Should Married Christians Have Friends of the Opposite Sex?

The article below is a collection of highlights taken from a Psychology Today article titled,
1-On-1 Opposite Sex Friends: A Blind Spot Threat to Marriage”.

Declining your freedom for a greater cause can sometimes be difficult to do, especially if you’re married.

Exercising selfless behavior—that behavior which runs in conflict to selfishness, often unnatural, and even undesired to what you may prefer to do—in a marriage relationship is a key component to a long-lasting, satisfying, successful relationship. Thus, it should come as no surprise that giving up particular freedoms, requiring complete selflessness, is a contributing variable to such ever-lasting marriages. Those freedoms which may be the most challenging for you to part with individually may actually strengthen your bond with one another collectively and, even help guard against an extramarital affair.

Before findings and lessons learned from research on this topic are extracted, a brief note must be stipulated in order to dispel what you may think is going to be discussed: This article debates potential marital relationship repercussions that one-on-one opposite sex friendships outside of a marriage may produce, and is not an article condemning opposite sex group friendships, professional rapports at work, peer assemblies at school, couple double-date night, dating courtships, etc. Though these connections still should be stewarded appropriately, guarding against relational connections which may harm a marriage, or, a dating relationship, developing connections with the opposite sex in group settings—double date-night with other couples and co-ed game-nights, for instance—may encourage positive personal and relational growth when steered strategically. Therefore, this article is not recommending you completely abandon friendships with the opposite gender, but rather contemplatively consider and then strategically steward appropriately opposite sex relationships.

Research findings from this past year, the last five years, the last twenty years, and beginning from twenty-five years out propose potential emotional and sexual attraction in one-on-one opposite sex friendships, creating extramarital/unfaithful relational bonds outside of a marriage or dating relationship, pose often negative long-lasting consequences to those relationships.

From the late 1980’s to the early 2000’s, to present day emotional and/or sexual attraction (has been) a notable and very consistent component of opposite sex friendship. There is extremely little research or widespread literature on opposite sex friendship that does not indicate attraction and its conceivable consequences. . . . Extensive present-day research explicitly suggests one-on-one opposite sex friendships with an individual other than a spouse, may contribute to marital conflict, extramarital affairs, and even divorce.

Meeting one-on-one with someone of the opposite sex for your weekly Starbucks in-between a meeting, or, daily workout at the gym before the day begins, or text-messaging to pass the time at work, or late night Facebook chats, or movie night while your spouse is out of town. All these scenarios and infinitely more, provide ample, consistent opportunity to attach relationally to one another both emotionally, with feelings, and sexually, with desires. Often times dangerously creating a relational bond, through emotional disclosure, and often working in tandem, development of sexual desires, that is of an alarming similar strength to the bond that you hold with your spouse.
Additionally, with the advent of social and digital media, such as Facebook and texting, potential negative implications to marriages from interacting one-on-one with the opposite sex through these electronic means must be taken into consideration. Substantial divorce court records indicate a large amount of divorces nationwide, occurring based on an extramarital affair, originated on Facebook and through text-messaging with a one-on-one friend of the opposite sex. 

5 Tips on How to Manage Opposite Sex Friendships When Married or Single

1. Have a sit-down, one-on-one conversation with your spouse about friendships with the opposite sex. Be transparent. Share about your one-on-one opposite sex friendship experiences, and allow your spouse to tell you about their experiences. Discuss what makes you both uncomfortable. Being zealous for one another is not necessarily a bad thing. There indeed is a stark line between being zealous (passion, enthusiasm, desire) and being possessive (controlling, domineering), and there is indeed a need to discuss boundaries in your marriage with the opposite sex while maintaining a healthy amount of trust for each other. It’s a balance.

2. If you’re currently married and have decided with your spouse that one-on-one opposite sex friendships may indeed be a hindrance to your relational growth, and you (or your spouse) have a one-on-one opposite sex friend (or many), have a sit-down heart-to-heart with them and your spouse. Discuss with them openly and transparently your reasoning for choosing to discontinue the one-on-one friendship. They may be married as well, and if so, include their spouse in the discussion. Maybe you and your spouse and them and their spouse can develop a couple friendship. If for whatever reason that isn’t a possibility, discuss forgoing the friendship any longer altogether. You must be willing to place the success of your own marriage relationship before other relationships.   

3. Discuss with your spouse your circle of ‘couple friends,’ and any uneasiness or discomfort either of you may have with any of them. Couple friends can indeed be significant and important. They can act as encouragements for your marriage, and add much joy that can come from being involved in a community. But sometimes certain couple friendships can add unnecessary stress to your marriage. You may have thirty couples you both spend your time with couple-to-couple throughout the year, or, you may have only two or three couples you run with from time-to-time. Either way, whether your uneasiness and discomfort may be brought on by some unwarranted, consistent attention your friend’s spouse may be giving you through texting, or, face-to-face during your Saturday night couples date night, or, even maybe from some consistent, unwarranted attention you’ve noticed your own spouse receiving, it’s important to know that it’s OK to discontinue hanging out alone with a particular couple if they’re causing discomfort in your marriage. Your marriage relationship is worth more than appealing to, and pleasing others on couple date night.  

4. Single? Be cautious with your opposite sex friendships, especially one-on-one. If your desire is to date with the eventual goal of marriage, pursue this person intentionally for this end goal. However, if a strictly platonic end is the goal, consider having an open, transparent conversation, suggesting you limit quality time together to a group setting.  Feelings and desires are tricky components of both men and women, and as seen extensively throughout this article, are often unavoidable and difficult to completely tame. It’s crucial to view your opposite sex friend as someone else’s future spouse until you both choose yourself to play that role.  

5. The reality is, infidelity exists, and it’s not going away anytime soon. The equation for infidelity often looks like this: A – B = C…If you don’t have guidelines established for engaging with the opposite sex – you’re leaving your marriage house unlocked and undefended = the bad guy, which is infidelity, may break in and cause devastating marital havoc. Set boundaries for communicating with your opposite-sex friends. These boundaries should be applied not just to face-to-face settings, but of equal importance, to social media (e.g. private messaging) and text messaging. Evaluate who you and your spouse are friends with on Facebook.  Surrendering a personal freedom can be difficult. Especially when it comes to our relationships with others. We’re built for healthy community, with both men and women, and this can often be done successfully and appropriately. But it should not come at the cost of your marriage relationship.