We expect things to be different after marriage, and one of the more difficult changes is in our friendships. Often, while we share similar stages of life with our friends, your marital relationship should be the primary relationship. It’s pretty likely that you and your spouse want what is in the best interest of your marriage.
Many couples bring a variety of things into the relationship—including that comfy couch from your bachelor pad or that well-worn t-shirt or sweatshirt, mismatched plates, cookware, and friends of the opposite sex. While it may be easy for you all to decide what old items to discard, it becomes much more difficult to have the conversation with your spouse about ending and/or adapting long-standing or even newly-established opposite-sex relationships. These innocent friendships often create a rift between spouses, especially when our spouse sees the relationship as no big deal but there is something in your gut that makes you super uncomfortable.
If you find that you and your spouse are having more and more unresolved discussions about these “friendships,” you may be in the “Danger Zone.” In the Danger Zone, you and your spouse may find yourself:
- Emotionally disconnected from each other
- Not communicating well
- Having unresolved conflicts
- Decreasing in physical intimacy
If you see, DANGER, DANGER, DANGER, take heed. Dr. Shirley Glass, licensed marriage and family therapist, has found that “82% of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, ‘just a friend.’ The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love.”
How should I begin this conversation with my spouse?
- Look at the person in the mirror.
- What really is bothering me? Do I feel ignored? Insecure? Disrespected? Jealous?
- Am I asking my spouse to look at their opposite-sex friendships while I have not examined my own?
- What about this relationship makes me uncomfortable?
- Does my spouse share a past romantic relationship with this friend?
- Does this remind me of something from my past relationships?
- Do I know my spouse’s friend? Are they doing things for the friend that they won’t do at home?
- What is the state of my marriage? Is it healthy? Do we laugh together? Play together? How well do we communicate? Handle conflict? How is our intimate life?
- Are we nurturing our marital relationship?
- Have we talked about boundaries? Does my spouse include me in the friendship?
- Am I invited to go hang out together with the friend?
- Are we in the “Danger Zone?”
Once you have considered the above questions, find the right time and place to begin the conversation with your spouse.
- Use “I statements” (Speak from your own point of view—“I feel, I need, I think…”)
- Be respectful
- Ask questions of your spouse
- Actively listen to them
- Being aware prevents you from approaching a slippery slope
Having this conversation is meant to create and establish relational boundaries that you both can agree on as well as be held accountable. Additionally, you should be open about how you feel about it when your spouse has opposite-sex friends, but do so in a controlled and positive way. Avoid opening an accusatory conversation because you’re feeling hurt or slighted. Choose to respond instead of react. Seek to understand your spouse and the situation first, then open the conversation as a way to strengthen your marriage.
Being aware of the danger zone, paying attention to warning signs and being respectful of your spouse’s perspective will enable you both to be on the same page and do what is best for your relationship. This does not mean that you and your spouse can never have opposite-sex friends. No matter the difficulty, talking and being open about boundaries is necessary to build a strong, lasting relationship.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***