It can be a challenge to balance the intimacy of our marriages with the other important friendships in our lives. This is especially true if we have close friends of the opposite gender. While same-sex friendships tend to be easy to nurture after we’re married, there’s an entirely different set of considerations when it comes to having opposite-sex friends.
The first question to ask ourselves is, where are we going to invest our energy and focus? Obviously, our marriage is the most precious relationship to protect. Outside of that, we have to decide how we’re going to approach our other relationships in light of this sacred covenant we’ve created with our spouse.
So does that mean we have to abandon our opposite-sex friends once we’re married? Not at all. But we may have to make some changes in order to prioritize our marriages moving forward. Read on for a few common opposite-gender friendship scenarios…and how to handle them.
1. Maintaining friendships with the opposite sex when your spouse is uneasy
First, it’s important to note that simply having opposite-sex friends shouldn’t be threatening to your marriage. That is, unless your spouse is feeling deeply unnerved by it.
If your spouse feels threatened by your friendships, you’ll need to be respectful of their feelings. You’ll also need to talk to your spouse about it. Without hostility or blaming, gently let your spouse know that you’ve noticed they seem to be feeling uneasy about your friend(s). Give them a chance to tell you why, then offer reassurance that you’re committed to your marriage.
Your spouse’s discomfort with your friendships doesn’t mean you have to sever them completely. But it does mean you need to be extra diligent about building your spouse’s confidence. Your treatment of the situation should help reassure your spouse that your friendships are safe. You don’t have to lose your friendships, but you do have to demonstrate that your spouse’s needs and your commitment to the marriage are more important.
If you can, involve your spouse in the friendships, or build them into couple friendships. Set some boundaries that help your spouse feel more secure, like carefully considering where you go and what you do with these friends. Above all, make sure your spouse can feel comfortable and relaxed–not uncomfortable and anxious. Building these protective hedges around your marriage will let your spouse know that you cherish your relationship, and you care about it enough to protect it at all costs.
2. Navigating a close friendship with an opposite-sex coworker
If you’ve developed a close friendship with an opposite-sex coworker, it’s important to be aware that this can set off warning alarms in your spouse’s mind. After all, we spend a huge part of our lives at work; it’s very common for spouses to question, “Could there be something more to this friendship?” And unfortunately, workplace affairs are common.
Be aware that a friendship with your coworker could make your spouse feel suspicious, jealous, and vulnerable. With this in mind, reassure your spouse that you love them and cherish your relationship. Then, it might be best to make some decisions together about how and where you’ll spend time with your coworker during business hours and work-related activities.
Keep your in-office interactions as public as possible, and make sure to speak positively about your spouse often. Display photos of your spouse and children around your desk to show their importance to you life.
Perhaps your spouse might feel more comfortable if you agree not to be alone with your coworker for prolonged periods of time. You might need to avoid going off-site alone with your coworker friend, to lunches, meetings, or elsewhere. Maybe you can agree to carpool with three or more people if you travel out of the office for any reason–or arrange to drive alone if carpooling isn’t an option.
Most importantly, if your spouse comes to you upset about your friendship, be careful not to become defensive or reactive. Try to empathically understand where they’re coming from, and be patient as you listen. Let them know it’s okay to express vulnerability, and give them the reassurance they need to feel more secure. Above all, keep the dialogue open and honest.
3. Reestablishing a friendship with an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend
So an old flame has tried to reconnect with you, and you’re considering whether you should pursue a friendship with them. If you have to question whether it’s appropriate to reconnect with an ex after a period of time, you might be dealing with some old feelings. It’s easy to tell yourself you don’t have any sense of attachment to that person, but if you’re asking the question in the first place, you need to pause.
First, you need to sort through your feelings. You’re confused, and that’s understandable. But before you pursue this friendship, ask yourself a few questions:
- Do you feel like this is a relationship your spouse doesn’t need to know about?
- Do you doubt whether you could include your spouse in the friendship?
- How can you make your marriage and commitment to your spouse part of the reconnection and friendship?
- Do you feel comfortable with the idea of being friends with your ex?
Listen to your gut. If you know you wouldn’t feel totally comfortable with this relationship, this isn’t going to be a healthy connection for you or your marriage. The heart is nostalgic, and it’s very possible for old feelings to be stirred up and evoked in you when it comes to a person you used to be romantic with.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking back fondly on an old relationship, or even having a friend. But if you feel like this needs to be separate from your marriage, that’s a major red flag.
Talk to your spouse about this potential reconnection to see how they feel. If you decide together that this ex can be brought into your current life as a friend, it might work out if they can also be friends with your spouse. But tread carefully–this is sensitive territory. The bottom line is to always, always protect your marriage first.
How do you and your spouse navigate opposite-sex friendships in relation to your marriage? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.