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Two's Company, Friends a Crowd?

November 07, 1994|LAURA HENNING | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Angeles family therapist Marcia Lasswell knows how to spot married couples who are so closely bonded they might as well be attached with super glue.

"You can spot them at parties," says Lasswell, president-elect of the American Assn. for Marriage and Family Therapy. "When a hostess wants to seat them separately, they want to sit together. And the women won't dance with anyone but their husbands. They're almost attached at the hip."

Other closely bonded couples go as far as dressing alike, even sewing matching husband-and-wife outfits.

While these examples may be extreme, many couples are so content with their relationship that they do not seek friendships outside of their marriage.

"I have everything I could want in one person," says Loretta Pafford, 45, a Santa Clarita office assistant. "I was looking for a good buddy and a friend and the person who could be everything in my life. And I've got him. He's like a gift."

Pafford is so close to Roger, her husband of 17 years, that she says she "feels like his heartbeat."

Mabel De Salvo, 35, a post office clerk who lives in Covina, happily admits she feels the need to invite guests to her home no more than once or twice a year.

Her husband of seven years, Russell, is her "best friend, buddy, playmate and enemy when we fight," she says. They have two children.

Dr. Marilyn Ruman, a psychologist who works with families and individuals in Encino, says several factors produce these kinds of exclusive relationships.

First, there is the difficulty of bringing outside friendships into the marriage.

"Couples end up on their own because they're unable to mix and match their friendships," Ruman says.

Especially when couples marry later, old friends who don't hit it off with the new spouse may gradually be dropped.

"You have couples who really enjoy one another's company most of all," she says. "We often hear about couples who lament how it's hard to find others they both can relate to."

In addition, Ruman says, these kinds of self-contained relationships are part of the cocooning trend that keeps many modern couples home alone. Rather than deal with traffic and crime, they would rather stay in and spend their limited free time with each other.

Even if one were willing to cultivate new friendships, what with juggling careers, children and running a household, who has the energy or inclination?

Not Loretta Pafford.

"I get up at 5 in the morning and get home at 6:30 p.m. Who has time to socialize?" she laments.

Carlfred Broderick and his wife, Kathleen, both 62, are also friendly but happily friendless.

A sociology professor on the USC faculty, Broderick says that by the time they have taken care of the needs of their eight grown children and their children plus an assortment of relatives, he and his wife "don't have much energy and interest left over for outside friendships."

While some might view these self-contained relationships as stifling or even pathological, therapist Lasswell says they are often warm, loving and intimate.

However, they can have their downside.

For one thing, the children may feel left out, says Lasswell. When parents go on an extended vacation and leave the kids with a care giver, or even slip out to dinner without them, youngsters understand that the parents' relationship comes first.

In addition, says Lasswell, "If these couples run into trouble, it's because they are so sensitive to each other that it's impossible (for one) to have a problem without the other being seriously affected."

Usually, in a "more balanced" relationship, when one is down, the other is up and vice versa, Lasswell says. The partners can balance each other.

"In this kind of marriage, when it's good, it's very good," she says, "but when it's bad, it's really bad."

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