This is one of the questions I get asked the most: Is it okay for married individuals to have “close” (emotionally intimate), friendships with members of the opposite sex? And if so, how close is too close?
First, I think we’d all agree that there is such a thing as “too close,” and in my work with couples, I like to use the following questions to help people assess whether “too close” is happening.
- Do you find yourself looking for opportunities to spend time with this person away from your spouse?
- Has your spouse indicated to you that they feel threatened by this relationship?
- Are you finding it necessary to withhold information about this relationship (the content of conversations, the nature of meetings, your feelings about the relationship, or even practical details like if and when you are meeting or talking) from your spouse?
- Do you find yourself missing this person or thinking about how to cross paths with them during an absence?
- Do you tell this person private details about your life, your relationships (not limited to, but especially including your marriage), your frustrations, and your goals?
- Is meeting or talking with this person your “happy” fix for the day?
- Do you find yourself defensive of this relationship? Are you fighting to win the right to stay in it?
When individuals answer yes to any of the above, I encourage them to consider the potential that this friendship is dangerously close to crossing some lines that could damage their most important relationship—their marriage.
No one ever gets ahead in marriage by doing something that leaves their spouse feeling threatened or intimidated.
Matthew 19:4–6 (NLT)
4 “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’* 5 And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’* 6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
This reminds me of the three-legged races I participated in as a kid. At the beginning of the race, some adult would tie my right leg to my teammate’s left leg, thus “joining” us into one competitive force. At the point that we became joined together, our success hinged on our ability to cooperate and support each other. We were still individuals, capable of making our own choices and decisions, but because we were “joined,” our outcome would be determined by our ability to do what was in both of our best interests.
No one ever wins a three-legged race by sabotaging their teammate, or pulling against them away from the goal. But that is exactly what Satan wants to see happen in marriages. His goal is to get these two individuals who have been “joined” to begin pulling against each other to the point that the relationship is either unsuccessful or unsafe. He wants to convince married individuals to behave as though they were single.No one gets the best out of marriage if they're still behaving like they're single. Click To Tweet
If a friendship is important enough you have to fight for it, it’s significant enough that your spouse will have to compete with it.
This is the circular argument I usually hear in favor of keeping that friendship we’ve been talking about: “but it’s not like we’re really that close… my spouse has nothing to worry about because we’re not as into each other as he/she thinks we are.”
At first that sounds like a reasonable argument, but when I point out that if the friendship really isn’t all that close, it shouldn’t represent that much of a loss if he or she needs to walk away, much backpedaling ensues. The reason? It’s because that relationship is more important than they’re comfortable admitting.
There will always be a risk factor.
I’d like to believe that I could never cheat on my wife, but the truth is I could. Given the right temptation under the right circumstances, any of us are capable of doing things we know are very wrong. Because I have an intense desire never to let Wendy down in this way, I’ve put boundaries in my life that help me ensure that I make decisions that are consistent with my values. This is one of those areas.
Wendy and I have friends of the opposite sex, but when we spend time with them, we do so as a couple. I don’t (and won’t) hang out recreationally with other women away from Wendy. I know, that makes me an antique, but I don’t much care. It makes me safe for Wendy to be with. That’s the important thing.
Please don’t read into this that I’m advocating the position that you shouldn’t have any opposite-sex friends. Wendy and I both do. The key is that while friendship is a wonderful thing, it has the potential to cross the line if we’re not careful. That’s why I believe it’s important to monitor the closeness of these relationships.
How about you? What are your thoughts on this topic? How close is too close?