The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Boundaries in Marriage: Opposite Sex Friendships

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AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Since your spouse can’t be your all-in-all, it is a very healthy thing to maintain friendships outside of your marriage. Some of us naturally identify with and relate to the opposite sex better than we do our own. Some men gravitate towards female friends and vice versa. This shouldn’t be viewed as a negative thing because God loves variety, but we do need to be wise in how we handle our opposite sex friendships after we are married.

From one to two.

Now that you’re married, your marriage takes priority in the realm of human relationships. You are no longer single, and that should have a big impact on your social life. You need to introduce your spouse to any friends that you have. Close friends should be brought over to dinner so that your spouse can get better acquainted with them and observe the dynamic between you and your friend. The goal here is to assure your spouse that there is no cause for jealousy. Explain the background of your friendship to your spouse and share your favorite memories of that person so your spouse understands why this friendship is important to you.

Secrecy is death in a marriage, so don’t go there. Sharing private jokes with your friend in front of your spouse is both rude and foolish. Be forthcoming with explanations so your spouse feels totally included in the conversation. Make a point to honor your spouse in front of your friend in classy ways. Hanging all over your spouse and oozing a bunch of bedroom platitudes is immature and tactless. You don’t have to make your friend feel like a third wheel in order to honor your spouse. There are many simple things you can do to demonstrate where your loyalties lie. For example, when the three of you sit down, you should always be next to your spouse, not your friend. Look for opportunities to compliment your spouse in front of your friend. Don’t mock or embarrass your spouse. Don’t share classified information—especially stories of times when your spouse felt foolish. Let your spouse control how much information they want to share about themselves. Give them plenty of invitations to join in the conversation by saying things like, “What do you think about that, honey?” They might want to just observe at first. If you know your spouse is shy, respect that. If you do step in it, sincerely apologize right then and there. Wise behavior up front will save you a whole lot of trouble later on.

Once you encourage jealousy to take root, it is very hard to get rid of, so don’t go there. “I’m going out with John again,” is going to make any husband feel uncomfortable if he doesn’t feel like he has a pretty good handle on who John is and why he doesn’t need to feel threatened by him. Even same sex friends can become a cause for jealousy if you act more bonded to them than you do to your spouse. Be upfront about where you’re going and what you’re planning to do. Invite your spouse to come along. Don’t always be meeting at times that you know your spouse can’t come. If they show any interest in coming, rearrange schedules to make that happen. Don’t spend hours and hours alone with opposite sex friends. Keep your meetings in public places. Going out for coffee, going out to eat, or going to some public activity is fine. Sitting together in a dark movie theater or hanging out alone at your friend’s house is not fine. Be aware that your friend is having to undergo a big transition as well. Now that you’re married, they are feeling a shift in your priorities and it might be very painful for them, especially if you are their main friend. Be sensitive to their feelings. Let them know you still value your relationship with them even though your priorities have changed.

Some newlyweds become very obnoxious about flaunting their marital status in the faces of their single friends. Yes, your spouse comes first, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon all manners. If you make a date with a friend, you need to keep it. Constantly going back on your word in order to accommodate the mood swings of your spouse is tacky. Your spouse should know when you go out with a friend and how long you expect to be gone. When you’re out with your friend, don’t be constantly interrupting the conversation by talking to your spouse on the phone. This is just plain rude. Whatever your spouse wants can wait a couple of hours. Obviously there are cases of legitimate emergencies, but you need to set boundaries and make it clear when you go out that you won’t be available by phone for a while.

The same is true in reverse. When your spouse heads out with his or her good friends, don’t be the rude pest who is constantly sending text messages. Give your spouse some space. Marriages need to breathe. It benefits you for your spouse to hang out with other people instead of trying to get all of their emotional needs met at home.

Maybe when you get married, you have a lot of friends but your spouse has none. In such a case, make an extra effort to make your spouse a part of your social circle. Include them in a way that doesn’t make them feel like a third wheel. The hope here is that your spouse will start to form their own friendships with some of your friends, then everyone can be happy.

When you get back from hanging out with your friend, give your spouse the news update. Don’t agree to keep secrets from your spouse for the sake of your friend. Your spouse is number one and that needs to be respected. If your friend shares really personal things with you, they need to understand that they are also sharing them with your spouse. Once you are married, you need to operate as a team. You can’t afford to be keeping secrets from your spouse, especially when it comes to your opposite sex friends. But the same is not true in reverse. There is plenty about your spouse that you shouldn’t be sharing with your friend. Anything that is said in the bedroom needs to stay in the bedroom. Discussing your sex life or your spouse’s anatomy with any friend is totally inappropriate. Your spouse shouldn’t have to say “this is a secret” for you to identify which things are inappropriate for you to talk about. Would you want your spouse to go broadcasting the things you said when you were in bed together? Would you want the world to know how you choked out some painful memory from your past? Remember that anything you share with a friend will probably end up being passed on to other people. What you share will also affect how your friend views your spouse. Rely on the Holy Spirit to help you know when you shouldn’t share something then obey His convictions. When in doubt, skip it, or else get permission from your spouse before you go meet your friend: “Do you mind if I tell Joe about the conversation we had earlier?”

Taking care of business at home.

Your spouse is most prone to start feeling jealous of your friendships when there are unresolved tensions at home. Don’t let arguments stay unresolved. Wives: keep your husband sexually satisfied. Husbands: be vocal about how much you love your wife. Guard your alone time. Don’t be always running off with friends during the times when your spouse is available. There should be at least one night during the work week that the two of you spend alone together. Weekends should provide another block of focused couple time. If your family and friends aren’t respecting your boundaries, turn the phones off or leave the house—whatever it takes to get alone together without distraction. It is vital that you stay well-connected with your spouse and up to date about their concerns and struggles.

Your primary function as a spouse is to inspire your partner to a deeper walk with God. Being a positive spiritual influence should be your primary concern–the sex and emotional support is secondary. Your spouse should consider pleasing God to be more important than pleasing you. Praying together is a great way to keep a spiritual focus in your marriage, but you should also pray separately, for there are plenty of things you share with God which should not be shared with your spouse. Praying with your close friends—except for thanking God for a meal—is not appropriate after you are married. Praying creates a deep sense of soul intimacy which is only going to lead to trouble in opposite sex relationships.

What is the tone of the relationship?

Whenever a man and woman get together, there is some degree of sexual tension in the air. This is the way God wired the world, and it doesn’t mean that healthy opposite sex friendships can’t be formed. Some opposite sex friends feel like the siblings you always wished you’d had. When you hang out with them, you get so distracted by the friendship that you stop focusing on their gender. In a healthy sibling relationship, both siblings would find the idea of getting intimate with each other repulsive. They might be very good friends, but there are just some lines that no one wants to cross. When you get the sibling vibe going on with your opposite sex friends, then you’re in a pretty safe spot, provided that the feeling is mutual for the other person. When it is, the friend will not be at all jealous of your spouse—on the contrary, they will be very happy for you both and they will embrace your spouse as another sibling. Sibling type friendships are the kinds of friends that you can safely sit in a dark theater with, go to for advice, and have long chats with on the phone. They feel like part of the family and once your spouse is confident of the sibling dynamic, a very happy trio can be formed.

Some friends you really like but you find it very difficult to stop focusing on their gender. You also feel much more attracted to them, and you can easily picture yourself being with them instead of your spouse if life had worked out differently. These are the friends which pose potential problems for you later on. Every marriage goes through difficult periods, and if you are maintaining opposite sex friends who you feel sexually attracted to, then you are really setting yourself up for failure during those hard times. This is where you need to cut ties and resist the temptation to keep your options open. Your spouse should be the only person in your life who you feel strongly attracted to. When others come along who arouse feelings of attraction in you, you need to keep your distance. If you have to interface with them for some reason, make sure your spouse is always present.

Your spouse’s friends.

Satan is looking for any opportunity to create friction between you and your spouse. Maybe your husband has friends that you feel very attracted to. Maybe your wife has friends that make you feel turned on. When this is the case, the two of you need to be honest with each other and prevent certain combinations from happening. Don’t let yourself end up alone in a room with the friend of your spouse who makes your pulse start racing. Be smart about how you pair up for car rides and other outings. If anyone’s friend starts becoming flirtatious with either you or your spouse, immediate action needs to be taken. This is extremely disrespectful behavior which demonstrates no concern for your marriage. Why would you keep such a friend in your life? Get rid of them.

Your friends need to see you and your spouse as a strong, united front. By keeping each other up to date on all the friend news and guarding your couple time, you and your spouse can prevent your friendships from creating problems.

Listen to God.

The Holy Spirit is your best defense against problematic friendships. Stay in communication with Him. Seek His wisdom in all things. If you start struggling with jealousy, go to Him first before you start complaining to your spouse. Jealousy often springs from insecurities which you need to work out with God alone. It is unreasonable to expect your spouse to tiptoe around every internal fear you have. Remember that it is to your advantage for your spouse to have friends outside of the marriage. Don’t try to stifle them. If they are wired to relate better with opposite sex friends, there’s no need to see this as some automatic threat. As long as the two of you maintain the right priorities and you are both listening to God, both the marriage and the friendships can flourish in a beautiful way.

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