The Secret to a Better Marriage
In the days before my wedding, a very wise friend told me something I really needed to hear: "I didn't marry Dougie for him to be my best friend. I already had a best friend!" I was relieved beyond belief, for I too had a best buddy -- Judy, whom I'd known since we were 3-year-olds -- and I'd been worrying about how such a close friendship could coexist with a marriage. The answer is: wonderfully.
Many women will tell you that they need female friends for all the things their husbands either can't or don't want to do -- engage in marathon chat fests, commiserate over petty injustices, work through the knotty problem of whether to buy that canvas tote or the faux crocodile clutch. We can wonder whether it's nature or nurture, but women feel the need to examine their lives under a microscope more than men do. It's not that men don't want to share our lives -- they just aren't riveted by the same degree of detail that we are. If you've ever found yourself on one of those online map sites, you know that you can choose either the "zoom in" or the "zoom out" function. Well, my husband -- a great human being -- is "zoom out" all the way; he's simply a big-picture kind of guy. If it weren't for Judy, he'd have to suffer through a close-up version of every blessing and catastrophe, triumph and defeat of my days. To say he's grateful to skip 98 percent of this is an understatement. And to say he's the only one to benefit is to miss the heart of it.
In fact, researchers have found that most women say that having a girlfriend to lean on has helped them, and it has actually improved their marriages. In a survey of women in their 20s through 40s at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 90 percent said they routinely talked about their relationship problems with a close gal pal, and 75 percent of the married subjects said they sometimes discussed marital problems with their friends before bringing them up with their spouses. "Women often work out strategies for dealing with marital problems -- such as pointing out each other's husband's good points -- which eases their anger and helps them avoid confrontations with their spouses," says sociologist Stacey Oliker, PhD, who conducted the study. "These women also said their friends' empathy helped them cope better with what was unsatisfying in their marriages."
One reason wives turn to girlfriends is that men tend to deal with problems differently than women. Whereas women often get relief simply from talking, men seem compelled to find a solution as quickly as possible, then move on. "If you tell your husband you're having difficulty with your mother, he'll want to fix it," says Sandy Sheehy, relationship specialist and author of Connecting: The Enduring Power of Female Friendship (Morrow, 2000). "He'll give you advice, and if you don't take it, he'll get really annoyed." Of course, to some degree that behavior is understandable: He has to live with your problems, and your friends don't. But a girlfriend's way of dealing may have a bigger payoff, says Sheehy. "A girlfriend will sympathize and say, 'I understand; I go through the same thing with my mom,' and let you work things out on your own."