Depending on many factors, including personality, experience, and especially one’s propensity to feel sensitivity to rejection, it’s easy to believe that a partner suddenly shifting focus from the relationship and to other interests or friends is a smoke signal. This may, however, not always be the case. This question recently came to me from a reader in New York:
If you’re recently spending less time with your partner and wanting to go out with your friends more, is that always a sign that you’re no longer romantically interested in your partner? Or could you just be feeling a friendship void and wanting to bond with new people? How can you tell?
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Wanting to spend more time with friends does not necessarily mean that your relationship is in trouble. As research shows, we all fall somewhere on a sliding scale of the personality dimension extroversion. If you’re highly extroverted, you might enjoy being the center of attention and relish the thought of making new friends. When a new relationship begins, however, your focus is naturally placed on your partner, and your need for novelty and connection is met by getting to know another person and on an intimate level, which ultimately helps to deepen your bond, which makes good sense from an evolutionary perspective, as well. As time goes on and your relationship solidifies, your natural inclination to be social is likely to re-emerge. In this case, spending more of your time with friends doesn’t mean that you love your partner any less or that you are at risk of breaking up, only that your unique personality needs are being met through increased social connection. In any case, communicating your worries, wants, and needs with your partner is your best bet!
On the other hand, if you find yourself shying away from telling your partner that you’d like to spend more time with friends because you may be secretly using that time to seek out new partners, there is a fairly good chance that you’ve lost interest in your relationship and should consider whether it’s the right relationship for you. Similarly, if there is a strain in your relationship and you are actively avoiding it by filling your time with friends instead of focusing on bettering your relationship, it may be a sign that either you don’t want to fix your relationship, or perhaps you do, but you lack the communication skills necessary, so you avoid the relationship. If the latter is the case, therapy might help you understand why your first instinct is to avoid your partner and seek out others, and help you gain the skills necessary to build an ultimately satisfying relationship and how to best handle the occasional hiccup.