This post was a difficult one to write. It is something I have learned the hard way. However, I am thankful that I learned it before marriage, not during.
Being close friends with the opposite sex is a dangerous game to play. I say it’s a game, because that’s exactly what it is, just a game. You might be able to play it for a while, but more often than not it’s a game we’re all destined to lose at some point.
I would argue that it is completely appropriate for your spouse to tell you that you can’t be friends with a particular someone of the opposite sex…
And here is why.
A relationship with the opposite sex can only go so far before it starts infringing on the covenant of your marriage.
Now, let me be clear. I am not saying you can’t have friends of the opposite sex. And I am not saying that all your opposite sex relationships are bad. But what I am saying is, the unavoidable progression of relationships is something that is far to easily ignored, for how dangerous they can be. If ignored and dismissed for too long, you’ll be in a relationship too deep to stop. The good person in you won’t want to hurt them (your opposite-sex friend) or your spouse because neither one deserves to be hurt. So it becomes a mess.
These situations can seem complicated, but they are actually quite simple to understand.
Yes, you can have friends of the opposite sex.
No, I am not saying this is the say all end all on the debate.
This article is about why and how they CAN ruin your marriage. Think of it as more of a warning, than a “hammer and judge.”
This article is written from a long-distance perspective, with only ONE story to back it. Of course there are other situations that may vary. But the idea remains the same.
The heart behind this article is to bring light to a topic rarely talked about, and open the inter-webs for healthy discussion on the matter.
Here is my experience with this type of situation:
While I was in college in Santa Barbara, I had a good friend that was a girl. Simultaneously, Audrey and I were in a long-distance relationship. Over time, my friendship with this girl evolved. You could say she was one of my best friends. This started to cause a lot of issues with Auj and I… but I couldn’t understand why, because in my mind we were just friends, maybe even in her mind too. But as we all know from experience… all dating relationships are GOING SOMEWHERE. Either closer together, or further apart. While Audrey and I were weathering our long-distance relationship and growing further apart, I was hanging out with this girl almost every day, and we were inevitably growing closer together.
Audrey had asked me many times to stop hanging out with this girl as frequently as I was. To my regret, I didn’t listen. I was wrapped up in my “harmless” relationship with this girl. There came a time where, despite my lack of understanding at the time, if I wanted a healthy relationship with Audrey, I had to say goodbye to my friend. There was nothing wrong with her, she didn’t do anything wrong, in fact, she helped me a ton and had a huge impact on my life in college…. but at the expense of my relationship with Audrey.
Think about it this way, say you have a scale of 0 – 100 percent. The maximum effort you can give is 100 percent. You cannot give more than 100 percent effort, it’s not possible! Your relationships, not just marriage, are constantly fluctuating. They are in a fluid state of giving and taking energy and effort. Every time you give to someone else the percentage on that scale changes in their favor. The more you give to someone else, the less you have for your wife or potential spouse. And once you are married, your wife is the most important relationship you have besides your relationship with the Lord. Your effort and energy should go to her first, always.
In my situation, it was basic math.
I was splitting my efforts 60/40 percent between Audrey and my friend. Marriage requires 100 percent effort. Although I was not married to Audrey yet, when you are dating intentionally, the principle remains the same.
(Hence the name of our blog, Beating50Percent. Let’s always be giving more effort, and more energy to our spouse. Let’s Beat 50 Percent.)
Ok, back to the story…
If my relationship with my friend in Santa Barbara had progressed any further, I would have been choosing my friend, over Audrey. My time and effort would have swung more in her favor, instead of Audrey’s.
Although my deepest desire was to have a healthy relationship with Audrey that was progressing towards marriage, my strongest desire was to remain friends with this girl. Sometimes our deepest desires are overridden by our strongest desires. If your deepest desire is to have a strong, healthy, covenant, marriage that is #beating50percent, then you have to be willing to align your strongest desires with your deepest desires.
I was in love with Audrey and she knew that, this girl was just my friend who I cared about deeply. I didn’t understand why it couldn’t work! Besides, we’re not even married yet! But I was dating to marry, and if Audrey was going to be my wife, then I needed to learn an important lesson. Actions speak louder than words.
“The closer I get to marriage, the less concerned I need to be about pleasing others, and the more concerned I need to be about pleasing my future wife.”
One day I was wrestling with why I had to break off this friendship with my friend that was a girl… and it hit me. We tend to only see where we ourselves stand. So I put myself in Audrey’s shoes, and thought to myself, “What if Audrey had a guy friend who was becoming her best friend, and it wasn’t me…”
I hated the thought. And we weren’t even married yet! Within marriage that would be so wrong it’s insane. Not only wrong, but detrimental. Your spouse should be your best friend.
Some people may say that they have always had opposite-sex friends, and marriage shouldn’t have to change that. I’ve heard people say that being able to have opposite-sex friends is a sign of a healthy relationship.
In my opinion, this viewpoint is naive and selfish. Marriages have “ups” and “downs.” During an “up” season, where everything is bright and dandy, it might be easier to allow a seemingly harmless opposite-sex relationship to exist, even if it frustrates your spouse a little bit. But in the “down” season, that opposite-sex friendship could become a destructive wildfire – and one that is very hard to extinguish. During that “down” season when you start having issues, disagreements, and fights with your wife, conveniently you have a female friend who understands you, will listen, is “always there for you,” and is fun and easy to talk to.
Wait a minute, that sure sounds a lot like the vows once made to a special person called your spouse…
“Marriage is a unique relationship where you choose to throw your decisions under the authority of your word.”
You made a promise, and now you must make decisions that honor your promise. When you find yourself torn between where you should spend your effort and energy, the answer is likely your spouse. They are your priority, and your energy and effort should first be devoted to them. Even when it’s hard, and especially when it’s easy.
We must not be tempted to base our decisions on our current season. They need to be filtered through the standard we are choosing to uphold. To protect your standards, you must create some boundaries. For Audrey and I, our boundary is that we don’t hang out alone with anyone of the opposite sex. Especially if one of us has respectfully asked the other not to.
You might be asking yourself, “Why?”
If “why” is your question. I want to ask you, why are you asking why?
Is your questioning coming from a defensive heart? A stubborn heart? A defiant heart? Or is your heart completely yielded to your spouse, and ultimately the Lord?
I think by asking this question you are also asking, “Where is the line, and how close can I get to it?”
Instead, you should be asking, “Where is the line, and how far can I get from it?”
Do you want to protect your marriage and make it the most exciting, challenging, rewarding thing in your life? If so, then don’t make room for relationships that will cause your spouse to doubt, feel jealous, compare themselves, or even feel like they are missing out.
Don’t send that completely innocent text about “work stuff” after hours.
Don’t keep going to lunch alone with that co-worker.
Don’t let that friend in on what you’ve been thinking and wrestling with lately, especially if you haven’t let your wife in!
It’s just plain dangerous. Hanging out with the opposite sex alone is not just asking, it’s begging for problems. Worst case scenario, you look to that female friend to fulfill your wife’s shortcomings. My goal is to make Audrey feel like she fulfills all my needs as a husband.
You might be thinking, “Well Jer, my spouse says they don’t care if I have close opposite-sex friends.”
I would be warned, that means that they think it’s ok to have close opposite-sex friends too, or at least, to be justified if a circumstance came about. That’s not living by a standard that will protect your marriage. As I mentioned, it’s just a game you’re destined to lose.
Maybe your spouse does care that you have an opposite-sex friend and they have expressed their concerns with you, and you’re thinking… “They can’t tell me who to be friends with.”
I disagree, and I think scripture argues that point as well. (Ephesians 5:33) Out of love and respect, your wife or husband should have a say over your friendships. And, the only reason your spouse would ask this hard, awkward question, (“could you please umm… not be friends with them…?) is if it’s seriously bugging them. If something you are doing is bugging your spouse enough for them to ask you to stop… THEN STOP. Because if you don’t, your scale is beginning to tip in a direction away from your spouse.
Here is a classic example that we maybe have all seen or witnessed in action, and how it can become divisive.
Lets say the wife becomes friends with someone. And they become really good friends. Inevitably this would cause the husband to feel a little uneasy. (even though it might have been his fault in the first place, and even though it’s a completely innocent relationship) He maybe even asked her to pull back a little bit. If the wife doesn’t pull back, because her actions are seemingly justified with this innocent relationship, then she is making a decision and the husband would feel disrespected, causing a division in their marriage. Now lets just say that the husband wrongfully becomes friends with someone of the opposite-sex, and it’s his wife’s turn to ask him to pull back, and now he won’t… again, he is making a decision. Nothing says, “you are my priority” like putting your spouse before everyone, no matter what. So their relationship continues to digress and have more division, more complication, and more unexpected outcomes.
We’ve all seen this happen. And the point of the example above is to highlight the ignoring of your spouses feelings. At the end of the day, they both think that their opposite-sex relationship has precedence over the way their spouse feels… Super obvious problem that I think we can all agree on.
This is all because of a stubbornness to be the one to do the right thing. Both people in the example above seem to be waiting for the other person to fix the problem…
As I mentioned before, you can have friends of the opposite-sex, but nine times out of ten it can easily slip out of control. And nobody even saw it coming. How can a good thing, a friendship, ruin my marriage?! I think the proof is in the pudding. Talk to anyone divorced, which is something neither partner had in mind when they said “i do, till death do us part.”
We must strategize for success.
This is all a result of letting outside friendships get too close to their covenant marriage.
There is a quote that my house church uses often.
“When you don’t know what to do, just do the next best thing.”
What that means is, no matter how hard it might be, be willing to do the next best thing yourself. You must be willing to turn the other cheek no matter how it might be received.
Here are four takeaways.
- Always be the one to “do the next best thing”
- Never justify a good thing, (friendship) for the sake of the best thing. A healthy marriage.
- Don’t. Ignore. What. Your. Spouse. Is. Feeling. They are feeling it for a reason.
- Adhere to a standard not of your own. Because if you don’t, you are ruled by the limits and constrained understanding of your own mind. Obey your standard, even when it doesn’t make sense.
I was on the phone yesterday with my best friend Daniel. He mentioned something that struck me. We’ve all hear it before, but sometimes we need to hear things in the right context, and at the right time.
“There is freedom in the discipline of moderation”
Moderation feels like you are losing your freedom… when you are actually becoming free!
Moderation in spending creates financial freedom…. Moderation in eating creates physical freedom… Moderation in friendships creates a healthy marriage….
Yes, your spouse has authority to tell you not to be friends with someone. You gave them that authority when you said, “I Do.”
Okay here is my last point! I promise.
Emotional polygamy is a real thing.
Most people consider polygamy to be morally wrong. And a lot of that is due to what we can observe from polygamous relationships. None of it looks fun, and they almost always end horribly.
I think we can agree that as married men, we should not go holding hands with other women unless they are our wives. Holding hands is a clear, obvious progression towards an emotional and physical relationship.
But so is continually and constantly hanging out with someone of the opposite-sex…. we allow an emotional relationship to develop. Even though you haven’t physically touched them, and you say you never would, it is still an emotional relationship. Culture tells us to gauge our relationships by their physical status, which I think is extremely naive.
To Wrap It Up
• Sometimes your deepest desires and your strongest don’t align. Be willing to fight for your deepest desires so that they become your strongest.
• Don’t allow fluctuating seasons of life to compromise your standard. Hold yourself, and your marriage, to a standard not of your own. Even when it’s hard. (For us, our standard is Christ and His teachings)
• Give marriage the authority to change your relationships with other people. Your marriage is your priority, so inevitably other relationships will and should change.
• Don’t justify your friendship with the opposite sex by your spouses shortcomings. (1 Peter 3:1)
• Your best friend should be your spouse. If they aren’t, be willing to change that.
– Jeremy Roloff