Build A Strong Marriage: Erect Boundaries With Friends of the Opposite Sex

by Linda Dominique Grosvenor-Holland

For years as single people we have been urged to foster lasting relationships, be open, honest and learn to communicate our needs clearly and effectively in preparation for our spouse. However, once we’ve received that special person into our lives that we wish to cherish, share our hopes and dreams with and connect with on the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual level, most of us haven’t been taught beyond that. We haven’t been taught how or when to break ties with or “cool down” some former relationships that may be detrimental to the budding marriage covenant itself. Of course, we’re talking about being friends with those of the opposite sex.

In this day and age you may not think that men and women being friends is an issue because society is so free about what it readily accepts and people think nothing of seeing a married woman sitting in a quaint café, joking and playfully touching a male that isn’t her spouse. But as those of the faith we have to learn to nurture that which we so prayerfully desire. We want to believe that men and women can be just friends—and they can. We’d like to think that once married, neither spouse should have to give up their carefully cultivated friendships with those of the opposite sex in lieu of the marriage itself—and they don’t. There are just serious boundaries that need to be erected to make sure that the emotional needs of the two in the covenant are being fed by each other and not by an outside party.

Bruce Wilkinson, the author of Prayer The of Jabez teaches a marriage seminar on “Leaving and Cleaving” according to Genesis 2:24 that instructs married people on proper behavior for couples. The Word says, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” The definition of cleaving is: to adhere closely, stick, to cling and to remain faithful. Respectfully a couple is not fully “cleaving” if their physical assistance, mental fortitude or emotions are often found outside of the home remedying someone else’s problems and creates issues within their own relationship.

While we may believe that God implores us to be givers and to do good to our neighbors and enemies, none of that supercedes Genesis 2:24 in which we are instructed to “cling” to our mate. Furthermore the Word implores us, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil,” (Romans 14:16 KJV). Your midnight assistance at a friend’s house may be good-natured, but a better option might be to have them call the proper authorities if they have a safety or health issue and check in with them by phone. Sure, it may seem a little secluded to function this way, but God’s Biblical laws and statutes were designed to keep the marriage solid and intact and the enemy completely out.

M. Gary Neuman a noted marriage counselor and the author of Emotional Infidelity: How to Avoid It and 10 Other Secrets to a Great Marriage says, “You don’t have to have sex with anyone else to be unfaithful. Emotional infidelity is just as—and at times even more—destructive to your marriage.” He goes on to share, “We forget the emotional harm of relating to someone outside the marriage [especially] when that same energy can be used to relate to our own spouse”. Meaning, lunch at that new Thai restaurant or Steakhouse that you’ve been eager to try shouldn’t be something you experience for the first time with a co-worker or a friend of the opposite sex. Your marriage and the covenant promise are rooted in discovering new things together and growing as a spiritual unit. No matter how tempted, when it comes to offers presented to you by other people, a new restaurant or grand opening of a gourmet food store is a chance to grow and build memories between you and your spouse—otherwise as a runner up or second thought, it diminishes the excitement of the experience for them.

In my non-fiction book The Plural Thing: Spiritually Preparing for Your Soul Mate I urge readers to do what they know is Biblically right. How we are to govern ourselves in a marriage is in the scriptures. Keeping your marriage thriving takes constant effort and the Word is our guide. Christian couples should never allow friends carte blanche when it comes to their time or resources and you should never become so exhausted helping others that you have little or no time left over for your spouse. Marriage requires DAILY nurturing. God didn’t designate your husband or wife to be a spare wheel or to glean what you have leftover to give after you’ve been a “giver” to everybody else all day long. Remember, cleave to your spouse—that means that nobody comes before them, not parents, career, friends or extracurricular activities.

Just as sure as God desires for you to feel safe with the person He has entrusted you to, it is His desire for them to feel safe with you. It’s hard to feel that safety when you’re wondering what a friend of the opposite sex [whether they’re married or not] calling late at night for consolation from your spouse truly means. Friends should never come to depend on you or your spouse exclusively either. If you have friends of the opposite sex that you converse with regularly that have never engaged your spouse in conversation, let alone met them face to face—you are in error! We should never find ourselves at any level having an isolated relationship with someone that doesn’t include our spouse. Anything that excludes one spouse is a potential set up. Once you are married all of your friendships become a “package deal”. They don’t get just you or your spouse, they accept both of you, greet both of you, extend “hellos” on the telephone to both of you and include you both in any invites or activities.

So, how do we get past the awkwardness and uncomfortable feeling that our spouse can get about the camaraderie with our friends of the opposite sex and realign the boundaries and secure our personal commitment to our mate? Lunch, dinner, church socials, trips to the mall, office parties, company picnics and other functions should always include our significant other. With the aggressive society we live in, no matter how long you’ve been friends with someone it is impossible to know every notion that may have crossed their minds. Often too late, many discover that a friend of the opposite sex was simply maintaining a friendship until a more appealing option presented itself. That’s why your spouse’s presence is so very important. It reinforces to any “mustard seed hopefuls” that they don’t have a chance because your loyalty lies elsewhere.

Those like me that advocate feeding the marriage and starving any opposition to the marriage warn against, “disclosing marital strife and unresolved issues to a coworker or friend” as well as “Traveling together alone with a coworker or friend of the opposite sex,” or  “Social kisses” (the mouth is an intimate organ). Researchers have also noted that many affairs begin between men and women with safe marriages at home and close friendships at work. As they regularly meet for coffee breaks and lunch, these relationships develop into deep friendships. Coworkers come to depend on these coffee rendezvous, and soon they have emotional work friendships and crumbling marriages. Dr. Shirley Glass author of Not Just Friends shares, “Today’s workplace has become the new danger zone of romantic attraction and opportunity,” and that “Eighty-two percent of the 210 unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, ‘just a friend.’” From 1991 to 2000, Glass discovered in her practice that 50 percent of the unfaithful women and about 62 percent of unfaithful men she treated were involved with someone from work.

You can eliminate the problems before they arise by demoting the friendships a notch and promoting your spouse. If you let friends believe that things are going to be the same way with you now that you’re married as it was when you were single, it will be tougher for them to respect any boundaries that you try to erect later on. Prevent yourself from becoming a crutch to your friends. If they always want you to lend them your ear, learn to draw the line at some point and leave the counseling to the professionals. An occasional word of encouragement to a friend is all right as we are called to uplift each other, but it should not become a weekly pep rally or gab session where you are guiding your friend’s life and they can’t make a decision without checking in with you first.

What we all need to grasp here is that when you as a friend provide a sympathetic ear to friends of the opposite sex they can slowly begin to fashion you as the perfect mate in their mind without you even knowing it (especially if their own relationship is crumbling). The thoughts start with, “He/She is so attentive, sweet, helpful and they’re always available when I need them.” They can come to rely on your daily phone calls; it nurtures them, brightens their day and then in a weird twist they can begin to believe that they have claims on your time. Thus, we need to err on the side of caution and keep any possible intrusions at arms length while we nurture the true love that we were given.

It’s truly not about being under the watchful eye of an insecure spouse, because the majority of the time the issue isn’t insecurity or jealousy at all, but rather feelings that stem from what your spouse may feel is your friend’s inappropriateness and disrespect for the marriage covenant. Imagine that its like having the seed of a beautiful flower you hope will one day bloom that you just planted in fertile soil, you’ve barely covered it over and watered it before its dug up by someone else seeking “attention” before it (the seed) has had a chance to form roots, push itself up from the earth and grow towards the sun. Understand that your friends of the opposite sex won’t approach you with a fork tongue, horns and a pointy tail, but we need to realize that sometimes the friends that you’ve had prior to marriage can on some level feel territorial. It’s not always in the speech, sometimes it’s in the way they “need” you in the middle of the night and expect you to drop everything like you did when you were single.

In all fairness, I’m not for a second saying that all male-female relationship are premeditated, but when we enter into a marriage we still need to put personal feelings aside and heed 1 Thessalonians that says, “Abstain from all appearance of evil,” apply it to our everyday lives and make sure that if there are any improper actions that we are quick to hold our friends accountable. We can defend our friends (because we’ve known them for so long) and leave our spouse feeling “uncovered” and “exposed” by saying, “he/she didn’t mean anything by that,” instead of making it clear to your friend(s) in an appropriate manner what kind of kidding and joking will and won’t be tolerated. It is all right to say to a friend, “Listen, my husband/wife is uncomfortable with it when you…” A true friend, who is happy for you and has no selfish motives, will respect that and govern themselves accordingly.

A healthy marriage is a beautiful thing and the institution should never be entered into lightly. You should go into it fully understanding that and requiring that everyone in your circle understands how much you value it. The Word says, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,” (Mark 10:9). Like the vinedresser in the vineyard we have to be prepared to realize that with our friends if need be we may have to cut ties a few wayward branches that have the potential to ruin a very fruitful harvest.

Linda Dominique Grosvenor-Holland is a wife, mother and the Author of The Plural Thing: Spiritually Preparing for Your Soul Mate and her second relationship book titled The Love Better Manual was released in 2013. You can follow her on Twitter, Friend her on Facebook and visit her website at www.LindaDominiqueGrosvenor.com.

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