Redefining Opposite Sex Friendships
In my last post I kicked open the can regarding opposite sex friendships. This is a serious issue causing serious harm in marriages every day. Usually there is one person in the marriage that is uncomfortable or insecure around the presence of one or more opposite sex friendships. This has likely led to some tense, and fruitless conversations about creating boundaries or rules regarding the “friend.” So, today I want to give a few steps couples can take to create healthy boundaries and establish a unity around opposite sex friendships.
1. Favor your spouse’s insecurity.
This is a tricky statement. I don’t at all intend to communicate that its OK to allow insecurity to rule a marriage, however, if an opposite sex friendship is causing insecurity (which almost always does) then i believe the insecurity is valid and needs to be heeded. If you are the one with the “friend” at the source of the insecurity in your marriage, favor your spouse’s insecurity. If you are married, this kind of step is nothing new. You have already committed to “forsake all others” this is simply an opportunity to follow through on your vow. Trusting the instinct within the insecurity of your spouse is a wise move in this situation. Be proactive and admit that the opposite sex friendship needs to be clearly defined with boundaries and rules. Your spouse will be grateful for your cooperation.
2. Admit your blind spots
Far too often we walk right into trouble because we have a blind spot regarding our own weaknesses. I remember years ago my wife (@amandajsavage) confronted me after a ministry event with the question, “Why were you flirting with her?” The “her” in that instance was a “good friend” at church. I objected to accusation! With God as my witness I was not flirting at all! After hearing my wife describe what she saw, i realized I had a blind spot in the way i interacted with women. Recognizing and admitting this blind spot helped me change my approach and give confidence back to Amanda. We all have blind spots. The sooner we can admit them, the sooner they stop causing trouble in our lives!
3. Create rules.
Rules are simply disciplines that govern how things need to work with opposite sex friendships. Remember, good disciplines beat good intentions all day long! Rules help us when our guard is down. Rules help us when we are tired and emotional. Rules help us when our circumstances line up in favor of stupidity. Here are a few rules I live by, incidentally these do not apply to my mom or sisters!
- Don’t ride in a car alone with someone of the opposite sex
- Don’t engage in extended conversations with someone of the opposite sex
- Try not to be alone with someone of the opposite sex
- Give spouse anytime access to anything/everything electronic, social media, text messages, email, etc.
- Never share personal or marital struggles, challenges or concerns with someone of the opposite sex
- Relate to someone of the opposite sex through their spouse as often as possible.
Obviously, some of these rules have exceptions in certain environments. For instance, you may have no choice in your job to travel with someone of the opposite sex. You may have to rent a car together and spend extended time alone with a co-worker. In these situations, be sure to outline a plan with your spouse for how you will handle things. This keeps you and your spouse on the same page with similar expectations.
4. Give your best to your marriage
This should go without saying but those who enjoy their marriages most have the least trouble here. When you treat your marriage with the intentionality and exclusivity it demands your marriage will thrive and the risk for inappropriate opposite sex friendships is diminished greatly. The problems emerge when certain expectations go unmet in marriage and the “friend” excels where we feel our spouse is weak. A husband seeking affirmation from his wife finds it in a female coworker. A lonely wife finds good conversation with one of the guys at the fitness center. We must be willing to always give our best even if our spouse does not and we must never fill a marriage vacancy with anyone or anything on the outside of marriage. Maybe you need to brush up on your marriage skills by reading a marriage book or attending a marriage conference or having a “marriage check-up” with a trusted pastor or counselor. Devote your energy to building a strong marriage.
5. Develop good same-sex friendships
We overlook the obvious sometimes. We all need good friends. Who are your trusted same-sex friends? Invest in those friends who will support your marriage and desire to stay faithful in word, deed and appearance. The irony of this whole subject is the emphasis is NOT reduce your friends, it is however to select the right friends and leverage them for mutual good. I am grateful for a handful of men in my life which include @casey_young, @chrisconlee, my brother and others who take the time to encourage, pray for and challenge me to be my best.
I know this 2-part blog does not answer every question and exception out there, but the heart is to help you protect and enjoy your marriage or future marriage at the highest level. As always, I encourage the comments, discussion and sharing with your friends. Thanks!