I recently received a comment from Lorraine K, who wrote:
Found your blog about a week ago and I have really learned a lot. I am wondering about third alternatives for future relationships because my S.O. and I broke up over two issues that I now think may have been avoided if we had found Third Alternatives. The first issue was about a few of his rude friends. My boyfriend didn't want to give up socializing with them. I didn't want to socialize with them and felt like he was prioritizing his friends over our relationship.
The other issue, and the main reason I walked away from the relationship, was that my bf wanted to cohabitate before getting married or even engaged. I would have considered it if we got engaged (a ring, and set a date). There were other minor issues but these are the two that I think you may be able to help me find Third Alternatives
because these issues have appeared with other relationships and even within my first marriage. I would appreciate any insight on these two matters. Thank you in advance and for this blog. L.K.
I love requests like these. Let's tackle the rude friends today and the cohabiting tomorrow.
When you don't like your mate's friends, the two obvious alternatives are (1) your mate spends less time with his friends (or less pleasant time, if you insist on joining in annoyed) or (2) you spend less time with your mate.
If these are the only two alternatives you see, you're likely to push for alternative 1 by insulting your mate's taste in friends, language, humor, and fun. Not the best way to build a relationship, especially with a male partner, for whom respect is the very foundation of any relationship -- the one with you and the one with each of those friends.
So, how do you find a Third Alternative? First, you jump the net. You acknowledge that you want the person you love to get the benefits he seeks from spending time with those friends. You acknowledge that whatever those benefits are, they are obviously important to someone you love. You offer to work together to find a better way for him to get them, a way that doesn't deny you what you need or drive the two of you apart.
Next, you need to find out what benefits of being with them he values. Some of them you can probably already see if you look, and those are the only ones you'll be able to learn about after splitting up with him.
But with anyone else in the future, you'll want to explore these benefits in a way that won't put him on the defensive. This means no criticism or condescension or contempt, just honest, loving, supportive curiosity that comes from genuinely wanting him to get those benefits, just not the way he's getting them now.
What Does He Get from These Friends?
- Has he known them a long time? Do they connect him to his past? Have they seen him through tough times? Have they made him feel good about himself again after a mistake? Does he feel safe being vulnerable around them?
- How does he feel while he's with them? Does he laugh a lot? Does he risk more? Does he appear relaxed?
- Do they engage in activities you would not really enjoy?
- Are they a support network, ready to help each other out of a jam (or a case of the blues) on a moment's notice?
- Does he express gratitude or indebtedness to them?
- Does he like some more than the others? Or does he like that they are a group more than he likes the individuals in the group?
These are questions to ask yourself. If you don't know the answers to some of them, ask him, but only one or two questions. Wait a couple days or even a week before asking more of the questions.
From the answers, you should be able to make a list of the things he'd be giving up to spend more time with you instead of them.
What Do You Dislike About These Friends?
Aside from being jealous of the time he spends with them, how do these friends affect you?
- Do they discourage him from valuing you?
- Do they encourage him to do things that make you value him less?
- Do they subject you to noises or smells or sights that disgust you?
- Do they prevent you from getting enough sleep, having sex with your guy, protecting your children, or keeping to your preferred schedule?
- Do you feel judged by them to the extent that you take on a role you dislike, perhaps as hostess or sex object or nag?
- Have any of them harmed you or threatened you?
From your answers, you should be able to write a list of things to avoid in your Third Alternative for getting your man the benefits he seeks from his friends.
What Do You Need in the Way of Time and Activities Now Missing Due to These Friends?
For this part, you need to get honest with yourself about what you need to feel secure and satisfied in a relationship.
- Do you get enough time with your man but not during the right hours or days?
- Do you get enough time with your man but have nothing satisfying to do when he's with his friends?
- Do you get enough time with your man but not enough of his energy or playfulness or libido or excitement because of the time he spends with those friends?
- If you get too little time with your man, is it because he spends a lot of time with his friends or because there's currently little overlap in your free time and some of his goes to these friends?
Make a list of what exactly you need to be happy if he keeps his friends.
We've covered what benefits he seeks, what you want to avoid, what benefits you seek, and now there's one more.
What Does Your Partner Seek to Avoid About Spending Time with You?
You can ask him. Again, do it in a non-accusatory, non-nagging way, so you get honest, useful answers instead of defensive ones. You can also rely on your own observations if he's no longer available.
There may be nothing on this list. He may simple want time with you and time with his friends. But he may also be choosing the friends as a way of avoiding the things you want (more or different time with him).
- Which of the things he needs (from the first set of questions) are things you could give but don't?
- Which of them are things you simply can't offer?
- What are you two doing when he seems happy to be with you?
- What are you two doing when he seems unhappy to be with you?
- What does he encourage you to do differently when his friends are around?
Make one more list from the answers: what is it that he hopes to avoid about your first alternative?
Now we've come full circle: What he seeks, what you seek to avoid, what you seek, what he seeks to avoid. Put all four lists together. These are the specs for the alternative that did not occur to either of you but would make both of you happy.
Remember that some of the things each of you need could come from different sources than they come from now, and nothing about your current use of time or ways of dealing with the friends is carved in stone.
If you don't want to spend time with his friends, that's okay. If it cuts into your time together, maybe you need to find more time to be together, cutting out less important activities, eliminating a work commute, spending less time on other people's needs, etc.
Now is the time to work together. You've got the list of specs, and it's time to brainstorm. The crazier the idea, the better, because crazy ideas knock down imaginary obstacles and trigger creative thoughts, so no judgments, no evaluation while you're adding ideas to your list.
If you two run out of ideas, ask some friends to join you in brainstorming -- just not those friends.
How to Tell When You've Found a Third Alternative
What makes a great Third Alternative is that it meets all of your specs, so that both of you like it as much as -- sometimes even more than -- your favorite of (1) your mate spends less time with his friends (or less pleasant time, if you insist on joining in annoyed) or (2) you spend less time with your mate.
Here are some that might work for a variety of different specs:
- He picks a fixed night of the week to spend with his friends, one on which an organization you're interested in gets together to sing, dance, bowl, ice skate, quilt, or discuss Russian literature.
- The two of you find girlfriends for several of his friends, so both of you can enjoy group get-togethers.
- One of you changes jobs to sync up your schedules so you have more time together without getting rid of the friends.
- He sees his friends but agrees to come home sober enough and early enough to enjoy sex or Scrabble or gourmet cooking with you.
- The two of you hire a scriptwriter to come up with funny replies to his friends' rude comments and you join in their activities.
There must be a hundred more options, but none of them is your Third Alternative unless each of you likes it as least as much as your original alternative.
I'd love to hear more alternatives in the comments. And tomorrow, we'll use the same process to tackle an even more challenging couple of first alternatives: (1) move in together now or (2) wait for engagement or marriage before sharing a home.