Can Opposite-Sex Friendships Exist in Marriage?

Sex and Intimacy

Will Having Friends of the Opposite Sex Hurt My Marriage?

Have you and your spouse specified rules around opposite-sex friendships in your marriage? Some believe these rules are appropriate, while others think they are archaic. Regardless, there is research in this area worth considering.

Several noted relationship experts—Dr. Shirley Glass, psychologist and author, Dr. Scott Haltzman, psychiatrist and author, and Dr. Thomas Bradbury, psychologist and principal investigator of the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study—raise a red flag of warning regarding marriage and opposite-sex friendships.

In her book, “NOT ‘Just Friends,’” Glass states that, contrary to popular belief, most people do not set out to have an affair. It is faulty thinking to believe that attraction to someone else means something is wrong at home. It is possible to be attracted to somebody else, even if your marriage is good.

If most people don’t set out to have an affair, then how do you protect yourself from infidelity? The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where people work so closely, it’s important to make sure you’re not creating opportunities for infidelity to occur. This is especially true at times when you are vulnerable, such as after a fight with your spouse or when you’re grieving.

One of the most common pathways to an affair is when a man and woman who are “just friends” innocently begin discussing problems in their primary relationship. In other words, you are doing your marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to your marriage.

So, if the above situation is a common pathway, consider the following question, “Can opposite-sex friendships exist in marriage?” According to the experts, it depends.

Many enter marriage with opposite-sex friendships where they describe the person “like a brother or sister,” yet their spouse is uncomfortable with the relationship. Does this sound familiar?

Make time with your spouse to talk about your marriage and opposite-sex friendships. Here are some tips to guide your conversation.

Clear boundaries create great guardrails and show respect for your marriage.
Discuss expectations and boundaries in your marriage. For example, “We won’t discuss marital problems individually with a member of the opposite sex.” You probably believe you’d never be weak enough to fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. The reality is few who find themselves there say they were looking for it. If you believe this could never happen to you, you might be in the danger zone.

Keep the lines of communication open.
Talk about how you can avoid creating walls of secrecy. How will you intentionally make sure you do your marriage work with each other? How will you handle moments when you don’t “feel” like communicating, such as after a disagreement or when you’re stressed at work?

Guard against outside influences.
You aren’t always going to be aware of the danger zone; in fact, at times, you may be oblivious to it. Know that, sometimes, your spouse can see something you’re oblivious to. Do the work now to prevent unnecessary drama in your marriage.

Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage.
Talk openly about how your behavior and actions as individuals, especially when you’re not together, impacts your relationship. What specific actions will you take to make sure your marriage stays healthy and strong?

Ultimately, there is no one answer to the questions, “Can opposite-sex friendships exist in marriage?”; or “Will having friends of the opposite sex hurt my marriage?” Whether or not opposite-sex friendships can exist in your marriage is a decision you and your spouse must make together. All in all, it’s most important to have honest conversations about opposite-sex friendships in the context of your marriage.

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