The Cautionary Tale of Opposite-Sex Friendships in Relationships
If you're in therapy or have discussed your relationship with a couples' therapist, you may have observed that when the topic of opposite-sex friendships arises between you and your partner, the therapist may tread cautiously in their response, especially when addressing your partner's long-term opposite-sex friend. This caution stems from therapists' experiences witnessing real-life examples of opposite-sex friendships causing rifts or problems in relationships. While these situations may unfold innocently, many couples fail to establish clear boundaries with old friends, making it challenging to address concerns about loyalty, friendship dynamics, or feelings of insecurity.
The truth is that, even though an opposite-sex friendship may be entirely innocent of any sexual thoughts or tension, the possibility exists, and boundaries between friendships and intimacy can easily blur, leading to a situation of micro-cheating without one even realizing it. Individuals often neglect to examine this blurring of lines, leaving them vulnerable to emotional affairs due to a lack of awareness or honesty about their feelings.
Conversations with opposite-sex friends differ from those with partners, as psychologists note that partners are often uncomfortable sharing discussions with friends to their spouses. Interestingly, individuals are more likely to share conversations with their spouses with their opposite-sex friends, constituting a form of betrayal or micro-cheating, as discussions between spouses are considered personal and sacred.
There are several reasons why having opposite-sex friends can be perilous for married couples:
Stronger Connections: Frequent contact with an opposite-sex friend can create a stronger connection, particularly when the friend is a co-worker. Spending eight hours a day together at work, engaged in dialogue, can foster more emotional intimacy than most couples can achieve in an evening, especially when juggling responsibilities such as parenting.
Emotional Support: It's easier to confide in a friend, as the sense of responsibility is lower compared to a spouse. During times of stress or challenging situations, opposite-sex friends can be more supportive, unburdened by the day-to-day stresses that a spouse may experience.
Freedom in Friendship: Opposite-sex friends may not exhibit the same crabby, worried, or committed behaviors as a spouse at home. This freedom in friendship can be attractive, especially when one is stressed or lacking sleep, leading to a heightened sense of desirability and interest in the friend.
Excitement and Connection: The exhilaration of a close opposite-sex friendship can be enticing. Feeling elated and attractive in the company of a friend may result in an increased desire to spend more time together, fostering a sense of mutual understanding.
This article aims not to dissuade individuals from having "couple friends" but rather serves as a professional reminder that entering into marriage requires emotional maturity. Marriage entails committing to one person and establishing choices and boundaries that safeguard the relationship. While supportive friends are crucial, it's important to extend the same respect to others' relationships. Avoid using an opposite-sex friend as a private confidant or companion, as lines can easily blur, especially during times of stress or marital dissatisfaction. Choose to enjoy friendships together within your marriage, and if this offends any opposite-sex friends, prioritize your marriage by ending friendships that are not supportive of your relationship's well-being.