Sociologists say married people need friends too

Ashley Morgan and her husband, Scott, were married August 8, 2015 in Oakland, California. They are one of many newlywed couples who have seen the importance of maintaining outside friendships. (Ashley Morgan)

BYU student Ashley Morgan has been married to her “soulmate” Scott Morgan for eight months. Ashley and Scott, like many newlyweds, didn’t have much social interaction outside of each other at the beginning of their marriage.

“For the first three or four months we didn’t do anything,” Ashley said. “Then one day we were like, ‘We need to live our lives and do things,’ and after that we tried to go out and do more stuff, so it’s been better.”

Ashley and Scott’s story is not uncommon. Many BYU students have seen it over and over again: a roommate or best friend gets married and the couple seems to disappear.

“It’s good to stay out there. Obviously, you are going to spend more time with your husband or wife, but it’s good to keep up other friendships,” Ashley said.

Sociologists believe married couples become isolated from others because society promotes the idea that one’s spouse is supposed to be his or her “soulmate.” This expectation could create tension within a marriage as newlyweds leave friends and family behind to devote all their time and attention to each other.

BYU sociology professor Dallan Flake said it’s not uncommon to expect one’s significant other to be his or her “everything.” However, it is unrealistic to expect one person to meet all of his or her spouse’s emotional needs.

“This idea has grown within BYU culture that you need to pair off with your spouse; that’s what a good wife or a good husband does,” Flake said. “They don’t spend time with their old roommates or pursuing other interests. They are entirely devoted to each other. And certainly on some level that’s a good thing, but when taken to an extreme, science tells us it can be devastating and have lasting consequences.”

Those who are married are less likely than those who have never been married to socialize with as well as offer emotional support and practical help to friends and neighbors. (Marriage: the Good, the Bad, and the Greedy, Gerstel & Sarkisian)

In an article titled “How to Stay Married,” Stephanie Coontz, author of several sociology publications, argues that society needs to encourage social ties outside marriage to ease emotional pressure and create stronger relationships. She cited a study by sociologists Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian that found married people are 40 percent less likely to socialize with friends than those who are not married. Married people are also less likely to offer emotional support to friends and neighbors.

“I think the problem we have here at BYU in this culture is thinking that is a good thing, that we are showing our love and devotion to our spouse by being entirely emotionally exclusive to them,” Flake said.

The idea of giving one’s self entirely to the other person is what most people are taught going into marriage. But that is also how couples can become isolated as they close off support systems they once had, according to Flake.

“It creates unrealistic expectations,” Flake said. “You feel guilty because you can’t give everything to (your spouse) and they feel resentful or angry that you’re not giving them everything.”

Jonathan Zabriskie is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the private practice Angel Oak Family Counseling in Pleasant Grove. Jonathan said he has seen the benefits of couples having good, appropriate relationships outside marriage.

“When couples rely on and turn towards one another, that’s always better than turning away from one another,” Zabriskie said. “(But) having others that they can turn to and shoulder some of those things we carry on a day to day basis, those stresses and worries, would be a really good thing.”

Newlyweds Tyler and Kelsie Bangerter live in Provo and have been married since August 2015. They admitted that it is important to maintain old friendships and communicate those expectations even though it is easier to just hang out with each other.

“I think each individual (in) the couple needs to understand that you can leave each other and go do stuff,” Tyler said.

Ashley Morgan and her husband Scott spend time with their friends by going snowboarding. (Ashley Morgan)

Sociology professor Flake admitted that he and his wife went into a “hole” for a few months as they stopped doing activities they previously enjoyed with friends.

“That was hard. I missed those things, but I felt guilty, like I was somehow being disloyal to my wife,” Flake said. “We realized that those friendships are still important to us, and we need them and we get certain things from those people that we can’t get from each other, and that’s OK.”

Now several years and five children later, Flake and his wife have mastered what he said newlyweds should learn at the beginning of their marriages.

“I don’t feel guilty when I go and climb mountains and think I should be doing this with her, or that I should give up this passion of mine,” Flake said. “We’ve created space in our marriage where we can go and do that with our friends.”

Kelsie said maintaining friendships after marriage simply comes down to making the effort.

“(It’s important to) reach out still to those friends that you do have, because they’ve been there for you all this time,” Kelsie said. “Just because you get married, that doesn’t mean you stop being their friend.”

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