By: Richard Nicastro, Ph.D.
You exist within a web of
relationships. For instance, if your friend is going through tough
times, you may find yourself feeling an emotional heaviness
throughout the day, thinking and worrying about your friend. As this
colors your mood, your partner may start to notice that lately
you've been preoccupied and down. Since emotions are contagious,
this will impact your partner in some way and her/his interactions
with others may now be different as a result of what your friend
shared with you.
How is this relevant to your marriage or relationship?
Your relationship exists within a larger social context, and your
friends, coworkers, family, and even the society in which you live
can directly or indirectly impact your relationship. Think of your
relationship as one link on a never-ending chain of connectedness.
This was evident with two couples I recently coached:
A brief story of relationship isolation:
Tad and Wanda have a very different story. Living together for a
little over a year, Wanda complained that "all of our friends seem
to be getting divorced or breaking up. It's depressing and makes me
think there's something wrong with me for trying to make my
relationship work. When I try to talk to my friends about a fight I
had with Tad, they just tell me to 'find someone better-suited to
you,' or 'relationships are overrated anyway.' The whole 'there are
lots of fish in the sea' mindset isn't helpful when I'm trying to
make my relationship work now."
Tad and Wanda lack the couple-to-couple support that is vital for a
sustainable, long-term relationship. They both struggle with feeling
like the "oddball couple" in a sea of failed relationships (and they
don't have any single friends who are pro-relationship)—and both
acknowledged that this was starting to negatively impact their
A brief story of marital support:
Molly and Jeff have been together for eleven years. Both are retired
and have been active participants in their local community and
volunteer for numerous causes. This involvement has offered them
opportunities to develop friendships and socialize with other
Molly joked that their friends "saved our marriage on at least two
occasions" because of the support they offered Molly. She shared,
"If Jeff and I are going through a difficult time, for whatever
reason, I don't feel alone. I have at least two other women I can
talk to who have been through difficult times but they're still
happily married…I know I'm not alone in my struggles and that makes
a world of difference. And I have a few single friends who are
supportive of my relationship and committed relationships in
general, even though they're not in one now. All that encouragement
among my friends really helps whenever I start to worry that the
challenges of a romantic relationship might be too much for me."
The need for relationship support
Couples love to hear about other couples who have successful
relationships. Have you ever noticed how people in relationships are
happy to learn that a famous couple is in it for the long haul? Many
couples feel validated to discover that their favorite movie star or
musician has resisted the temptations that come with fame and are
committed to one person. Notice your reaction the next time you hear
that people you know and/or admire are splitting up.
Couples root for other couples—there is an unspoken, cosmic
connection, a sense that we're in this together. If Brad and
Angelina can make their relationship work, and your neighbors and
friends can make their relationships work, you end up feeling more
hopeful that you can make your own work.
Seek Out Relationship Support
Relationship support comes in many forms and the first step is to
look in your own backyard. Make a list of all the individuals and
couples you know and admire: family, friends, teachers, community
leaders, local organizations or church members.
You might be surprised to learn that there are people in your life
that have been married or together for a long time (and feel lucky
to be with the same person). These couples can be an emotional
resource for you and your partner. Would you consider asking them
about their relationship, especially what has worked for them? Are
you willing to seek their support when you (or your partner) need
advice or guidance?
We all need relationship mentors—couples who have successfully
navigated the complicated interpersonal terrain that comes with
committed relationships. This doesn't mean you should overlook
friends not currently in relationships as potential sources of
support. Often single friends who understand and celebrate you and
your relationship can be a safe place to go to when you need a
different perspective or just need to vent.
Don't overlook the vast relationship wisdom that surrounds you.
Many couples like spending time with other couples. If most of your
friends seem to be in dire relationship straits or your friends'
values regarding commitment differ from your own, you need to expand
your social network—seek out couples you and your partner can
socialize with, couples dedicated to making their own relationships
work. The goal of expanding your couples-support-system doesn't mean
you have to abandon your current friends because they aren't in a
relationship or their relationship is in trouble—it means that you
enrich your circle of friends to include those that believe in the
benefit of a long-term, committed relationship and will help support
you in yours.
It might seem like a paradox that you can be with someone you deeply
love, yet still feel isolated. Often couples assume feeling isolated
means there is something wrong with their relationship—while this
can be an indication that there are problems that need to be
addressed, it can also be an indication that your relationship is
surrounded by negativity and a lack of support.
No matter how strong your relationship might seem, you and your
partner do not exist in a vacuum. When you establish the goal of
building a support network for your relationship, you have taken an
important step in buffering the damaging effects of
Is your relationship worth protecting? Are you ready to make your
marriage everything it can be?
To discover more relationship
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Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who
is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their
relationship. Rich and his wife Lucia founded LifeTalk Coaching, an
internet-based coaching business that helps couples strengthen their