The Hard Facts: The Cocooning Couple

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“Once people get married, they seem to feel relieved of social obligations toward family and friends. Cocooning is the couples version of social isolation. It does increase closeness in marriages. It also increases the fragility of marriage, the burdens placed upon marriage and, over time, it increases the likelihood of both divorce and loneliness.” (The Lonely American by Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz)

There has been an increase in spousal communication over the last two decades. The amount of people who include a spouse in their circle of closest confidants increased by 8 percent in the years between 1985 and 2004. It speaks well for the future of marriage. Long and happy relationships are made of trust. But while it’s great that more people can confide in their spouses, the number of people who reported that they can confide in only their spouses increased by almost half.

Confiding in your spouse: good. Confiding in no one but your spouse: bad. What if something happens to your hubby? Or if he’s the very person you want to vent about? Then who do you turn to?

This is where things get tricky. Alongside the increase in communication among spouses has come a tendency for couples to isolate themselves from the rest of their social network. In fact, married couples have fewer familial ties and are less likely than single folk to socialize with neighbors or friends. A 2010 study found that when the average person couples off, she drops two friends.

While maintaining a close friendship with your spouse is one of the key predictors of a long and happy marriage, making your spouse—or romantic partner—your only friend is a great way to end the relationship all together, according to the authors mentioned above.

I can’t tell you how often I hear from women in new cities that, sure, they’d love a new friend or two, but they don’t really need one, because they have their boyfriends/husbands/whatever. Now, I’m not one to go giving advice where it’s not wanted—at least, I try not to—but since this is my blog it seems an acceptable place to get on my soapbox and say:

You. Need. Friends.

An intimate romantic relationship is all sorts of great. I get it. But one day, you might want to talk to a lady friend about girl stuff. When you realize said lady friend doesn’t exist, you’ll try to chat about girl stuff with your husband. Believe me, he will not like this. There might be a fight. A long one.

I know this because I’ve been there. Pre-friend-dating, I was that girl trying to squeeze some semblance of girl time—the detailed analysis of every conversation and awkward run-in of the day—out of my husband. This friend search was a life saver in that capacity. Now I have girls for girl talk, and my husband for husband talk. Separate roles, both totally necessary.

If you’re reading this blog, you likely already give some weight to friendship. But that friend currently spending her days gazing into her significant other’s eyes? The one who you don’t see anymore because she’s constantly holed up with the man in her life? She might need a wake-up call.

Have you ever seen a couple isolate themselves to the point where it hurt their relationship? Have you even been in that situation? Have you seen friends diappear because they started dating someone?


Filed under The Search

6 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Cocooning Couple

  1. Hmmm, very interesting…
    I’ve worked really hard over my past 2 years of marriage, and even while we were dating, to make sure this didn’t happen to us.
    What about when your friends and family expect you to call first, visit first, travel to see them, and don’t reciprocate? That’s the bigger trend that I’ve experienced, and I only moved 45 minutes away from where I grew up and most of my friends and fam still live!

  2. foxflat

    Oh yeah, definitely seen friends disappear and I’ve been guilty of the same. However this was usually during the “rainbows and kittens” phase of infatuation…I once had a guy friend say that he knew I’d started dating someone without me even saying so, just because I’d not called him in so long. Oops.
    If the relationship lasted, most people I know (myself included) eventually looked to expand their social connections again and bring friends back into the weekly mix.
    My mom (happily married for 30+ years) once told me, “Don’t get me wrong – your dad is my best friend – but he can’t be everything all the time. That’s what my sisters are for. And my friends. It’s too much pressure to expect him to fulfill every single role. I think too many people enter into marriages nowadays expecting their spouse to be EVERYthing and that’s unrealistic”

  3. Frith

    I’m curious to hear what readers think the answer is. I’ve identified this as a problem in my own life; my best friends are not local and are married and busy themselves, and I get together with my local girls on a semi-regular basis, but the problem I see is that our (wonderful) marriage, and by extension our life, seems confined to our house. Is this some sort of Bowling Alone thing? It just seems like everybody’s lives are so segregated, and I want to be part of a community, and I worry that every lazy night in makes that less of a possibility. It’s gotten to the point where I halfheartedly wish we were religious, just so we’d have to show up somewhere with other people on a regular basis!

  4. Megan

    Nearly all my friends who’ve gotten married disappeared for a while and came back, but it’s not the same. I guess I really do honestly feel like they don’t value me as much as their husbands and it hurts me, let alone our relationship. (Also, as an aside, I don’t think “husband talk” is “totally necessary.” Single people can be perfectly happy, too! And I’m not saying that because I am – I’m not, I’m in a very close romantic relationship. I guess I’m just sensitive to anything that approaches/sounds like/ reminds me of the astronomical weight we give to marriage when friends are just as important.)

  5. Droplet

    I find it hard to believe that being “too close” to your husband could make divorce just as likely as if you’re “not close enough.” If your need for a girlfriend to vent about your husband to is that great, then maybe you should be talking to your husband about your complaints. I mean this as in, if it goes beyond just the “won’t put clothes in the hamper” type of complaints. But I think neither husband nor girlfriend are going to want to listen to you drone on about that all the time anyway. Hah!

    I guess while I am girlfriend-less at the moment, I am happy to consider my husband my friend, not just “provider and protector.” I’m glad we like doing the same things. Oftentimes I am more myself with my husband than I am with my girlfriends, so that’s gotta say something.

  6. This is my husband and I. We spend all our freaking time together, and I love him dearly but GAWD do I need some local friends. I’d take ONE. (it’s really hard to meet friends with a full time job, a toddler & one car). In fact, it’s one of my goals for the year, to find some local ladies to hang out with. Because while my husband is my best friend (really, gag, I know), I recognize that I do need OTHER friends too.