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Your Friends Scare Me
Feeling uncomfortable with your spouse hanging out with the opposite sex is a valid concern.

When your spouse befriends someone of the opposite sex, it can be alarming.

Why do I feel threatened by my spouses opposite-sex friends

I remember when both of my kids, then just out of elementary school, were obsessed with instant messaging. Each of my two children tried to trump the other by pronouncing that he, or she, had the most people on his, or her, "buddy list." It was important back then to have friends and lots of them. And that need doesn’t disappear with age; studies show that even into old age, friends can lead to a happier and healthier life.

So, if having friends is so good, why does it bother you when your spouse is enjoying the company of another person? Well, if that person is someone of the opposite sex, the answer is pretty obvious: you’re worried about your mate becoming sexually attracted to that person, and, well, you know what happens next…

It’s quite common for a husband and wife to struggle with the thorny issue of the acceptability of opposite-sex friends. Sometimes the problem arises from one partner refusing to let go of past boyfriends or girlfriends. Individuals who keep the old flames’ phone numbers in their "contact" file believe it doesn’t make sense to dispose of the friendship when a past relationship fizzles out. From that person’s point of view, a lot of time and energy had been invested in that failed relationship; no reason to throw out the friendship baby with the lovers bathwater. Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

In contrast to the problems of past lovers who come out of the old woodwork, some opposite-sex relationships spring from the new workplace. In many job sites, including the military, men and women work side by side. When put into high intensity situations, like the workplace, people bond. While the job is getting done, it’s only natural that a person should develop a sense of closeness with his or her co-worker. Some people, even if they’re married, think that it’s artificial to limit these positive work experiences to the office—they figure that if it feels good to be around their officemate during work, it should feel good spending time together after work as well.

For every spouse who believes in keeping the friendship-flame alive with past lovers or current co-workers, there’s another spouse who isn’t happy about the arrangement—you! Even though your mate sees lots of good reasons to foster these friendships, you have an even better reason not to: Because it threatens the marriage. You’re concerned that if your partner has a friendship with a person today, it could grow into a love affair tomorrow. And you have every reason to be concerned.

When one individual shares close intimacies with another of the opposite sex, particularly if that person is someone who may be viewed as "attractive," they develop a familiarity that binds them closer together. This connection breeds feelings of a specialness that leaves each with the sense that they have a unique understanding of each other—one that other people can’t appreciate. One big problem with this arrangement is that it excludes the spouse, and directs the energies a partner should be putting into his or her marriage out toward other people.

Your mate may believe that opposite-sex friendships are harmless because of the fact that he or she (or his or her friend) are married. This, it is believed, guarantees that this special connection will never evolve into anything more. But that’s just dead wrong! Many friendships outside of marriage start as being "just friends," and grow closer and more intimate. Because these friendships are so fresh, interesting and compelling, and generate such a positive energy, it’s not long before the two people involved start to think they are more compatible than their own life partners. It’s a small step from that realization to the development of a full-blown affair, and the destruction of the marriage.

Not sure if you need to be concerned? Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is the person your partner spending time with someone whom he or she would consider "attractive"?

2. Is your mate spending time with this other person outside of the office (even for office lunches) when other people are not around?

3. Has your spouse excluded his "friend" from your life, either by not telling you when they are meeting, refusing to introduce you or going into another room to talk on the phone when you are near by.

4. Does your partner tell you that he or she has the kind of relationship with this friend that you just couldn’t understand?

A "yes" to (1) and any of the other three questions means your spouse’s friendship may be a threat to your marriage.

It’s wonderful to have many friends. But if your mate is involved in a special relationship with a person that makes you uncomfortable, don’t ignore that feeling. You’ve got to ask for what you need—for your mate to end further personal and exclusive friendships with people of the opposite sex. Remember, your spouse may not be intending to hurt you, and may honestly feel like there is nothing to worry about. You can assist him or her to understand your concerns; it may help to read this article together.

Finally, your partner may feel it’s rude or unfair to the "friend" to end the exclusivity of the friendship. That may be right, but frankly, not taking action is rude and unfair to you. And, in all cases, the needs of a spouse outweigh the needs of a friend. After all, you should always be number one on your partner’s buddy list.

Dr. Haltzman is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Brown University. He is also the author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Men: Eight Ways to Win Your Wife’s Heart Forever." You can find Dr. Haltzman at www.DrScott.com

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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