Juggling multiple relationships at once isn’t just for people who are polyamorous—it’s something all of us must do in one way or another. While it’s certainly true that most people only have one romantic relationship at a time, that relationship doesn’t exist in a vacuum: rather, it’s just one part of our own unique web of social connections.
So, when it comes to maintaining relationships, we need to think not only about the relationships we have with our romantic partner(s), but also about our relationships with family and friends, and the relationship we have with ourselves.
Balancing all these relationships at once can be tricky. For example, it’s not uncommon for people in monogamous relationships to see their partner as their best friend. While that may sound romantic and desirable in theory, what often happens in these cases is that outside friendships begin to deteriorate.
In my own life, I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count: a good friend gets married, and then completely falls off the radar. They may still live in the same town, but it feels like they moved halfway across the world because we just don’t see each other anymore.
When this happens, it’s also often the case that the partners become very enmeshed. It’s when “two become one,” another romantic-sounding idea. But the reality is that the things that used to define the partners as individuals are beginning to disappear—each stops pursuing passions and interests that the other does not share.
When people “lose themselves” in their relationships like this, rather than strengthening the partnership, it sometimes undermines it and can even become a later reason for infidelity or divorce because people no longer know who they are outside of their couple identity.
So how can you maintain healthy relationships with your romantic partner(s), your friends, and yourself at the same time? Here are some tips to consider.
Maintaining Healthy Romantic Relationships
If you’re in a monogamous relationship, it’s OK to think of your partner as your best friend. But remember that “best” does not mean “only” and being married does not mean you must limit yourselves to mutual friends.
Each of you should be able to have your own friends, and each of you should be able to have some time to yourself, whether that is to spend time with your friends and/or to pursue the interests you have that your partner does not share.
This is where setting expectations and boundaries with your partner comes into play. This might mean drawing out a schedule where each of you has time to devote to yourself. This will look different from situation to situation but, for example, it might take the form of a weekly lunch or video call with a friend, a bi-monthly or semi-annual weekend with the old gang, or perhaps a yearly vacation with friends, sans spouses.
Or maybe it’s a half-day each weekend or every other weekend to take tennis lessons, read, or be part of a social club. And if there are kids in the picture, perhaps you take turns giving each other some alone time while the other takes care of the children.
Before hammering out your schedule, it’s important to first have a conversation in which you communicate and negotiate your expectations. Telling your partner that you want time for yourself or time with friends can sometimes be perceived as a threat or source of anxiety. If it isn’t framed in the right way, it might be interpreted as a sign that you have lost interest or feel unfulfilled.
In order to avoid making your partner feel inadequate and starting an avoidable conflict, open from a place of validation. Tell your partner how much you love them and enjoy spending time together. Then talk about how your friends and your hobbies mean something to you—and how having some time and space to yourself can ultimately make you a better partner.
The best relationships strike a balance between intimacy and autonomy. Yes, closeness is good, but having some independence to do your own thing prevents you from placing all of your needs on just one person, it prevents you from resenting one another when you prefer or enjoy different things, and it gives you something new to talk about and share when you’re together.
It also gives you a chance to miss your partner. If you’re constantly together, it’s hard to feel longing for one another—and too easy to feel annoyance.
If you have more than one romantic partner, the same general rules apply when it comes to communication and boundary setting. It just means having more than one conversation and balancing the needs of multiple partners at once.
Maintaining Healthy Friendships
We’ve all heard that romantic relationships require some effort to sustain, but so do friendships. We need to make our friends a priority and nurture those relationships.
Again, this can take a lot of different forms, but here are a few examples:
- Send occasional texts, emails, or DMs when something reminds you of them, to share something that happened to you, or to ask how they are.
- Make time for your friends when they reach out or are going through a rough patch. If you’re perpetually unavailable, they’ll likely eventually stop looking to you or trusting you as a reliable source of support.
- Don’t limit your communication to surface details. The way we build emotional intimacy with platonic friends and romantic lovers is the same (outside of sex, of course): through mutual self-disclosure. Feeling safe confiding in someone else is one of the key ways we build strong social bonds.
Of course, just as it is important to set boundaries and expectations in our romantic relationships, we need to do the same in our friendships, especially when one of you enters a new relationship or gets married. Your friendship probably won’t be exactly the same as it was before, and that’s just fine. It’s to be expected.
Again, the tips here are similar to the way we negotiate this with our partners. Start with validation and recognizing the importance of the friendship. Then communicate that you may not be able to be there for every important occasion or always be available at a moment’s notice, but that you want to plan for how you’ll stay connected that works for both of you.
Maintaining A Healthy Relationship with Yourself
If you’re only thinking about how to maintain relationships with your romantic partner(s) and friends, you’re missing out on a very important relationship: the one you have with yourself!
Maintaining multiple social relationships (in addition to maintaining all the other roles in our lives, such as our occupations, academic pursuits, parenthood, and other familial roles or obligations) is a lot. That’s why we also need time to ourselves.
Part of this is simply to relax and unwind, but it’s also about doing the things that make us feel good about ourselves. When we neglect that relationship with ourselves and stop engaging in self-care, it becomes all too easy to feel chronically stressed.
I think there are really two different kinds of self-care we need to think about here. One is the kind that helps us to feel relaxed. This might include things like getting a massage, taking a long bath, or reading a book. These decompression periods can help us to be better friends and partners because they provide opportunities for stress reduction. Chronic stress can make it hard to “show up” in our relationships.
The other form of self-care is the kind that improves our self- and body-confidence. This might include your grooming habits, your fitness regimen, or other activities that make you feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. When we neglect these things, we can take a hit to our self-esteem and self-confidence that can spill over into our social relationships.
Balancing all the different relationships we have in our lives is something many of us struggle with. The relationship we have with ourselves is often the first to go because many of us are under the mistaken impression that it’s inherently “selfish” to focus on yourself. But it’s not. In moderation, it’s quite healthy and can benefit our other relationships.
Striking the right balance is something that will look different for different people and may require a bit of trial and error before you find the right formula. But with a little bit of communication and some healthy boundary setting, you’ll likely find that it is possible to have it all: to feel good about yourself, to have an enriching friendship circle, and to have a satisfying love life at the same time.