Dear Alice,

My husband gets mad at me if I want to spend time with a friend. He says I don't have enough time for him. If I do spend time with a friend, he complains that everyone else is more important than he is because if I have enough time to spend with them I must have it to spend with him. I am only asking for one night out a month. We work together and spend every night together — is this asking a lot? My husband has no social life outside of me. If I don't want to spend all my time with my husband, does this mean I don't love him? He thinks so. What should I do? Help!!!

— Starting to get claustrophobic

Dear Starting to get claustrophobic,

It may be difficult in any relationship to maintain a balance between spending time with your partner, with your friends, with your families of origin, with your children if you have them, and by yourself. From your inquiry, you and your husband differ when it comes to how much time is vital to spend together. While it may get sticky trying to get your needs met without hurting your husband, this problem is not unsolvable. You are not asking a lot in wanting to see your friends one night a month, and it certainly doesn't mean you don't love your husband!

You and your husband may want to strengthen your relationship in talking and listening, understanding each other's perspectives, and coming to agreement(s) about this situation in particular and perhaps about your relationship, in general. Before you start, ask yourself some questions about yourself and your partner: Why do you think your husband minds if you see a friend one time a month? Does he know your friends? Do you ever invite him to spend time with your friends? Does he have any reason to worry about what you might be doing when you are not with him? Does he spend time with his friends? Does he have his own friends? What opportunities does he have to make new or to maintain his current friends? Could he be jealous of your other relationships? Do you think he understands why you would have a need to be with people other than him? What interests does he have outside of work? Has he pursued these since you've been married? How uncomfortable is your husband about being without you or being alone for even one night?

It's good to start your discussion by reassuring your husband that he is the person that you have chosen, and that you love him, for better or for worse. However, loving him does not mean denying yourself contact with your friends. Assure him that you wouldn't spend so much time with him if he wasn't so important to you. Explain that having interests and friends outside of your primary relationship may serve to complement your relationship. If you each have unique experiences, you may have new things to talk about with one another. It also makes for a more fulfilling relationship, as you are two different, independent human beings coming together to form one relationship. The relationship is as strong as the individuals who are in it. By strengthening yourself, and with your husband pursuing his interests, you are more likely to maintain a thriving, rich relationship.

If this discussion doesn't help, you may consider seeking support from others, like an objective friend or a couples counselor. Another person may help offer a different perspective and provide support. Couples counseling may offer you two a way to negotiate together with a caring, trained, experienced therapist who will, by working with the two of you, help you each identify, understand, negotiate, and reach your goals. You can find someone in a few ways: by asking your primary care provider for a referral; by contacting a local, state, or national mental health organization; or, by calling your nearest university's health/medical center or psychology department for a referral or possibly a training program nearby. Remember, you want a certified or licensed social worker or psychologist who does couples counseling. If your husband is not ready to go with you to counseling, you may go on your own.

Remember, change is possible and it sounds as though you are willing to invest the time and energy to have the relationship you want.

To your happiness!


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