Without hurting anyone’s feelings.
Updated on 28 August: we all have that one friend – hell, we’ve all been that friend at some point – who automatically assumes their partner is invited to everything. And we mean everything, be it a brunch, a book club, an evening of cocktails, or just a quiet night in with Netflix.
Of course, you’ll usually only get wind of this when it’s too late, around the time they start speaking in terms of the royal ‘we’ over on WhatsApp. “Should we bring anything?” they’ll ask innocently, causing you to frantically scroll up to see if you accidentally dropped a plus one invite into the mix. “We can’t wait to see you!”
Before you start, it really doesn’t matter how much you love your pal’s partner. How much fun they are, how great they are to chat with, how happy they make your friend. They could, quite honestly, be the funniest and warmest and kindest person you’ve ever met.
Still, though, you might want to meet up with your friend alone this bank holiday weekend. So you can catch up on the old days, and speak honestly and openly about whatever you want, without worrying their plus one is going to be left out (or, let’s admit it, that they’ll wind up leaving you out).
But… well, it’s always incredibly awkward bringing these things up with people. And we’d hate to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Why do some people bring their partner to all social events?
As reported on 25 July: couples therapist Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari reminds us that “couples at the start of their relationship are in the ‘honeymoon stage’ where they often feel their partner ‘completes’ them.”
“They use terms like ‘my other half’ and they want to experience everything together,” she says. “There is excitement and anticipation to see each other and actually the brain produces a great deal of hormones which are related to a sense of bonding and love. It’s very natural at the start of the relationship to want to socialise with others as a couple. This can, however, cause friends and family members to feel left out or rejected in a way.”
Ben-Ari continues: “The ‘honeymoon stage’ will inevitably end, and you’ll probably find your friend longing for some alone time with you again. For some people, though, bringing their partner along to the majority of social events might offer them a sense of support or comfort, it might bring more confidence, or for some – it’s simply the experience of having them involved.”
Is it OK to ask someone to leave their partner behind?
It is in no way incorrect or rude, however, to want to see your friend on her own. Open, honest, clear communication and good intentions all around usually solve these issues. However, Ben-Ari cautions us to spend some time reflecting on why it is that we’d prefer to see our friend alone.
“Is it because you are not in a relationship and you find it challenging?” she suggests. “Or maybe because you are missing and longing for the connection you had with that friend? Is it because you just don’t like their partner? Or that you want to discuss something personal with them privately?
“Understanding where this concern is coming from and what’s triggering your reaction is a good place to start.”
And how do we remind them, gently, that sometimes a ‘plus one’ isn’t appropriate?
The easiest thing to do is set the boundaries at the very beginning. Try something simple and direct, like: “Hey, I’d love to catch up and grab brunch, just the two of us. Does next Sunday work for you?”
Your pal is then perfectly within her right to accept or decline the invitation.
Of course, sometimes we may wind up leaving things a little too late. So how do we (ahem) uninvite someone from an event which they haven’t actually been invited to?
“Asking someone to leave their partner behind could generate a sense of rejection,” warns Ben-Ari, “as they see their partner as an extension of themselves, and it’s important for them to be well received by others. Please remember that people can be extra sensitive about this.”
With that in mind, then, she suggests that we start by appreciating an aspect of their relationship (for example, that you see the relationship makes them happy, and you, in turn, are happy for them).
“Be authentic and express your longing or wish from the ‘I position’ and suggest an option for the coming week,” she adds. “For example, say ‘I love our walks together, just the two of us, do you have any time next week to do that?’”
Ben-Ari finishes: “By being respectful (not talking about their partner’s behaviours or using any blame/shame tactics) and vulnerable (sharing how you feel), your friend is more likely to understand your point of view and to collaborate accordingly.
“And when you meet, be sure to celebrate your time together, enjoy each other’s company, and appreciate their effort and willingness to make this happen.”