Do Your Friends and Family Like Your Partner? Here's Why It Matters
Research reveals the significance of popular opinion.
Posted Mar 02, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
Dating begins with partners getting to know each other. Whether on or offline, this process involves time together, sharing experiences, and exchanging information. As the relationship evolves and becomes more meaningful and enjoyable, there is a growing desire to integrate a partner into other aspects of life. This includes introductions to friends and family—which can range from awkward to awesome—depending on how the partners met, where they live, what they do, and a host of other factors.
Integrating a new partner into your social network maintains relational bonds and ensures a strong support system that can function as an objective sounding board when discussing issues or making future plans. But this integration becomes complicated when dating someone on-and-off, particularly when the roller-coaster romance leaves you emotionally spent. Don’t expect the same warm reception when you invite your on-again-off-again partner to Christmas dinner as he or she received during the first introduction.
Are friends more tolerant of rocky relationships? Not always. There may be a point where a listening ear becomes deaf to repeated complaints about the same relational partner and believes it is time for you to move on, out of concern for your health and happiness. Accordingly, lack of friendly support may negatively impact an already unstable romantic relationship. Research provides some explanation.
How Friends and Family Fan the Flames
Family members are invested in your health and happiness, and the fitness of your relationships by extension. They are thrilled to see you with a “good match” who brings out the best in you, and will cheer both of you on as an investment in your future. Good friends feel and behave the same way, for the same reasons. When friends and family disapprove of your relational choices, however, they are not as inclined to offer unconditional support. Research corroborates this experience.
René M. Dailey et al. (2015) examined the significance of friend support of dating relationships.[i] They examined friend support from the perspective of the friend who was most familiar with the romantic relationship, selecting this perspective because friends are likely to have a higher degree of contact with both partners in a dating relationship than family members, particularly among young people.
In addition, they note that friends can actually be better predictors of relational stability than the dating partners are themselves. Also, they note that dating relationships may have a larger impact on friendships as compared to family relationships because lack of support for a dating relationship could result in the dissolution of a friendship.
Dailey et al. note that prior research suggests that partners in on-off relationships perceived less approval from friends and family for the relationship as compared to noncyclical counterparts, and the approval decreased as relational renewals increased. They surmise that perhaps friends and family of couples in on-off relationships become increasingly pessimistic about the sustainability of a relationship that is consistently being renewed.
In addition, concerned friends and family members might become more circumspect in supporting a friend in an on-off partnership through numerous relational transitions, and may want to see a permanent end to the romance. In their own research, Dailey et al. found that perhaps not surprisingly, partners in on-off dating relationships reported less support from friends than did noncyclical partners.
Temporary Flames Versus Trusted Friends
Introducing a romantic interest to your family and friends is flattering to your partner, and often beneficial to the depth of your relationship. But family and good friends will outlive romantic relationships that are unstable and unpredictable. In the same way, you are advised to choose your friends carefully, choose romantic interests carefully too.
[i] Dailey, René M., Nicolas Brody, and Jessica Knapp. “Friend Support of Dating Relationships: Comparing Relationship Type, Friend and Partner Perspectives.” Personal Relationships 22, no. 2 (June 2015): 368–85. doi:10.1111/pere.12086.