Why Your Friends Are Vital To Your Relationship

by Rachel Sanoff

Most of us have known the kind of friend who disappears as soon as she enters a romantic relationship — if we haven't been that friend ourselves. There are countless reasons why you should never forget about your friends when you're in a relationship, and a new survey proves why making time for your friends when you're in a relationship is vital to your personal health and your relationship's health. The folks behind Palm Breeze, an alcoholic beverage, joined up with celeb spokesperson Whitney Port of The Hills fame, and have conducted a survey that quantifies the vital importance of "girl time" when in a relationship.

It can be assumed that this survey focuses solely on heterosexual women since it treats "girl time" and sexy time as mutually exclusive. I spoke to Janna Koretz, Psy.D., licensed psychologist and Azimuth Psychological founder, and Erika Martinez, Psy.D., licensed psychologist from Envision Wellness, to gain insight into exactly why nurturing female friendships improves our mental health, as well as the emotional and sexual facets of our romantic relationships.

The results of the Palm Breeze Girl Time survey found that 74 percent of women who reported spending enough time with their girlfriends have more satisfying sex lives. Ninety-one percent of surveyed women who reported getting to spend enough time with their female friends said they are happy in their relationships (versus 85 percent of those who feel their girl time is lacking) and more than 70 percent of surveyed women said that spending time with their female friends makes them feel "more confident and fulfilled in life."

Both Koretz and Martinez say that friendship has this effect on us because it is a form of self-care that we don't take seriously enough. The fact that some women feel that they cannot maintain important friendships with other women if they have a partner is a symptom of a heteronormative culture. Women are often expected to ignore their own needs in order to take care of somebody else.

"It's a social thing – a gender role that our culture has perpetuated," Martinez tells Bustle, "A lot of times, women are taught to give and to nurture. There is this underlying, unspoken concept from previous generations that you shortchange your husband and your family if you practice self-care. But that idea is changing. Women are realizing they become better mothers, wives, employees, etc. if they do this for themselves."

These changing attitudes are reflected in the survey results; 42 percent of women in relationships said that they would rather spend additional free time with their female friends than with their partners. Furthermore, 9 out of 10 surveyed women said they "would drop everything for their girlfriends if they were in trouble." #sisterhood

Subverting these gender roles is huge because women have been socially-conditioned to prioritize the men in their lives for, like, all of time. And always caring for others more than ourselves wears us down. "A lot of the time, women are socialized to give give give," Martinez says. "And when women take ownership of themselves by taking care of themselves too, it's a form of self-care. You are healthier, you have more of you to give, you're happier, you're more whole."

This survey is proof that when you foster your chosen community and prioritize your own mental health, your happiness will seep into all aspects of your life. Partnerships are beautiful things, but so are friendships with the strong women in your life. So how wonderful it is to know that they benefit from each other. See more from Koretz and Martinez about why female friendships are so important below (joined by GIFs of my fave girl power BFFs, Abbi and Ilana of Broad City and Leslie and Anne of Parks and Recreation). But first, check out the latest episode of Bustle's Sex and Relationships podcast, "I Want It That Way":

1. Friends Improve Your Mood, Which Improves Your Sex Drive

Fostering friendships provides overall relief and happiness, which will positively impact multiple facets of your life. Allowing ourselves the time to nurture friendships is a stress-reliever and a huge marker of self-care. According to the survey, 73 percent of women expressed feeling happier and 65 percent expressed feeling less stressed after time spent with their friends.

Intimate relationships are strengthened by this relief. Koretz tells Bustle, "Think about what you get from actual time spent with friends ... There is this attitude of 'I'll sleep when I'm dead. Work now, play later.' But it doesn't work that way. So just from a self-care perspective, being around people you enjoy and who understand you is going to improve your quality of life and your mood." When you're less stressed and have a happier outlook, your sex life reaps the benefits.

"You'll then be more eager to have sex and be more open to intimacy and exploring new things," Koretz says. "Generally speaking, one of the side effects of depression is the lack of a sex drive. Friendships combat that."

2. Friends Relieve Anxiety

As shown by the survey findings, and probably as shown by your own personal experiences, you can talk to your friends about matters you wouldn't share with anyone else. Similarly, your friends provide you with the advice and perspectives that no one else can. The Palm Breeze survey states, "77 percent of women discuss romance/relationships with their girlfriends during 'Girl Time'," more than they discuss this topic with romantic partners or family. There is a specific reason for this, Koretz explains, because friends can be honest and helpful in a way others won't.

"Friends help you realistically look at things; they help you see things for what they really are," Koretz says. "Having someone who can be an outside perspective to help you make good decisions will benefit your relationship. Also, romantic relationships create a lot of anxiety. If you talk to friends, then you probably have people saying 'I've done that before' or 'This is how you solve that problem.' Friendship provides a really good support network."

3. They Help You Remember You Were Before Your Relationship

Martinez and Koretz both stress the importance of not forgetting who you were before your relationship began. "When women get married and have kids, they sometimes spend so much time away from the things they love," says Martinez. "There is the sudden loss of an identity that was very important to you." Before you had a partner, you had the girlfriends who would join you at concerts and museums, who you would dance with until 3 a.m.., who would take part in binge-watching, etc. Hanging out with friends means still occasionally indulging in the activities that you once prioritized. Staying in touch with those individual parts of your personality makes you a generally happier person.

"When women take the time to hang out with their girlfriends and rekindle those relationships, [partners] reap the benefits because you are happier. It's a win-win," Martinez says.

Koretz agrees. "A lot of people start to think 'Oh this is a relationship, so this is all I do now,'" she says. "And yes, people get older and start families, so their focus changes. But make time for things that were important to you before your relationship." Partnerships should help you grow and change, but not forget who you are.

4. They Benefit You, No Matter How You Get It

However, the fact still is that once you enter a committed relationship, your routine changes. You have different responsibilities, and there is now another person (and maybe a few kids, too) that you have to consider in most of the decisions you make. Since it is pretty difficult to enjoy the same amount of free time that you had during your single days, how can you be certain to still nurture your female friendships?

"It's hard, but time can be made if it's a priority. I know a lot of people who are busy with jobs and families that do a lot of multitasking with their friends," says Koretz. "They work out together, grocery shop together, run errands together. Hanging out with your friends doesn't have to be going out on a Saturday night. Small things work, too; get creative about it."

5. Friendship Is Sacred, And A Good Partner Will Understand

If you know that you aren't seeing your friends as often as you'd like/you need, recognize that your feelings are valid and you have the right to discuss this with your partner. "Asking for what you need in an appropriate way and getting a good response is basically what a healthy relationship is," Koretz says, "So if you can't do that, it might be saying something else about the relationship entirely."

But before you even worry about a negative reaction, consider the fact that your partner may miss their friends, too. "It's possible that [your partner also wants to see their friends more], but might not know how to say it either. There won't always be a fallout or brush back. Just be honest. Say 'I miss these people. Spending time with them might impact how often I see you, but it's really important to me.' It doesn't have to be dramatic thing."

The need for your ~girls~ is validated, and you ought to consider designated friendship time as important as anything else. Martinez has this truthful advice for women who struggle to make time for the sisterhood because they assume their relationship is their only priority, and that their friendships are not as vital as household responsibilities: "They need to treat this self-care as sacred time. It needs to be time that you would treat as you would treat any other appointment you are honoring. Come hell or high water, this is important because you've made a commitment and that's sacred... It's a commitment to yourself. A lot of women will railroad over that commitment they've made to themselves. If you don't honor your promises to yourself, then the promises you make to somebody else are bullsh*t."

In a healthy partnership, communication will allow you to maintain these commitments without creating conflict (especially if you both are taking care of children). Martinez suggests telling your partner your schedule ahead of time so that they know when your friends are your priority and you can plan time together accordingly.

6. Friendship Is Good Relationship Practice

Don't brush off the many things that your friendships provide. "Being in good friendship is emotionally very much the same as being in a romantic relationship," says Koretz. "You're intimate on a different level, but it's still about trust, being vulnerable, feeling abandoned, working out problems, and so on. That all happens in romantic relationships, too. So friendships are good practice."

7. Friendship Helps You Avoid Co-Dependency

Friendships are healthy for your relationship because co-dependency is damaging for both your partner and yourself. "It's rare that you can get everything from one person," says Koretz. "Depending on one person for all your needs and emotional support is asking for a lot from one person. No one can really do that anyway. Your partner might not be there all the time, so it's good to have other support networks."

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