No matter how much the rules of love change, there are certain tenets that remain impregnable. Prime among them is the relationship you share with the opposite sex when married. How far can you go in investing in your bond with friends before they are considered inappropriate friendships? It is a question that has haunted marriages for a long time.
Let’s be practical. In today’s day and age, it would be unrealistic to expect that you won’t be meeting or interacting with people from the opposite sex. At the workplace, the club, in social setups, and of course, in the online world, you are constantly in touch with people from myriad worlds. There is nothing wrong in maintaining platonic friendships when married as long as they don’t breach certain boundaries that leave your spouse feeling insecure.
That’s exactly where things get tricky. A platonic relationship while married can quickly slither into the inappropriate friendships category, creating a mess in the marriage. So what exactly is that moment? When do you stop being friends and start being something more? When do you say ‘no’ and who draws the limits? Questions and more questions! We’re here to help you find the answers in consultation with relationship and intimacy coach Shivanya Yogmayaa (internationally certified in the therapeutic modalities of EFT, NLP, CBT, REBT), who specializes in different forms of couples counseling
What Is Considered As Inappropriate Friendships When Married?
The first difficult point is to understand what is ‘inappropriate’. At the very basic level, relationships you share with someone that threaten your primary relationship – your marriage – are inappropriate friendships. A lot of extramarital affairs begin innocuously as friendships. The transition from an innocent friendship to a sexual affair can often be so swift that you don’t even realize when you’ve crossed the line caught in a spate of emotions.
Such troubles start when one of the partners forget the etiquette of being friends with a married man or woman (yes, there are etiquettes!). And mind you, inappropriate friendships when you are married do not just mean sex. Even if you are not cheating them physically or emotionally, inappropriate friendships can cause massive rift in your primary relationship. There are so many different ways how friends destroy marriages.
In fact, research on Friendship and Adultery suggests that male-female friendships when married are widely discouraged in most cultures because a friend of the opposite sex is considered to be a ready catalyst for adultery in a marriage. Owing to a lack of social approval, the role of such friendships remains undefined, which further contributes to platonic friendships when married translating into a romantic, emotional or sexual connection.
The only way to safeguard yours without compromising on platonic friendships when married is to not lose sight of your priorities. The defining trait of any marriage is its exclusivity. The trust, care, warmth and intimacy that you share with your partner should be higher than what you would share with others. Creating the same bond with someone else means jeopardizing your connection with your spouse. That’s when male-female friendships when married can spell trouble in your marital paradise and can be labeled as inappropriate.
Related Reading: Platonic Soulmate – What Is It? 8 Signs You Found Yours
What Are The Rules Of Opposite Gender Friendships?
Now that we have defined what exactly are inappropriate friendships, the next point to ponder upon is what is ‘appropriate’? Shivanya says, “Every monogamous marriage has certain boundaries, and these boundaries can serve as a guide to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate friendships when married. It is important that healthy boundaries in a relationship are mutually decided by both the partners taking into account their individual outlooks on life, their value system, experiences, and so on.
“While the paradigm of marriage boundaries with friends cannot be generalized, every couple can come up with their own set of dos and don’ts to make sure that their individual friendships do not become a cause of relationship insecurity and jealousy or threaten their future together in any way.” As mentioned earlier, being loyal to your marriage and partner does not mean you shun the world and the opposite sex.
However, the etiquette of being friends with a married man or woman or being friends with someone from the opposite gender while married must be adhered to so that you do not cross the line of mutually defined boundaries. It is this thin boundary that you need to be wary of if you want to have a healthy marriage. How can you avoid the pitfalls of inappropriate friendships? By following the some rules of platonic friendships when married:
1. Do not get too close for your spouse’s comfort
While there is no harm in maintaining platonic friendships when married or even cultivating new ones, you must ensure that your intimacy with a friend doesn’t leave your spouse all riled up. Even if your spouse is your best friend, you’re going to need and want other friends in your life and some of them may be of the opposite gender and that’s perfectly okay.
However, if your closeness to a friend begins to put strain on your relationship with your spouse, it’s a red flag that shouldn’t be ignored. It won’t be an exaggeration to call it the first sign of inappropriate friendships when married. “If one partner sees the other’s friendship as inappropriate, clear communication is a must for preventing it from damaging a couple’s bond,” says Shivanya.
Related Reading: Can A Girl Have A Guy Best Friend And A Boyfriend?
2. Do not share too many secrets with them
Every marriage has its share of secrets. Even if there are traits in your spouse that you cannot stand, do not squeal them to your friends. Avoid washing dirty linen in public or sharing your private conversations with your friends. You may ask, “If I don’t talk to my friends, who will I speak to?” Quite right, but it is not necessary to have in-depth ‘alone’ time with opposite sex friends while married and reveal ALL the secrets.
It is these intimate, deep conversations that can change feelings, making you cross the blurry line between friendship and emotional cheating. Even something as seemingly insignificant as inappropriately texting the opposite gender when married – secretly texting a friend while sitting right next to your spouse or sharing a blow-by-blow account of the goings on in your marriage without your partner’s consent, for example – can be the first sign that a friendship has the potential to threaten your marriage.
3. Do not allow them into your innermost circle
Even if you end up having intimate conversations, do not place friends, especially from the opposite gender, above your marriage or family. It is crucial to set priorities in a marriage right. The reason is that ultimately you have to fight your battles and however emotionally supportive your friends are, they can’t dictate your life.
If you wonder how friends destroy a marriage, just try involving them in life when you are going through a rough patch. Unwittingly, they might make decisions on your behalf which can widen the rift between your spouse. In other words, draw the boundary, strong and clear.
4. Introduce your friends to your spouse
If you do not want to annoy your partner yet maintain your opposite sex friendship, here’s the best thing to do: do not hide them from your spouse. Introduce your friends to your spouse early on in your relationship and let him/her have a clear idea of where they stand in your life.
“Transparency and openness can be the key to making your partner feel seen, heard and understood in moments when your friendship with someone of the opposite gender becomes the root cause of insecurity in a relationship and makes your partner feel threatened,” advises Shivanya.
Close friendships with the opposite sex can become troublesome when they come as a shock or surprise to your current partner. By introducing them to your husband or wife, you are cutting out any scope of suspicion. Your conscience should be clear that you do not share any inappropriate friendships with anyone.
5. Avoid situations that can cause attraction
Even if you are married for years, there is no guarantee that you won’t find someone else attractive. This attraction is the first warning sign of the likelihood of marriage boundaries with friends being breached and a call for you to tread cautiously. Well, temptations are common but the key is to not give in to them. So what do you do when you find your new colleague incredibly hot? Just run into the opposite direction.
Make excuses to NOT meet them or run into them when they are alone. Avoid texting the opposite gender when married – your social media habits lay the foundation for an affair. Yes, it may require some self-control but do not get into an ‘innocent’ friendship – online or offline. Sorry to break the bubble but there will be nothing innocent about it if you continue to have the hots for them.
How To Define Marriage Boundaries With Friends
Inappropriate friendships when married can trigger a host of insecurities and trust issues between a couple. A study, titled Benefit or Burden? Attraction in Cross-sex Friendship, sheds light on why that is. According to researchers involved in this study, opposite-ex friendships are a fairly new phenomenon from an evolutionary standpoint. Both men and women experience some degree of romantic attraction toward friends of the opposite gender. This is why male-female friendships when married can be perceived to be a threat by one’s spouse.
Given that a romantic connection cannot be ruled out even in platonic friendships when married, defining marriage boundaries with friends and making sure neither you nor your partner oversteps these is essential for cultivating fulfilling bonds outside the marriage without letting them take a toll on the quality of your relationship with your spouse.
To ensure that you do not end up, consciously or subconsciously, indulging in inappropriate friendships, here are some ways to define your healthy boundaries with your friends:
1. Stop gossip right on its tracks
This goes for both male and female friends. Sometimes your inner circle loves to dig around for gossip, especially if they suspect that there is some trouble in your paradise. Even if you are fond of a friend, if they probe a bit too much in your personal life, put a stop to it. “I appreciate your concern but if I need advice, I will come to you later,” this is a good way to ensure they do not keep prying into your personal life.
This way you are not denying their help or concern but letting them know you are dealing with your life in your way. The etiquette of being friends with a married man or woman or maintaining a friendship with someone of the opposite sex while married can be as simple as maintaining a healthy distance and letting them know that certain aspects of your life are out of bounds for them.
Related Reading: 20 Myths And Facts About Cheating In A Marriage
2. Take your spouse into confidence with regards to friends
Make sure your partner is comfortable with your friends, male and female. S/he does not need to be very close to every one of them but do not have any secret close friendships. Find out what makes them relaxed about your friendships and what makes them anxious.
Sometimes, partners do have some instincts about some people (say, that over-friendly colleague who inexplicably gets your partner’s goat) so do not discount them altogether. Instead, try and find if there is any merit in their discomfort and take a call if you want to cut off such friends from your life.
“It is vital to revisit the and establish the dos and don’ts of marriage boundaries with friends as and when the need arises so that a particular situation doesn’t dominate the relationship or begin to take a toll on the quality of your connection with your spouse,” says Shivanya.
3. Be open to hearing your partner’s reservations
This can be tricky. The married man and married woman friendship can take on many forms so if there is any aspect that makes you concerned, you need to approach it sensitively. Perhaps your partner feels that some of your friendships are detrimental to your lifestyle and wants you to distance yourself from them.
Shivanaya says, “You shouldn’t do anything that makes your partner feel neglected or overlooked. At no point should a friend be prioritized over a spouse or things can go downhill very quickly.” Rather than accusing them of being a jealous partner or dismissing their concerns as paranoia, hear them out.
If your partner says something along the lines of “I love your friends but there is something about XYZ that makes me concerned”, assess if there is some legitimate cause for their concern. Basically acknowledge their concerns, even if you feel that what they consider to be inappropriate friendships are nothing but innocent, harmless bonds.
Related Reading: Can Healthy Jealousy Help You Build Stronger Relationships?
4. Do not put your marriage in danger while supporting an opposite-gender friend
Sympathy and empathy is fine but know where to draw the line before letting someone of the opposite gender into your life. Getting too involved in the problems and solutions of a friend of the opposite gender can be detrimental to your own marriage. marriage boundaries with friends
“Partners in a marriage have to respect each other’s boundaries rather than trying to push them by cajoling, coaxing or fighting with each other. If that means taking a step back and putting some distance between yourself and a friend who your partner is uncomfortable with, then so be it,” says Shivanya.
5. Have common friends
Have some rules about friendships in your marriage and three sets of friends – yours, his, and those who you know in common. Make couple friends who you can hang out with your spouse at times and you can go on double dates with. This can help you find a middle ground between personal space in a relationship and shared activities that serve as an opportunity to strengthen your bond.
This will also reduce your dependence on your friends from the past or from work or personal social circle. A healthy marriage is one where you do not need to look outside for fulfillment so as we said before, try and develop a beautiful friendship within your marriage.
- Being married does not mean you have to give up on other important relationships in your life, including friendships
- However, inappropriate friendships when married can take a toll on the quality of your relationship with your spouse
- Any friendship that makes your spouse feel insecure, unheard, unseen, ignored can be considered as inappropriate
- Setting marriage boundaries with friends in consultation with your spouse is the best way to navigate these pitfalls
Marriage is indeed hard work and it is perhaps impossible to keep the spark alive all the time. But that’s also the reason why you need to protect your marriage from inappropriate friendships that may creep up from outside and eat away the essence of the one relationship you need to hedge.
Do not allow friends of opposite sex to become too close to you. Do not reveal everything about your marriage or your personal lives to your friends. You can support your friends to a certain extent but not at the cost of endangering your marriage.
It is definitely healthy for couples to have separate friends but ensure that your spouse is aware of them and that s/he is not uncomfortable around them. Do not have any secret friendships that your spouse frowns upon.
A little bit of space in every marriage is essential and couples should spend time away from their spouses. But while having your own set of friends and hanging out with them is essential, it should not encroach upon your time with your spouse.
Friends can knowingly or unknowingly destroy a marriage if they do not follow the boundaries or etiquettes of friendship with a married person. If you allow someone else to fill the void caused by a small rift in your primary relationship, it can certainly worsen the situation.