You’re in the throes of a thrilling new romance. Maybe you even suspect you have finally found The One. Excited to introduce this person to your closest pals, you gather them together, convinced they’ll all adore one another. And that’s when trouble starts brewing: Your usually cheerful date looks increasingly sullen as the evening wears on; meanwhile, when your honey heads to the bathroom and you ask your friends what they think, they exchange meaningful glances and say unconvincingly, “Um, sure, he/she seems great” — or worse, “Honestly? I’m not sure why you’re interested in this person.”
So much for the so-called “honeymoon phase” — now you feel torn between your friends and your brand-new love. “Of course you can’t make people like each other,” says New York-based couples therapist at the Ackerman Institute for the Family Elizabeth Bailey, LCSW, but below are four specific steps you can take to encourage everybody to get along.
Step 1: Identify the problem
First, take a closer look at what could be causing the friction. Often, jealousy is the culprit. New romantic partners, for example, can become insecure — anxious that your childhood friends know you better or have more influence on you than they do. That’s what happened to Laurie of Seattle, WA, when she started a hot-and-heavy relationship with her now-husband, Don. “Every time we got together with my best friend, Don became standoffish with her — he was flippant, insincere and never made eye contact,” recalls Laurie. Ultimately, talking openly about the issue helped her understand the cause of Don’s unfriendly behavior. “At first, he claimed he wasn’t aware of his attitude. But eventually he admitted that my best friend represented my past — as in, my partying days with other guys — and he confessed that it made him feel really insecure around her.”
If your friends are the ones who disapprove, it could signal that they’re concerned you’re no longer actively part of their group — especially if they’re used to having you all to themselves 24/7. “Think about whether they’ve been critical of your relationships in the past,” advises Bailey. “You might realize that your friends simply feel left behind whenever you become romantically involved with a new person.”
On the other hand, such criticism could also mean they’re worried that your new love interest simply isn’t right for you. If a friend points out that your date seems to have, say, a controlling personality or engages in inappropriate behavior, that’s a sign that you should take a careful look at your new relationship. When Sue of New York City eloped with a man she’d been dating for only six months, her best friend — who couldn’t stand the guy — wasn’t able to hold it in any longer: “She told me it was obvious that he was an alcoholic and that I was making a mistake,” she recalls. (Sadly, her friend’s view of the man in question was accurate.) In such dire cases, getting an outside perspective can be helpful, says Atlanta-based psychologist Erik Fisher, Ph.D., author of The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict: Understanding Emotions and Power Struggles. “You might even want to see a counselor with your friend; if your relationship is that deep and close, you should both be willing to talk through things openly,” Fisher advises. Fortunately for Sue, her friend stuck by her side during several painful years of seeing her husband through Alcoholics Anonymous.
Step 2: Listen to their feelings — and clearly explain yours, too
Even when the conflict isn’t that serious, having a frank conversation can help smooth things over. “It’s never a good idea to assume that you know what’s in another person’s mind, so start by hearing what he or she has to say,” recommends Bailey. You might begin with an open-ended question that gets the other person talking: “You and Terry never seem that comfortable around each other. I was wondering if you could tell me how you’re feeling about spending time with us as a couple.” (What you don’t want to do is say that you’re unhappy right off the bat. It’s a conversation-ender that might make your friends or your new mate instantly clam up or get defensive.) “Be sensitive when you have these talks,” advises Fisher. “When someone gives you all the reasons why you shouldn’t stay in a relationship, don’t respond with a sentence that starts with but. It negates everything that person’s just said.” Instead, Fisher recommends saying, “I see where you’re coming from, and I feel that my partner is right for me for the following reasons…”
Step 3: Focus on only the best traits your friends and new partner have to offer while dispelling any unfounded concerns
Helping your friends or your partner understand one another’s good traits can go a long way toward mending their social split. If your partner expresses dislike of one friend or a certain group of friends, you could explain the significance of that person or people in your life. You might say, “I know you don’t like it when I go out with my buddies, but our once-a-month dinner has been a tradition since college, and it’s important to me to have that time to catch up since so many of them have busy careers and families of their own to look after.” If your friends don’t seem to “get” your new partner, Bailey advises making an effort to clarify his or her best characteristics and talk specifically about why you two are right for each other. Say something like, “I know you don’t think Chris has much of a career, but he’s really proud of my law work, and he wants to stay home with our kids someday” or “Jen may be divorced, but my family loves her and she 100% supports my book-publishing efforts. What you see as a damaged person with baggage, I see as someone who understands what does and doesn’t work in long-term relationships.”
Step 4: Try to serve as an impartial mediator — but forge ahead, regardless
If your friends and new mate are willing to give one another a chance, you can try to help things move along by letting them get acquainted slowly — and in their own preferred ways. Fisher recommends planning activities within your friends’ and mate’s comfort zones — be it shooting pool or going out for coffee. “You might even encourage them to get together alone,” suggests Fisher. “It could be awkward at first, but it gives them the opportunity to meet on their own terms and not focus so much on you.” Given time, even the fiercest foes can eventually call a truce. Remember Sue, whose friend called her husband an alcoholic? Though the two didn’t speak for quite some time, they slowly formed a friendship of their own. “Now that he is sober, they are able to see each other’s good side,” Sue says.
But if it becomes clear that the mutual appreciation isn’t going to blossom, don’t despair. “Not all of our best friends have to be best friends with each other,” says Bailey. “As long as everyone involved is respectful and resists subtle — or outright — sabotage, things should be OK.” Whatever the outcome, if you’re committed to your new relationship, be prepared to forge ahead, regardless of your friends’ feelings. You might say something like, “I want both of you to be a part of my life, and I hope that you’ll accept my choice and know that it means no disrespect to your opinions.” How could anyone say no to that?
Hillary Quinn is a Seattle-based writer who has been published in many national magazines, including Self, Redbook, Cosmopolitan and Maxim.