Mar 242015 5 Responses

How Marriage Changes Friendships

Marriage should dramatically change how you relate to people of the opposite sex.

During a Q&A at a recent marriage conference, a member of the audience asked, “How should a married man handle friendships with women?”

Without even thinking, I said, “They shouldn’t be friends.”

It was a harsh answer and one I wish I could have back, but it reveals an important truth.

Married men and women can be friends with one another and with their single counterparts, but those friendships should be radically different than the ones they have with people of the same sex or the relationships they had with others before they were married.

Friendship is built around shared time and/or attention. Two or more people focus on something outside of themselves and this creates a connection. (See: Accept the Temporary Nature of Friendships)

Most of our first friendships are formed in school proving that even when the time and attention is forced, we create bonds with other people.

As adults, our relationships are created at work, watching our kids play sports, through civic obligations, and in neighborhoods.

While friendships can endure based on nothing but personal interaction, they almost always begin based on an outside idea or object which gains our attention and requires our time.

This is the best place for marriage to form. Every healthy marriage is built on friendship. If two people are not friends, they do not have a successful relationship no matter the tenure of their marriage. Every good spouse is also a good friend. (See: Three People You Should Marry)

When someone desires to be married, I often give them the advice to form as many good friendships with single people of the opposite sex as possible. From these friendships, a person can determine if more might develop.

Yet when a person gets married, my advice dramatically changes.

Marriage changes friendship.

A man and a woman cannot have the same friendship after one or both of them makes a lifelong commitment to another person. They must adapt. To keep from getting the wrong idea, giving the wrong idea, or threatening the trust with their spouse, they must draw new boundaries for their friendship.

They remain friends, but the friendship is deeply altered.

Here are three boundaries a married person should have with the opposite sex:

Physical boundaries. Before marriage, two people need to draw physical boundaries. Some things should be saved solely for marriage. Yet some boundaries which single adults do not have to consider, must be considered when one of them gets married. It’s perfectly normal for two single friends to grab lunch, hang out at one’s house, or go for a walk. It is not healthy for a married man and single woman to do those same activities. When one person pledges their life for another, new physical boundary lines must be drawn. While this may be different for different people, I will not: ride alone in a car with a female who is not related to me, have lunch alone with another woman (some may not be able to have this rule because of business), or go into a house when a woman is home alone. (See: The Greatest Threat to Your Marriage)

Emotional boundaries. Most affairs do not begin because of physical attraction, they begin because of emotional connection. When a man or woman marries another person, they must create emotional barriers with people of the opposite sex. This does not forbid the sharing of emotions with others, but it does limit what we are willing to share. Someone should never open up about the state of the marriage, their negative feelings toward their spouse, or specific struggles within the marriage to another person of the opposite sex. While it is important to talk to someone, talk to a professional, a pastor, or a friend of the same sex. Do not put yourself at risk of getting the wrong idea or sending the wrong idea to someone of the opposite sex. (See: You Will Have an Affair If…)

Time boundaries. While we live in a 24/7 world where the distinction between work time and family time is blurred, it is still proper to distinguish time boundaries with people of the opposite sex. Two single people can freely text one another at all hours without any questions. When one or both of those people is married, they should not have the same freedom. When and how two people communicate should be considered within the context of family time compared to work time or friend time. There are normal hours for my co-workers to communicate with me. My friends have other hours. My wife and family are the only ones without any limitations. While some circumstances may require a different schedule, keeping general boundaries regarding time is healthy. (See: No Wonder You Don’t Love Each Other)

I was wrong when I told a crowd they shouldn’t be friends with people of the opposite sex. As I look at my own life, I can see many deeply personal relationships I have with other women. However, those relationships are dramatically different than how I approach any relationship with a man. My guard is up because I have a desire for their well-being, their families, my wife, my family, and myself.

Some people read an article like this and can’t believe someone would be so rigid and (what they would describe as) cold. But if they sat in my office on a regular basis and saw the destruction which an affair can cause, if they heard the heart-wrenching stories of regret, and if they saw how preventable many of those situations were, they would not be so quick to judge these suggestions as rigid. They would see them as practical steps to protect themselves and others. (See: Three Myths About Adultery)

Friendships are vital to life. A diverse set of friends brings a variety of beauty into one’s life. However we must be wise in how we deal with one another so that we can honor the vows we have made to our spouses.

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