As if navigating relationships wasn’t hard enough, try throwing in some external conflict with a third party — third party being your BFF. Indeed, there’s something incredibly unsettling about your friends not liking your partner. Unnecessary awkwardness, resentments, and divisions can occur as a result, and no one wants that.
“If your friend or partner can’t be around each other, it puts you in a difficult position,” says Dr. Kate Balestrieri, licensed clinical and forensic psychologist. "This is a tricky situation because now you’re having three people making a friendship and/or relationship work.” Yes, to have two or more people who play a significant role in your life not able to get along can put you in a figurative tug of war — both with them and yourself. Questions surrounding who to defend and protect, how to navigate situations in which they are in the same space, and who to prioritize can really take their toll on one’s psyche and, eventually, the relationships involved.
Another very real dilemma that comes into play is the validity of your friend’s (or friends’) concerns about your significant other. When one is in love, so often — particularly in the initial stages — they see the other person’s character and behavior with rose-colored glasses. So how and when do you take your loved one’s concerns into account — if at all?
Indeed, this is a sticky situation to find yourself in, and one that is actually much more common than you’d think. To help better unpack and tackle this friend vs. partner pickle, three friendship and relationship experts were tapped to offer tips on how to deal with it so you don’t lose your love or your pal in the process.
Consider The Source
While, in a perfect world, one should and would believe that their closest friends have their best interests at heart, and that any concerns are coming from a truly authentic and honest place. But, before taking any of their issues to heart, it might be wise to take inventory here, says Dr. Balestrieri. "You have to look at the quality of the friendship," she explains. "Do they have a history of being supportive or disruptive around positive things in your life? Are they a credible of source of reflection?"
While this sounds a bit harsh, it's definitely something to think about. Unfortunately, even the strongest and longest of friendships can contain patterns of competitiveness and disfunction, so approaching this matter realistically is key. "It's possible for women to have close 'frenemies,'" adds Dr. Balestrieri. "Covert aggression, competition, and envy can sabotage your relationship, especially if your friend is known to make disparaging comments about your significant others. If your friendship is such that it's strong in evidencing healthy and truthful concerns, you can put more weight on any red flags brought to your attention for sure."
Get More Information
Piggybacking off of the above point, getting some solid perspective on where your friend's disapproval is coming form is key here. "This will potentially help you have a better idea of where your friend is coming from and allow you to have the kind of discussions that help you preserve your friendship," says Miriam Kirmayer, therapist and friend expert. "Also, as long as you're able to be open in that sense, you have a better idea of what your friend is reacting to and you're being as receptive as possible to hearing them out and seeing if there's any value to what they're saying."
If there's no sound argument or validity in their concerns, this open and honest conversation will at least demonstrate respect for the friendship, says Kirmayer, as opposed to the destructive results that can come from simply "shutting them down and saying 'You don't know what you're talking about.'" The therapist explains that, sometimes, these criticisms of a romantic partner can stem from things that actually have nothing to do with you or your significant other. "Oftentimes, it comes down to the fact that a friend just wouldn't choose a romantic partner like yours for themselves and they are simply projecting their own decisions on to you."
Another key thing to note is that a friend's issue may not be with your partner but with the change in the friendship. "When you start a new relationship and you're really excited about the person you're with you find yourself spending more time with your romantic partner and less time with your friend," Kirmayer explains. "It's very common for friends to react to that."
On the flip side, these kinds of discussions might also reveal some very real red flags that are coming from a loving place, so be prepared to be honest and open with yourself as well. Any issues your friend or friends bring up regarding your safety, well-being, and general treatment within your relationship might be worth a listen, especially if you trust the source.
Respond In A Loving Way
Because the above can be tricky in terms of where the conversation can turn, keeping your cool and being as gentle as possible with your response is very important to keeping the peace in your friendship. Kermayer explains that, if you're secure in your relationship, you don't necessarily need to buy into everything your friend or friends are saying.
"You can say, 'This is hard for me to hear' or even 'I don't agree' and set your boundaries, but you can also validate them (even if you're not on the same page) and say, 'I know that's hard for you to share' and 'thank you for being honest with me,'" says Kirmayer. "If you feel that someone is attacking you in some way it's not uncommon to feel defensive so it's really a matter of striking that balance of being assertive and setting those boundaries while also being open to what your friends have to say."
Voicing your needs within this situation is incredibly crucial, as well, says Shasta Nelson, author, speaker, and CEO of GirlFriendCircles.com. "Express to your friends that this what makes you happy and that this is where your intuition is telling you to stay right now," she explains. "Ask them, 'Will you turn a corner and instead of talking me out of this? Would you be willing to support me and help me be the best version of me that I can be in this situation?"
Be Solution Focused
At the end of the day, you can't make two or more people like each other or get along, so finding some common ground in the midst of the conflict is your safest bet when dealing with a disapproving friend. "Be solution-focused," says Kirmayer. "Figure out what is the basis of your friend's issue and how can you preserve the healthier aspects of your relationship. For some that might mean ending a relationship, but for others it can mean hearing your friend out and coming to understand that what they really want is to interact with you the way they did before you got into this relationship — which probably equates to spending more time one-on-one or talking about different areas of your life together."
And if you want to keep both your friendship and romantic relationship in tact, Dr. Balestrieri suggests figuring out ways to make both parties feel as secure as possible. "Ask them both separately what they need to feel safe," she says. "Establish boundaries in which they feel OK being around the other person." This may mean making sure certain friends and your significant interact in group settings only or maybe you avoid certain topics of conversation when you're all together.