letter illustrates an old truth—when we share our lives with someone, we become involved with an entire family, not just a person. As I share in my book, Are You Really Ready for Love?, when dating we don’t just get involved with a person in isolation, but become involved with their past, present and of course, their future.
Several issues jump out at me about your note, worthy of consideration.
First, is it possible you’re making too big of a deal about his friends. Look inside yourself for possible problems before looking at him. For example, do you need to ask for more time from him? Are you not getting the attention you’d like? Discern exactly what is missing for you and then ask for change in the relationship, as opposed to asking him to give up his friends.
Second, you say you have the same values and goals, and yet if you don’t care for your boyfriend’s friends, perhaps there are some areas you’re overlooking. If, indeed your boyfriend has questionable friends, is there something about your boyfriend you’re overlooking? Is it possible he has some of the same character traits as his friends, and you’ve ignored them? If so, step back and take a longer look. Make sure there aren’t some traits in your boyfriend you need to attend to.
Third, criticizing your boyfriend’s friends is never acceptable. You can’t expect your boyfriend to hear your concerns if you approach him in a critical way. These people have been his friends for a long time, and criticizing them will only make your boyfriend defensive.
Fourth, try making friends with his friends. It is unclear from your note as to whether you’ve tried to include his friends in your life. If you haven’t, you’re really painting yourself into a corner. Trying to separate him from his friends will leave you the odd one out. Also, remember, they may be as unsure about you as you are about them. Be inclusive, seeking to discover what he appreciates about his friends.
Finally, step back, take a breath, and talk in a rational way about your concerns. Share your honest feelings, being specific about your concerns. If you’re afraid your boyfriend will act out in certain ways, ask for reassurance that he won’t do so. If you’re afraid he’ll treat you in hurtful ways, share your need for reassurance about that. Seek points of agreement and resolution rather than points of difference. Find ways to allow him his point of view while honoring yours in return.
If you’ve experienced a similar problem, we’d like to hear from you. How did you resolve the problem? What works and what doesn’t work?
Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center, where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
Read more about The Marriage Recover Center on Dr. David Hawkin's website at www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.
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