Can Spouses Have Friends of the Opposite Sex? Ground rules for opposite-sex friends and marriage. BY SHARON M. RIVKIN, MA, MFT
Without proper ground rules and understanding, three can definitely be a crowd.
“ But limiting our friendships with the opposite sex once youíre married doesnít allow us the richness and perspective that we can gain from a member of the opposite sex.”
Opposite-sex friendships are tricky and can be a direct threat to your marriage, but they donít have to be. For most people, fear comes not from the friendship, but in keeping the friendship non-sexual; which can be difficult given that 90 percent of the time one of the individuals has experienced romantic feelings for his/her friend. Sometimes this is talked about and sometimes it isnít, but the feelings are there.
But limiting our friendships with the opposite sex once youíre married doesnít allow us the richness and perspective that we can gain from a member of the opposite sex. With some foresight and consciousness, itís possible to have friends of the opposite sex and keep your marriage strong and healthy. To make these relationships work and beat the odds, follow the opposite-sex friendship ground rules below:
Don'ts 1. No secrets! All parties should know each other and know about the friendship. If anything should change in the friendship, your spouse needs to know.
2. Time spent with the friend should never supersede time spent with your husband or wife, unless there is a dire emergency.
3. Never make an agreement that canít be changed. The agreement should always be negotiable, so that if the friendship isnít working for your spouse, it can always be modified or cancelled.
4. Never make your spouse feel that he/she isnít the most important relationship to you. This is basically uncharted territory, so be aware and sensitive of your partnerís feelings.
5. Never put your friendís needs first. By keeping your spouse as your number one priority, the mystery surrounding the friendship diminishes, and your spouse will more likely view the friend as a real person and not just a fantasy.
Dos 1. To ensure comfort and trust, there needs to be a high level of maturity and self-esteem with all involved. Evaluate this with your spouse and really talk about everyoneís concerns and fears.
2. Ground rules need to be established from the beginning, i.e., whatís okay and whatís not for all the people involved. For instance, is it okay for the friends to get together when you or your spouse is out of town? How much time is spent with the friend on a monthly basis? What do the friends do together? Is dancing okay? Is dinner okay? Each couple will have their own individual concerns and questions to consider.
3. Everyone needs to be in agreement that itís okay for the friendship to take place. No one should be left out of the process.
4. The person having the friendship needs to have strong, clear personal boundaries and open communication with their spouse and their friend. They need to be up front at all times with their husband or wife, letting him/her know when theyíre seeing their friend, etc.
5. If the primary partner ever feels uncomfortable with the arrangement, he/she can speak up at any time. Their feelings and concerns need to be considered and taken seriously.
In theory, most couples want their spouses to be happy and to have friends of the opposite sex. In reality, this can only happen by following ground rules. The main issues surrounding these friendships are usually jealousy and sex. If you can talk about your friend freely and make him/her a real person to your spouse, there is less likelihood of these types of problems occurring. Keep the lines of communication open at all times with everyone involved. Be honest with yourself about your ability to have good boundaries, and clarity about what is appropriate in a friendship and your marriage. There are differences. As long as everything is out in the open and with appropriate ground rules, friendships with the opposite sex are possible.
Sharon M. Rivkin, Marriage and Family Therapist, and author of "The First Argument: Cutting to the Root of Intimate Conflict," (www.thefirstargument.com) has worked with couples for 25-plus years. Her unique insight into the first argument was featured in "O: The Oprah Magazine" and "Readerís Digest," and has attracted people throughout the U.S. and abroad for consultation, workshops, and courses. For more information on Sharon Rivkin visit www.sharonrivkin.com.