Friendship Circles

It all came to a head when Pete went to a men’s retreat. In the secure environment of that gathering, he ended up telling the entire crowd something personal about me. It seemed an appropriate issue to share—everyone was sharing at a deep level, praying for one another, and being encouraged.

But when he came home and told me what he’d made public, I was totally mortified: “You told them WHAT?!” How could I ever again face anyone who had been on that retreat? It was humiliating. Who else would they tell? How many of our friends would find out? I hadn’t done anything sinful—it was just an intensely private issue.

Pete was totally apologetic, and I forgave his innocent mistake. As a couple, we had never before considered what was appropriate to share with others, and what was just between the two of us—or at most a trusted friend or counselor. Until that point, we just sort of assumed the other person would somehow intuitively know what could be said in public.

Clearly we had to do something different. After much prayer and some thoughtful discussion, we came up with the following model that has served us well for almost 20 years.

We decided that everyone we meet will fall into two groups:

  1. Vetted insiders.
  2. Everyone else.

Vetted insiders: Pete and I each have an inner circle of close friends. My close friends are all women. Pete’s close friends are men.

Everyone in my inner group has been approved by Pete. Everyone in Pete’s inner circle has been approved by me.

I have no control over what Pete tells his inner circle.  He has no control over what I tell mine.

Pete has lots of friends, but I’ve only given my OK to a small number of men whom I implicitly trust. I trust them to keep secrets, to refrain from gossip, and to realize that sometimes Pete just needs to unload—and not judge me according to his momentary frustrations.

It works the same way for me. Pete has no control over what I tell my special girlfriends. Sometimes I’m just sad or upset about something in our marriage, and I need an objective viewpoint. Sometimes I need advice. Often, I ask for prayer.

Everyone else: We have no control over one another’s friends, acquaintances, who we meet. Pete can be friends with whomever he likes, and I can too.

However, we do have control over what we tell these people. I expect Pete to keep our private matters private, and he expects me to do the same. If we aren’t sure if something is confidential, we ask one another before sharing it.

friendship circlesThis diagram summarizes how it works:

The wife has her trusted friends, approved by her husband.

The husband has his trusted friends, approved by his wife.

They don’t share confidential information with anyone else.

I should point out that many of my favorite people are not in my inner circle. It’s not that I don’t trust them—I just don’t need to be sharing intimate information with lots of people. In fact, I only have three friends whom I can freely talk to, and that’s plenty. Pete has a similarly small number in his inner circle.

Implementing this as a newly married couple can be difficult. Before I met Pete, a lot of my closest friends were guys. I just found them easier to talk to for some reason, and I valued their perspective on my dating life. Getting married changed how I relate to these friends. While I still have male friends, I can’t confide in them to the same degree I did when I was single. Likewise, Pete had to change his relationships with his female friends. It wasn’t easy, but it has paid off in the long run.

We all need close friends we can turn to when life has its moments, but we don’t want our friendships to harm our relationship with our spouse. With these principles, we can connect with our friends while safeguarding our marriage.

One thought on “Friendship Circles

  1. My easy-to-remember phrase reflects the simplicity of the mirror images:
    – Inner circle: I have NO say over what she shares, 100% say over the gals who are there.
    – Outer circle: I have 100% say over what she shares, but NO say over who is there.

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