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  Can Married People Have Opposite Sex Friends?
6 surefire tips to help protect your marriage when dealing with friends of the opposite sex.

It's difficult to not create relationships with the opposite sex when they are co-workers.

If you feel deep down that your friend has romantic feelings for you, do not pursue the platonic friendship.”
By the time we spend countless hours at work, along with exercise and sports activities with opposite sex colleagues, we often end up associating with our "friends" more than we interact with our spouse. Not to mention, how easily technology and social media have created new platforms for friendships with the opposite sex—yet, again, not with our own spouse.

As society becomes increasingly more integrated among gender lines, the age-old question remains: "Can men and women really just be friends?"

While many people think that platonic friendships can indeed exist, the answer often differs from those who are single and those who are married. The idea of meeting an opposite-sex friend for coffee or a movie seems fraught with the possibility for misinterpretation and hurt feelings with our significant others. I polled a few of my clients and received mixed reviews. Some were totally against opposite sex friends while others found nothing wrong with the idea. Responses ranged from, "My husband and I made a deal early on to not have opposite-sex friendships. I think marriage is hard enough without adding that stress to it," to, "I trust my wife and feel certain she would never act inappropriately outside of our marriage vows."

Some manage to maintain opposite-sex friendships in the context of marriage. If all parties are amenable, the friendship can shift to a group dynamic, with each friend bringing their respective partners into the mix.

Here's a quick example from a client: Emma recalls how when she first began dating her future husband, she considered his close friendship with a female friend as a bonus; to her, his ability to maintain a platonic friendship with a woman was a credit to his personality. As their dating relationship became more serious, the friendship morphed and the two women became the closer friends. Then, when the female friend began a romantic relationship with someone else, the two couples spent a lot of time together. "My husband's friendship with his former best friend was a blessing in disguise, as now she is my best friend and we both are godparents to her children."

Not all opposite-sex friendships are so well received. Jane’s husband was training for a marathon with a group of women and men. However, Jane became extremely uncomfortable when she learned that her husband was running the long runs solely with another woman. "He has never given me reason to worry, but I still didn’t like the thought of just the two of them spending so much time alone," says Jane. She told her husband about her feelings and after reassuring Jane that there was no attraction, he eventually agreed to stop running alone with the woman when he started getting mixed signals from the other woman.

Here are a few tips to ponder:

1. Listen to your intuition. If you feel deep down that your friend has romantic feelings for you, do not pursue the platonic friendship.

2. Keep personal space and physical touch in check. Although the relationship may be more relaxed than a business client, keep the same amount of distance and space you would with your boss's wife. Close proximity and intimate touch is reserved for your spouse alone.

3. Don't discuss your spouse's flaws with your friend. Even if you consider yourself very close friends, it's a form of betrayal to vent to your friend about your spouse's shortcomings, especially without addressing it with your spouse first.

4. Meet in public places at appropriate times of day. Just like mom used to say, "Nothing good happens after 1:00 a.m.," the same holds true with your friend. Time and place is a consideration when meeting with your friend of the opposite gender.

5. Include your spouse in your plans. If it's only platonic, there should be no problem with one more person tagging along.

6. Your spouse always comes first. If your relationship with your friend is causing marital strife, your first consideration should always be your mate.

While there is no clear-cut answer to that age-old question of whether men and women can truly be just friends, for married people, the message is clear: tread carefully and keep your relationship with your spouse above all others. No matter how successfully you think you’re managing your marriage and your opposite-sex friendship, if your spouse thinks it’s a problem, then it is indeed a problem.

Diane Gottsman, a nationally recognized etiquette expert, is the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in etiquette training for corporations, universities and individuals, striving to polish their interpersonal skills. You can reach Diane at 877-490-1077 or www.protocolschooloftexas.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @: www.twitter.com/DianeGottsman.

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