Can Married People Be Friends With The Opposite Sex?

Can married people be friends with

Dear Bronwyn,

My marriage had been through a rough year and we’ve become emotionally distant. My husband developed a friendship with a female coworker which I initially was comfortable  with, as he has good  informal friendships with most of his female colleagues.

As the year went on the communication increased. At the end of last year I realised that he had a very deep emotional connection to her, and that I was threatened by this friendship. His belief is that if a friendship is beneficial to his wellbeing and helps him to be a better person then it should be encouraged, and I guess I am in jealous wife space now: any cross-gender friendship feels threatening now.

I need a biblical perspective. What is a godly view of cross-gender friendships, and how should they be approached within the context of marriage?

 

– Worried Wife

 

Dear WW,

I’m sorry to hear things have been tough. Marriage IS hard. So hard. And yes, there are seasons which are better than others, but when you realize you’re getting distant and there are obstacles between you then it’s important to be brave and talk about those things.

I don’t know that there is one “biblical” perspective on male-female friendships when you are married: this is a wisdom-and-love issue, to be sorted out contextually, rather than a right-and-wrong issue. For sure, mature adulthood calls us to be in healthy relationships with both men and women around us – at work, socially, and in worship. I have men I consider friends, and my husband has women he considers friends. But, as you already know, not all friendships are equal.

The guideline in Scripture for healthy relationships across gender lines that comes to mind is that from 1 Timothy 5:2 – ““Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”

As mature believers, we are called to have relationships with both men and women – but we need to make SURE these remain brother and sister like in their tone and purity. I would say that the category of “friend” is unhelpful. The question is: are we behaving as siblings would?

That being said – one of the primary “mirrors” we have for how well we are regulating our relationships is our spouse’s perspective. If you, as a wife, feel that your husband’s emotional attachment to you is waning and his attachment to another woman is growing, my guess is that you are feeling alarm bells for a reason. And, I would think, that as a husband who is called to SACRIFICIALLY love his wife, that he should be willing to adjust his relationships accordingly. This is not to say that as spouses we are at the whim of our spouses’ insecurities, but surely part of our calling in covenant love is to do EVERYTHING we can to love our spouse as best we can? Sensitivity to their hurts and needs is part of that.

For a husband to say “this friendship is beneficial to my wellbeing and helps me to be a better person” is an UNTRUE statement if that friendship is, in fact, making him a less attentive husband. The issue is less that he’s emotionally close to this friend (and defensive of it!), but that he’s less concerned about the growing emotional distance with you.

I don’t think it is fair or wise to just say that you are in “jealous wife space” and should learn to deal with this insecurity. If you are jealous, it is with a godly jealousy for your husband’s affection. It is right that we should want the attention and confidences of our spouse.

Furthermore, I think there is some naivety involved here on the part of people who think that building emotional intimacy with someone is not a threat to their marriage. I personally believe that for many women, feeling emotionally close to someone a powerfully electric call to intimacy. I think that for many women, having a guy share their deep feelings with them has the same effect on them as it might for a woman to brush her breasts up against a guy: it GETS THEIR ATTENTION. (I have many more thoughts on this topic, but I won’t get too deeply into it here.) For this reason, I think wise husbands and wives need to be as careful about sharing emotions with people as they are careful about not flirting sexily with others. Both can be very dangerous catalysts.

So what to do?

I think it’s more important to communicate “I want to be closer to you!” than “I don’t want you to be close to her.” But it is also fair to say “When you spend time with this friend, I feel insecure.” (better than “you make me feel insecure”)

A friend of mine tells me that whenever she and her husband find they are having a breakdown in communication, it helps them to both take an honest look at how they are feeling. She says that, without fail, if they start a conversation where she identifies how she’s not feeling loved by his specific behaviors, and he identifies how he’s not feeling respected by her specific behaviors – it helps them not only get to the root of why they are feeling disconnected but also immediately identifies specific practical steps to address. I haven’t test-driven this tactic, but I pass it on because it might be helpful to ask “How could I make you feel more respected right now?”, and then think about ways you can think of that he could affirm his love and emotionally reconnect with you.

I know many people who have found marriage counseling a really helpful tool to get them chatting about their marriages in healthy ways. In fact, when we spent a few weeks in marriage counseling last year after hitting a wall, I was STUNNED at how many healthy, long-time married couples said “we did marriage counseling! it was SO HELPFUL!”. It totally shattered my view that counseling was only for times of crisis, and actually was a really great tool for people whose marriages were healthy-and-still-facing-real-life-problems. I hope that speaking to a trusted therapist is an option that might be open to you.

Ultimately, the more secure the two of you feel with each other, the less of a temptation it will be to share emotional intimacy with others outside your marriage in an unhealthy way.

And, of course, I’ll pray. Your marriage is worth praying over, crying over, fighting for and celebrating.

Love,

Bronwyn

Got a Question? Write to me at the Ask Me Anything page, and I’ll do my best to get back to you in a timely fashion. 

12 thoughts on “Can Married People Be Friends With The Opposite Sex?

  1. Wise counsel…especially on how to approach it. “Nagging and accusing” will do no good! WW, praying that you and he will go to counseling. If HE chooses not to go, go for yourself and work out your “stuff”. There is no shame…..we all have it!

  2. Hi Bronwyn, I think the key to keeping a friendship in a healthy zone (treating like a sibling) is to make sure you include your spouse in the friendship. This does not necessarily mean every interaction, nor does it mean that your spouse will have or desire to build a friendship with that person. The inclusion of the other person communicates to both your spouse and the friend that the friendship is secondary to the marriage. It keeps things from being hidden and in the correct perspective for all people involved.

    • YES. Brian, I thought exactly the same thing. I have a few brotherly friendships of exactly this kind, and it’s precisely because they are within the “orbit” of my marriage ( I am friends with both the wife and the husband, as is my my husband). It’s when we being an orbit of friendship that bypasses or excludes our spouse that we head towards danger.

    • Yes, Brian, YES!!! Such a good addition to this conversation. I have found that if I find myself reluctant to introduce my spouse to my friend – that’s usually a BIG RED FLAG to me that I need to be extra careful about that relationship. Keeping everything above board is crucial for everyone.

  3. Helpful thoughts, thanks for posting on this!

    I found Anna Broadway’s reflections on how people can misrecognize and deceive themselves about the true character of their friendships with the other sex to be very insightful too. For me, an important step has always been to disrupt and prevent the development of any overly one-to-one, face-to-face dynamic and to focus the friendship upon a larger network of friendship, shared activity, and common commitments.

  4. I have close women friends. Were that to come up with one f my friends., I’d back up fr what ever time it took to repair their marriage or it totally crashed. Remember, doing this does not mean you have stopped being their friend. In fact, tt would be the opposite. It would be doing what is in the best interest of the friend.

  5. Interesting thanks. I’m currently considering as a married woman whether to call time on a good friendship I’ve developed with a currently single male friend (ex co-worker). I have tried to do the right things, I have included my husband who likes my friend (they like each other), but recently my husband has expressed negativity.

    I thought inviting my friend over was the safest most ‘above board’ thing to do, but after last visit my husband was not happy. This is further complicated by the fact he doesn’t like have anyone over, not even my family, not even our son’s friends – I didn’t realise to what degree, so I’ve inadvertently upset him.

    He then said although he likes this person, he finds him ‘hard work’ and doesn’t enjoy his company for more than very short periods. This was followed by how I have been thoughtless and not considered how this friendship will look to others, particularly our son, and that it will set a bad example to him. He says I’m naïve, and has speculated that my friend may have an ulterior motive, then changed his mind and said he probably didn’t (my friend has severe anxiety issues around romantic relationships with women and tbh even if I was single I would not consider him as a partner, but he is a loyal and kind friend, all of this my husband knows).

    I got so confused because in the next sentence he said he didn’t want to stop the friendship, just not have my friend over (he won’t go over to my friend’s or approve of me to visit him alone), so meeting on neutral territory (cafes) is the only option we’re left with. Tbh I don’t know if this would be wise, or if ultimately this friendship will damage our marriage. I’m also worried if he is right and my son will respect me less/be set a bad example.

    Couples counselling sounds good, but he has always refused point blank to go (although I had therapy myself alone, with a relationship counsellor some years ago).

    Sorry this is so long but if you could reply I’d be so grateful for your input as it’s obviously an area you’re interested in.

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