My husband and I both have close friendships with members of the opposite sex. We often hear warnings that this can be dangerous to a marriage. While I understand the need for emotional fidelity and the importance of guarding against unnecessary temptations in my marriage, we trust each other completely, and we feel that these friendships are very valuable and beneficial to us.Why should we deny ourselves the blessings of relationship with over half our social circle? Is that really necessary?

Dave: First off, I think it’s fabulous that you and your husband have such a deep level of trust for one another. Trust is foundational to a healthy marriage, so I commend you for that. Nevertheless, I do think it’s important for every married couple to set some clear boundaries in terms of relationships with the opposite sex. The warnings you have heard are given for good reason. As a counselor, I have seen too many good people who believed they were safe fall into temptation. Being careful in this area doesn’t demonstrate a lack of trust in your spouse; it demonstrates wisdom and a willingness to value the marriage above all else.

Donalyn: I’d have to agree with that. While I understand how much you value these friendships, I also think that there are better ways to have these needs met than through a one-on-one friendship with a member of the opposite sex. Sometimes it’s when we think we are beyond the reach of temptation that it strikes hardest.

Dave: There are several dangers that I think we need to be aware of here. Clearly, if there is any kind of physical attraction or chemistry, the relationship is out of bounds. You don’t want to play with fire. But even in the absence of sexual attraction, a close connection with a person of the opposite sex can make your spouse feel threatened and insecure. Now, I realize you said this isn’t an issue in your marriage. Many times though, these feelings go unspoken and perhaps even unrecognized. As deeply as I trust Donalyn, there is also a tremendous security that comes from knowing she has clear boundaries with other men.

Donalyn: I know that I would be concerned if Dave was spending a growing amount of time with another woman in any context. In some cases, especially if it’s a work-based friendship, you end up spending more time with another person than you do with your spouse. That definitely raises the prospect of significant attachments developing, whether intentionally or not.

Don’t underestimate the power of emotional bonding.

Dave: That’s right. You want to guard against growing emotionally dependent on someone other than your spouse. Don’t underestimate the power of emotional bonding. This kind of attachment can actually lead to longing when you’re separated from the person, and that is truly dangerous territory. You may need to ask yourself some tough questions. Who are you thinking about more: your spouse or your friend? Why do you need to get together with this person? What needs are being met?

Donalyn: Keep in mind what a good friend really is. A close friend is someone you can share your heart with. This may include opening up and talking about any problems or concerns you have with your husband. This kind of thing should never be shared with a sympathetic man. Many marriages have been destroyed by going down this path. And it’s usually not intentional; it’s just how the situation unfolds. No man should ever be given the opportunity to get close to the place that should be reserved for your husband, and the same goes for him with other women.

Dave: What Donalyn is saying is that your need for connection and friendship should be met primarily by your husband. Your female friends play an important role in meeting needs that he can’t meet, but to have those needs met by other men is risky. And we all have needs that can’t be met by our spouse. For example, Donalyn isn’t going to meet my need to have fun playing competitive sports. So I play ball with the guys, and there’s no risk factor in that.

No matter how strong your marriage is, you need to protect it

Donalyn: No matter how strong your marriage is, you need to protect it by building hedges around it — big, strong, concrete ones! In our marriage, we have agreed on some clear, practical boundaries to ensure that neither of us ever gets close to the danger zone. For example, neither Dave nor I will ever be alone in a car with or have a meal alone with a person of the opposite sex. These activities may seem harmless, but they do create the opportunity for temptation to develop. They also carry the appearance of compromise to outsiders, so it’s best to stay away from situations like this. Instead, we do things as couples.

Dave: Friendships with other couples are invaluable. Because you’re right, there are blessings that come from having relationships with people of the opposite sex. But these blessings can be enjoyed just as much when you are together as a group of four, or a minimum of three. If there is any pairing off within the friendship, it should be men with men and women with women.

Donalyn: If you have some friendships that you need to begin to back away from a little bit, I would encourage you to find an accountability partner of the same sex who can help you walk through this. It’s a great practice to get into.

Dave: Finally, I’d suggest you take this time to evaluate your marital relationship. Are you giving it enough time for your marriage to really thrive? The best marriages come when your spouse is your best friend.

This article was written by: Dr. Dave Currie

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