Friends with boundaries

Man and woman laughing together in gym during workout

“Would you feel comfortable if your spouse had a best friend of the opposite sex?” This question is guaranteed to fire up a heated discussion from both sides! I’ve seen the “not my man!” responses clashing against the “she was here before you” clap-backs. This topic is contentious for a reason, and hopefully this post will help you to dig a little deeper into how you allow your friends to fit into the bigger picture of your marriage.

Friends are important for you as an individual – putting your marriage aside for one moment. I’ll be completely honest and say that after I had my daughter, I just about had enough time for my husband let alone myself at the end of each day, so my social life drifted into non-existence. Aside from the odd interaction over a social media post, which often lulls us into a false sense of a relationship, I stopped being intentional about making time for those people who I considered to be my friends. I even began to tell myself that I was okay even if I didn’t have friends, as I had my family and personal interests to keep me busy. Without realising it at the time, this began to add a significant weight to my marriage.

My core source of social interaction became my husband, and I would find myself feeling increasingly frustrated when he wasn’t meeting my need to be sociable in all the ways that I expected.

I had unintentionally got to the point where I was relying on him to fill the void of genuine friendships. Of course I know that so many of us struggle to manage what seems like too few hours in each day, especially when you have children, but when you learn to reprioritise you would be amazed at what you can achieve in 24 hours!

Many people drift off into their own little “couple bubble” once they are together, let alone when they get married. But it is still important for you to have relationships with those who you consider to be your friends, and this can actually enrich your marriage.

Learning how to build and maintain strong relationships external to your marriage will help to relieve the pressure from your spouse being your only social connection, and also help you to find fulfilment in other ways that will strengthen your own sense of self-worth and stability.

I can hold my hands up and say that this is something that I am still working on, so don’t worry if you feel like you are stuck in a rut right now and feel a sense of distance between you and your friends. You can still repair any neglected relationships, it just takes effort and the ability to be vulnerable towards those who you care about.

As priceless as good friends are, there are also friends that can cause more damage to our marriage than we would probably like to admit. Even good friends require boundaries, but it is important to be able to pay attention to even the slightest impression that your spouse may be uncomfortable with the level of relationship you are having with someone external to your relationship. Here are some examples of four types of friendships where you will probably need to consider putting boundaries in place for the health of your marriage:

The Work Colleague/s

For some people, work is just a means to an end where they go and return home without making an intentional effort to build relationships. Others have good working relationships, and have built lasting friendships through particular jobs. Others rely on their work environment for their social interaction, and most of their social-time external to work also involves their work colleagues.

Sometimes we get ourselves in sticky situations when we try to “people please” to be accepted as part of the in-crowd at work. If that is you, then you need to make sure you are clear on your boundaries to avoid compromising in ways that may affect your marriage negatively.

Especially if you are a Christian couple, your morals won’t always line up with everyone else’s opinions, and that’s okay! You are not them, and they are not you. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have close relationships with people who don’t share your beliefs, but you should be conscious of ways you may be compromising to “fit in”.

Despite the fact that we typically spend far more time at our place of work than we do at home with our spouse, you still have to come home to your spouse at the end of the day, and they still know you better than anyone else. It will quickly become apparent if you are behaving in ways that seem unusual or out of character, and these are often early warning signs that you need to pay attention to before things get out of hand.

The Best Friend who was there before you got married

Even if your husband or wife had a best friend before you came into the picture, you should still be made to feel that you are the priority. The problem is not that they have a best friend who is not you, even if they are someone of the opposite sex! The problem is often that you are made to feel of equal importance or less than this other person. It takes someone who is extremely serious about boundaries to be able to maintain a particularly close relationship with someone of the opposite sex alongside their spouse. Even then, there should still be a clear difference in your relationship with this person external to your marriage.

I strongly believe that you should cultivate the kind of relationship where you and your spouse are best friends and lovers – ultimately meaning that you are both the most important person to each other.

The responsibility doesn’t just lie with your spouse though, as their best friend should also appreciate the change in status with you coming into the picture as their chosen life partner, and show a clear level of respect for your relationship. This usually involves them stepping back in some capacity, but you will be able to see when someone appreciates your boundaries.

Often the problem comes when no boundaries are discussed between the both of you, and this person continues in exactly the same way towards your spouse even when you are married as though nothing as changed. Sometimes jealousy drives “friends” to act inappropriately with the intention of harming your marriage, and it is then that your partner needs to be able to put his/her foot down. If your partner is afraid of hurting feelings, then this can add fuel to the fire of the inappropriate behaviour as it is deemed acceptable. Whatever the situation, it should never end up falling to you to approach a friend of your spouse directly to express that you are uncomfortable with their behaviour. This can easily end up making you look like the overprotective “parent” who speaks for your spouse, and give them the impression that your spouse is still okay with their relationship even if you aren’t.

You should never be made to feel that your feelings are unjustified, and you should always feel that your spouse is willing to take a stand for you.

Even if you may be fighting unfairly, that is for you and your spouse to resolve together, even if it means removing this third person from the picture temporarily or permanently based on the severity of the issue. Extending the issue beyond your marriage to involve this third-party friend will only cause greater damage.

The Best Friend who came after marriage

Friendships change and grow along with life, so it is likely that you may grow distant from some friends as well as make new ones. Because of the fact that you already have your foundation of marriage, which means you should have also cultivated the level of closeness with your spouse mentioned in the last example, it should be easier to strike up these relationships while maintaining the boundaries you should have already established.

Even then, there are times where this isn’t a consideration, and some may even feel like their spouse is behaving like a single person in the ways that they are interacting with this person that they would call a close or best friend. Yes, it is possible to have more than one best friend. No, your spouse should not feel that they are watching you invest all your time into a new relationship at the expense of your marriage, especially if it is someone of the opposite sex.

Whether you meet a good friend before or after marriage, there should constantly be a consideration of the responsibilities you have as married man or woman. You should always have it in mind that you are representing your marriage wherever you go and around whoever you engage with.

Any friendship external to your spouse that is worth keeping will be rooted in respect for your marriage status.

Friends of the Opposite Sex

You might need to brace yourself for this one! By far, all of the above needs to be considered in meticulous detail if you have a close friend/friends of the opposite sex.

Some will fall into a false sense of security over the fact that the person they are talking to is also married, or even convince themselves that there shouldn’t be any difference between their interactions with this person just because they are not the same sex. Deny it as much as you like, but it is far more common for someone to strike up an inappropriate relationship with someone of the opposite sex (that of course doesn’t start out inappropriate) that creates the freedom of space for infidelity to take place.

Most people don’t set out with the goal to have an affair! In most cases, it is a lack of boundaries that makes room for the kind of relationships external to your marriage that ends up meeting your needs.

Contrary to popular belief, this may not even be a need that you or your spouse are failing to provide in your marriage! Sometimes it is a need that is rooted in childhood trauma or addiction issues that have birthed a constant need for validation from the opposite sex that shows up in unhealthy, damaging ways.

With that being said, I think it is important to say that friendships with the opposite sex are actually a healthy part of life – or at least should be! But what makes the difference is your boundaries. Marriage without boundaries is like driving a car on a motorway without road markings. You leave yourself entirely vulnerable to “accidents” that could have been avoided if you had prioritised your ability to stay in your own lane.

YOUR THOUGHTS

Here are some examples of areas for you to consider where boundaries will help you to have healthy relationships with friends, regardless of gender:

  1. What kind of conversations are you having with your friends? Would your husband/wife feel comfortable if they heard the nature of your conversations? Especially when it comes to personal matters of your marriage, you need to know where your line is drawn on how much is appropriate to share.
  2. How often do make time for your friends? If you are finding that your time with friends is overtaking quality-time in your marriage, then it is probably time to take a step back and reprioritise. Many marriages suffer when they are neglected and one or both people instead focus on external relationships.
  3. What are your weaknesses? If you find that you are particularly flirtatious around the opposite sex despite being married, then this is worth exploring as to why you still seek validation outside of your marriage. You may require professional help to recover the root, as this may be years in the making of unhealed trauma. Either way, you will need to be especially careful and it may even help to step back from such friends until you have done some more digging into understanding your own behaviours.

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