Your heart hurts. Your new boyfriend didn't text you back for hours because he was "busy." Before you Facetime a friend, scroll Netflix for a chick-flick, or post on social media to lament, do a quick self check. Are you hoping for comfort? For others to agree that all men stink and there is no hope? For others to tell you that you are a great catch but he is obviously not into you so run away? For someone to listen, talk through what happened, consider the whole picture, and come up with a constructive way to approach your boyfriend about communicating in ways that work for both of you?
See, depending on who you ask,
you'll get different feedback.
Some friends will help rile us up so we take quick action to leave. This can be a great thing if your partner really is treating you like a doormat and you need a pep talk to get out of it. Not so great if your partner just didn't understand how not texting back made you feel, and why, and is open to improving communication.
Why does it matter who we call for support? After reviewing the literature on the influence our social networks have on romantic relationships, Professor Sprechor noted in the Personal Relationships 2011 journal, “past research indicates that social network support is linked to relationship development and continuation.” So who you call may impact how your relationship grows or even continues.
Over the years I’ve observed a few ways the company we keep can ruin relationships. Do the following ring true for you?
1. Friends who thrive on relationship drama
We all have had friends who thrive on relationship drama. My roommate in college was a loving friend and I adore her. While we are both in a grounded space now, looking back to that time I can see how relationship-drama centered her world was. During the hours and hours of conversations we shared the vast majority centered around what her boyfriend did or didn't do, what he said or didn't say, and how she feels about him or no longer feels about him. Her hands would wave, her eyes stare off in the distance, her mouth form words so fast I could hardly keep up. When we talked about my relationships I felt my own sense of drama escalate too. I spent more time thinking about relationship pros and cons (hers and mine) and less time doing things I enjoyed and writing good college essays. You can imagine all this mulling over of every detail of the relationship did nothing to help how I felt about my boyfriend (or for that matter, made me very fun to spend time with). Can you relate?
I distanced myself from these types of friendships and found my balance with work, family, volunteering, and time for myself. A great person came into my life and our relationship blossomed into a sweet love story. I focused on the good parts, we talked through challenges, and I made sure to keep the other parts of myself active. Then, shortly after we got married we hit a bump and I needed some outside perspective. I thought a lot about who to call, knowing I wanted clarity not drama. I called the most grounded member of my wedding party who coached me through the issue with compassion while also helping me see what felt like a huge deal what was just a misunderstanding. Wow, that's what I call a bridesmaid!
But it's not only when we are dating that friends who thrive on drama can impact the lens through which we see our partner. As a new mom I joined a playgroup with a dozen others. Our babies would drool on blocks while we chatted about life. As the weeks passed, our focus shifted from conversations about how to raise kids, our careers, and interests, and more about complaining about our husbands. I found myself joining in, and found myself growing in irritation at everything my husband did or didn't do. One day I was sitting apart (my baby had bitten another child the week before so I was keeping a closer eye!) and started to really hear the conversation. Many of these smart, funny, loving, giving, compassionate, creative, joyful women were immersed in talking about all the ways our partners were failing us. "This is not who we are," I thought, "but this is the group mindset and who I am morphing into." I stopped going, started focusing on all the ways my husband is awesome (he really is!), engaged with more positive friends, joined a book club, and reinvested in spiritual growth and fitness. My relationship with my sweet husband improved.
While I use my personal examples, this translates for all genders in all relationships. So take stock of what your friends talk about. Is it primarily relationship drama? Can you help shift the conversation to talking about romantic partners in a kinder, more helpful way? Can you encourage conversation that isn't just about relationships? Or is it time to look for other/additional friends to not just shift the conversation in the group, but also in your own head?
2. Social Media
Did you see the new "Jumangji" movie “Welcome to the Jungle”? One of the characters thinks it's over with her boyfriend because he didn't respond with a "like" to her #morning Instagram photo. If your friends all think that this is how a person proves they are into you, you may believe it too. But think about it, is this the only way you notice if your partner is into you? And do you need your partner to show it through social media to feel loved? Do you need all your friends to see the proof? Why? What if your partner is showing in you in lots of other ways, like asking you to go to a movie they think you'll like, introducing you as their girlfriend to their parents, or smiling at you with a big goofy grin when you walk in the room? We spend a lot of time with our friendly apps. Take a few moments to do a mental self check and see if social media is helping or hurting how you feel about your relationship.
Going a step further, every so often pause to consider who is on your social media and how they affect our views about relationships. Ask questions like, “do I really care what they think about my relationship? Why or why not? What content do they share and how does this reflect what I'm seeing about relationships?” I remember seeing a post from a high school friend I had not seen in years. She was lamenting that her husband crashed her girls night out. I chose not to engage in what was becoming a rapidly escalating online conversation. Instead, it made me sit back and consider how easy it is to tell the world our relationship troubles, but how challenging it is to sit face to face with our partner and express our needs and wants, listen to their needs and wants, and create common ground. But if we really want love and connection, not drama and separation, which is the better path?
After taking stock of how social media affects your relationship and your views about relationships, consider the relationship values and images you put online as well. As cheesy as it sounds we can be the social media friend for others that we want for ourselves.
Who hasn't turned on a sappy movie when feeling down about their relationship? But is this really helpful to surround yourself with? Are these characters good company for your current woes? Did you pick one with characters you would like as your friends? Did you pick one with a romantic partner that is reasonable to expect in the real world (do any of the characters actually go to their jobs or is the whole plot them just trying to meet the needs of their partner)? For example, have you noticed that most movies show that women have nothing else to talk about but guys. We talk about if they are into us, wonder if they are going to call, wonder if our outfit is cute enough to go out in to meet up with them. In fact, American artist Alison Bechdel poked fun at this in her cartoon, spawning the real-life "Bechdel Test." According to bechdeltest.com there are three simple rules for a movie to pass: (1) It has to have at lest two (named) women in it, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man. Think about your favorite go-to movies, do they pass the test?
So movies show women mostly talking about guys, but do they really affect how we view relationships? According to University of Michigan professor Julia Lippman's research, yes. In fact, her research presented in Psychology of Media Culture showed that depending on whether you watch romantic comedies, reality tv relationships, or situation comedies, you will have different views on relationships. So when you are feeling down about a relationship (or any which way for that matter), ask yourself, "are these characters I am watching the company I want to keep? Will watching this help how I think about my relationship?"
So there you go- the company you keep through friends, social media, and even movie characters, can ruin or enhance your relationships. Do an inventory and ask yourself, what are these influencers around me are saying about relationships? How is this working for me? Does this reflect how I want my romantic relationship to go? You can change the company you keep to improve your relationships.
Wishing you all the best, dear hearts, in love and friendship. All the best.
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