Committing ourselves to a monogamous relationship does not mean forfeiting the experience of being friends with people of the opposite sex when in heterosexual relationships or people of the same-sex when in homosexual relationships. (For simplicity purposes of this article, please use whatever gender fits your situation.)
Allowing ourselves to form friendships extends our social network and develops our sense of belonging. It nourishes our need for connection with others and it aids our personal growth.
It is not wrong to have friends outside our intimate relationship. In fact, it is vital to have friends outside our intimate relationship.
“Limiting friendships with the opposite sex once you’re married doesn’t allow you the richness and perspective that you can gain from a member of the opposite sex.” Sharon Rivkin (Marriage Counsellor)
So What’s The Problem?
This topic often causes disagreements in relationships because a deepening friendship can often enhance our sense of threat to our relationship. Feelings of insecurity, suspicion and jealousy can easily arise. To avoid these uncomfortable feelings, we have the tendency to want to control people and situations. Controlling our partner’s circle of friends does not result in healthy relationship dynamics. Resentment usually builds up and intimacy begins to suffer greatly.
Opposite-sex friendships are defined as ‘a voluntary, supportive, non-romantic association between people of the opposite sex’. While this sounds very neutral, pleasant and non-threatening, the realities are more complex. Opposite-sex friendships are a modern phenomenon and are judged against the traditional view of romantic relationships characterised by emotional intimacy, the sharing of private details, sexual attraction and displays of affection.
Research shows that independent of attachment style, most men and women whose partners have opposite-sex friends are regularly confronted with feelings of apprehension, suspicion and relationship insecurity. This reaction is in fact being validated by other research confirming that the vast majority of partners with opposite-sex friends report being emotionally and/or sexually attracted to their friends.
Evolutionary psychologists provide biological, psychological and physiological explanations for why relational connections of emotions and sex are usually unavoidable in opposite-sex friendships.
“Spouses who have close opposite-sex friendships are toying with one of the riskiest and most short-sighted behaviours that commonly lead to infidelity and ultimately divorce.” Debra Macleod (Relationship Expert)
“But We’re Just Friends!”
While this may be the truth in your case, extensive research and statistics show that opposite-sex friendships contribute towards conflict within relationships and increase the likelihood of affairs and break-ups. So it is worth exploring your intentions within both your relationship and your friendship before dismissing the complexities of this situation as an issue that only insecure people have.
Todd E. Linaman, founder of Relational Advantage, recommends assessing a number of factors that, if ignored, can threaten your relationship. It is then your responsibility to make the most respectful decision based on the boundaries within your relationship.
Your friendship may not be so innocent if you and/ or your friend …
- Engage in sexual flirtations (in person or via technology)
- Discuss personal sexual and otherwise intimate details or experiences
- Hide the friendship from your partner
- Would behave differently with each other when your partner was around
- Are attracted to each other
- Compare your partner unfavourable to your friend
- Entertain romantic or sexual fantasies about your friend
- Complain about your relationship to your friend
- Share secrets with your friend that you keep from your partner
- Have been romantic and/ or sexual partners in the past
If any of these are happening or have happened, your friendship poses a threat to the quality of your relationship.
If you are certain that your friendship does not threaten your relationship, you can apply some of these suggestions to ensure both relationship and friendship continue to thrive:
- Nurture your romantic relationship and treat your partner like your very best friend
- Ensure your partner knows your friend and stays informed about the friendship
- Respect your partner’s concerns and wishes regarding your friendship
- Avoid making new opposite-sex friends especially when they are single
- Avoid making new opposite-sex friends during times when you struggle in your relationship
- Address unmet needs and unresolved conflict and resentment within your relationship in an honest, open and timely manner
- Put effort into your relationship and create opportunities for fun, novelty, excitement and adventure
- Maintain solid boundaries with your friend and do not share private, intimate or sexual details with them
When we know how to maintain a healthy relationship with our partners while remaining engaged in same-sex friendships, we can thrive and grow as individuals by experiencing different types of closeness and connection. Opposite-sex friendships are neither wrong or right – you just have to adapt depending on your individual circumstances.