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