Friends benefit: Maintaining and managing friends important for married couples

photo Becca and William Walker moved to Chattanooga after marrying in May 2013.

Before they married almost 10 months ago, William and Becca Walker discussed where they might want to live.

They had just graduated from school -- Faulkner University's Jones School of Law in Montgomery, Ala., for him, and Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy in Johnson City, Tenn., for her -- so their options were fairly open.

Nashville was one choice since many of his friends live in the city. But, while she had no issues with any of them, they decided moving there would make her feel obligated to become friends with not only his buddies, but their wives and girlfriends.

"We felt like it would be her being forced into a group of friends," the 26-year-old William says.

William and Becca chose Chattanooga in part because of the somewhat-neutral proximity to their hometowns of Cleveland and Cookeville, Tenn. Still too busy being newlyweds to make many friends, they have talked about meeting new people and some of the speed bumps involved in managing friends as a married couple. Part of that awareness has come from watching married couples around them, Becca says.

"I was the youngest student at pharmacy school, and I saw what some of the older people went through," says Becca, 24. "I saw that some guys wouldn't go out with the group if this husband or that wife was there. It wasn't that there was anything wrong with them, they just didn't get along."

His and her friends, old and new, are just some of the issues that married couples must navigate after the "I do." Not only is a newlywed taking on a life partner, he or she is also adding new family members and, in some cases, new friends and their other halves.

While negotiating the relationship curves can be tricky, Carol Burns, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in married couples, says having friends is essential to a happy, healthy marriage.

"We need the reinforcement that comes from our friendships," she says. "It is a myth that we can get all of our needs from one person. It's not possible, and yet we try to to do it. We have forgotten or mismanaged this over the years out of fear of 'What if I like this other person better?'

"We are all made for community and being with lots of others. We desperately need each other. Our friendships are the things that keep us sane through difficult times. The tricky part is how do we do this in a way that feeds and protects our relationship."

The key, she says, is managing those friendships -- even those with the opposite sex -- and for each couple to find what works them.

"I have a very dear friend that, every time he emails a female, he CCs his wife," she says. "Some couples, if they have a Facebook page, they set them up as joint accounts. It's really about: How do we manage this?"

When she leads seminars for engaged couples, part of the discussion is about managing friends.

"We talk about things like figuring out 'What will we do on Friday nights after we are married?' 'How much time will we spend with friends?'

"A lot of people think you get married and that you just slip into marriage mode and things will change -- and they do -- but it's not that simple. Especially when children come along."

She says it's critical to understand that having and maintaining outside friendships is not simply "icing or an extra." It is a vital part of marriage, she says.

It can be a slippery slope for some, however.

Recent studies have found that Facebook, for example, which allows people to find old friends or flames, can be, if not a contributor, at least an enabler to divorce. Burns says most of the clients she sees with marital troubles are there either because of alcohol or infidelity in which one of the spouses began confiding to a friend about the marriage.

"One of the tips we offer is to be aware that the first sign of trouble is when we talk to friends about things that we are not telling our partners," she says. "It's important to remember that, when out in the world you are representing your partner. I don't care who the friend is, an old friend or someone you just met at a party, it is important that you are never disrespectful or unloving or unflattering."

It's also important to realize that friendships might come and go as you transition through life. As our own interests change, those of our friends might also. Friends can be found through work, your neighborhood or, in the case of couples who begin having children, through day care, school and youth sports.

"This is how we make a bunch of friends," Burns says. "You end up raising your children together. Doug and Michelle Roberts dated for 7-1/2 years before marrying almost 5 years ago; immediately they were blessed with "a honeymoon baby," she says.

"We were the first in our group (with kids) and most of our friends were still into going out all night and partying and whatever, so they kind of fell by the wayside," said Michelle, 31.

The Roberts mentor engaged couples during Picture of Love marriage preparation seminars offered by the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, and Michelle says the friends issue is always part of the discussion.

"We just stress that the main thing is to listen to the other person and to be a united front and to be a team," she says. "Talk about it ahead of time, and make a plan, and make sure everybody is on the same page."

For the most part, she says, their current friends are the ones they've had for years.

"You just go through different stages and have different priorities."

Both of the Walkers say that, while in school, fraternities and sororities provided a network of friends and events that both were interested in. Work, however, doesn't necessarily do the same for them. At least not for her.

"I know nothing about law and have no interest in it. And I've come home and told him things that I thought were funny or cool and he was like, 'Gross.'"

Contact Barry Courter at or 423-757-6354.