As a husband, mine is more than enough. He excels as a father, a man of integrity, a talented and creative artist, and as a friend. Still, it is both painful and relieving to admit to you that he is not enough for me. I need more. What I need, he cannot provide on his own. I need my friends.
Believe it or not, my husband is not threatened or even irritated by that last statement. He is my very favorite person in the world, and in many ways my best friend, but he is not one of my girlfriends and doesn’t actually want me to treat him as if he is. Not only that, but he values the women in my life tremendously. If I’ve been having a hard time, he will often ask me if I have talked to any of my friends about what is bothering me. He knows, maybe instinctively, how important it is for women to process with other women and to build and maintain close friendships.
Sociologists confirm that most women have a greater need for friendships than even most men. In a recent UCLA study on stress and relationships, it was found that the commonly known “fight or flight” response to stress applies to men more than it does to women. When women are feeling stressed, their reactions can be much more varied, including a larger production of oxytocin in the brain. In cases of stress, oxytocin works to enhance feelings of peace and calm, and to lower blood pressure counteracting the harmful effects of stress.
Oxytocin is most known for being the “bonding” hormone. It is released during breastfeeding to help mothers and babies form healthy and necessary attachments as well as during sex which enables us to form emotional bonds with our spouse. The hormone itself encourages women to “tend and befriend” and could be the key to understanding why women tend to have a greater need for friendships and community than men. Though I believe everyone benefits from being a part of groups and circles of friends, it seems like it is actually necessary for women and not a luxury.
Does it Have To Be Women?
I’ve been discussing this topic with my friends, of course, and one question that keeps coming up is this: If a married woman needs friends besides her husband, must she only be friends with other women? My short answer is no. I mean, of course not. I have a few good guy friends myself. One of them is so much like a brother that I forget that we didn’t actually grow up together. There’s no need to be strict.
Provided you can maintain some healthy trust-building boundaries, I think you should be friends with whomever you like. Just remember that your relationship with your spouse is far more important than proving a point that you can be friends with someone of the opposite sex without it having a negative effect on your marriage. If any of your friendships make your spouse uncomfortable, it is certainly worth considering their feelings and entertaining the idea of a compromise.
Women Are Amazing!
So, even though having any friends outside of your marriage can be good and healthy, I need to just come right out and say: WOMEN ARE AMAZING! There are so many jokes and cliches about women being complicated to understand and men being more straightforward and simple. I think there is incredible beauty and wonder in those complications. Our minds work on many levels simultaneously, our capacity for love and compassion is ever increasing, our perspectives are insightful and refreshing… I could go on and on. We are made differently than men, not less valuable or unequal in any way, but still wonderfully different. Why wouldn’t you want quality women in your life?
Quality women are key to revealing to us the best parts of ourselves, the parts we have a hard time seeing on our own. Ann Voskamp, in a great post called, “How Women Can Stop Judging Each Other: A Movement of Key Women,” said, “Key Women liberate you from cages and boxes and echo chambers in your head. Key Women free you to be your best you, your unbound you, your beautiful you.”
But, who are these Key Women?…
The Five Key Friends We Need to #staymarried
1. The Encourager
The Encourager is the person you celebrate with. She is not the devil’s advocate in your life constantly bringing up counterpoints. Instead, she believes the best in you and in others. You could back into her car and she’d be the first person to laugh with you and tell you it happens all the time. She is also the person you call when things are crazy hard in your life and your marriage. She reminds you of your incredible qualities and that your husband and your marriage are worth the work. The Encourager is the one you want to go out and party with. She is the carefree friend that helps make sure you have a little fun in your busy life once in a while.
2. The Soft Shoulder
You need someone you can feel comfortable crying in front of. Admittedly, there aren’t a whole lot of people I don’t cry in front of anymore, but that’s not the same. When I suddenly burst into tears, I typically feel very awkward and usually leave the scene abruptly, mumbling something like, “Whatever. I must be exhausted with allergies and random onion cutting. See ya later, weirdos!”
What you and I need is the friend we don’t immediately feel like running from when the tears come. The Soft Shoulder can see you and see through you without making you feel judged or dismissed. Her eyes well up just because she empathizes with you and cares enough not to let you cry alone. Tears, however embarrassing they can be, are healing and necessary. Everyone needs a good cry once in a while and we need those friends that we can wipe the snot onto our sleeve in front of and let the mascara run down our cheeks and know we are still safe.
3. The History Professor
You need someone who knows you, not just for who you are today, but for who you have been. Sometimes she’s a friend that’s known you through your permed hair days and when you still had posters on your bedroom wall. Sometimes the History Professor is not a friend that’s known you for a lot of years, but instead a friend that’s known you deeply for all the time you have had a friendship. The History Professors in my life encourage me when the hills I’m climbing feel too steep, to pause and turn around and be encouraged by how far I’ve come. They are the ones that pick up where we left off without any insecurities or tension, even if it’s been a REALLY long time.
4. The Mentor
One of the verses in Proverbs says, “Walk with the wise and become wise. Associate with fools and get in trouble.” I think it’s pretty easy to figure out if your friends are wise. Do they continue to make the same mistakes over and over, or do they grow from their mistakes? Do they listen more than they speak? Is their marriage relatively healthy and happy? Does their family speak well of them? People who are wise are always looking to improve and when you are friends with them, they will constantly bring you up along with them. You know their advice is trustworthy, and you can also be assured that if you go your own way, they will not hold it against you. Everyone needs a wise mentor-type of friend to lean on.
5. The Challenger
The Challenger is crucial! She believes in you more than you believe in yourself and she lovingly challenges you to do better and be better everyday. Maybe she challenges you because you see the way she lives and you want her kind of peace or state of mind. Maybe she challenges you more directly by asking you tough questions and following up with you to make sure you finally submitted your resume for that job she knew you’d be perfect for. The Challengers in my life have made sure I not only make the appointment, but go to the doctor when I’m having health issues. They ask hard questions about my intentions when it’s clear I need to own up and apologize to someone.
Shopping for Friends
The tendency after reading a list like this is to maybe start to evaluate your friendships. Are you coming up short? Do you not have a Mentor or a Soft Shoulder in your life? If you don’t, where can you get one?
What I’d like for all of us to do instead is to figure out which of these types of friends we are to the women around us. Are you a Key Woman to those in your life? Are you available to be The Encourager when your girlfriend needs it? Have you been The History Professor, investing enough in a relationship to really know and be able to share with your girlfriends how far they’ve come on their journey?
If your friends are toxic– if they are inconsiderate, insulting, self-centered, breaking the law, disregarding their marriage, constantly bringing you down and dismissing your dreams – then you’ve got some evaluating to do. Everyone has bad days and bad moments. I have said hurtful things and stuck my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion myself. I’m not talking about off-handed remarks and innocent mistakes. I’m talking about consistently toxic character. It is important for you and for your marriage that you do your best to maintain a healthy distance from toxic friendships.
If you want to have a friend, you need to be a friend. Being a better friend to those you admire and respect, investing your time and generosity in women that are sincere and kind will help you attract the types of friendships that are most healthy. Be the kind of friend you hope to have. Practice being interested in those around you. Practice being a better listener. Practice saying yes to these important relationships so that you can not only be a Key Woman in the lives of those around you, but so that you can attract Key Women. When you recognize these incredible friendships, as you notice that some of the women in your life play more than just one of the five roles above, express your gratitude for them!
I feel like a country song on repeat every time I share that I have struggled with depression. But, for those of you who may not have read some of our past entries… Depression is real, it’s lame, and I see a counselor and take medication to help me cope with the lameness.
It turns out, my little blue pill and my one-hour counseling sessions are not the only things that keep me from succombing completely. Having Key Women in my life has truly saved me. In a recent “Lame Fest” – let’s call it that, since “breakdown” sounds so very scary and sad – my friends came through in the most crucial way. I had Key Women come and watch my kids so I could make some extra doctors appointments. My circle sent me text messages, not just asking how I was – which is a ridiculously overwhelming question to answer during a Lame Fest – but just telling me funny stories. Another friend stopped by out of the blue to give me a hug while she was out running errands. She didn’t flinch at my stained shirt and greasy unshowered hair, because Key Women love more than they judge. These women talked with me and cried with me and reminded me during the hopelessness that I am in fact a worthwhile friend, a wonderful mother, and an incredible wife.
The thing is, my husband can do all of the things these Key Women did for me. In fact, he does them most of the time. But, even he knew that I needed more, that we needed our friends and he reached out to them on my behalf. He asked them to help me and to encourage me when I couldn’t reach out myself.
Tony values friendship. He knows my tendency is to be a homebody and not leave the house much. He encourages me to go out and spend time with my girlfriends, to invest time into these relationships and to put myself in the position to receive love and encouragement from them. My husband knows that having Key Women in my life, as well as giving me the space and energy to be a loving and supportive friend to the women around me, will absolutely help us #staymarried.
You are reading My Husband is Not Enough, a #staymarried blog. If you enjoyed this post and want to read more about how friendship affects your marriage, you may also enjoy 15 Characteristics of a #staymarried Friend and The Bunkers and The Huxtables.
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