It’s an age old question, can men and women just be friends? It’s been a widely disputed debate about whether or not it’s possible to have a strictly platonic relationship. And of course, the issue becomes especially complicated when you are talking about a married person. Should a married person have friends of the opposite sex or could it be harmful to the marriage?
What Research Says
A new study by the University of Wisconsin says that men and women can mostly likely be friends. However, the study reveals that men are often attracted their female friends. And even more interesting, they often presume their female friends are attracted to them.
The study showed that many participants felt like sexual attraction to an opposite sex friend was more of a burden then a benefit. Women seemed to especially express this concern. The study shows that sexual attraction played no bearing on whether or not either friend is in a relationship or not.
What Does this Mean for Married Couples?
It’s important for married people to be aware that we tend to strike up friendships with people that attract us for one reason or another. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are physically attracted to someone, but it is likely that you strike up a friendship with someone because you have something in common, you are interested in them for one reason or another, or because you enjoy one another’s company.
So although it is possible to have friends of the opposite sex, it means that people should proceed with caution. Even if you aren’t attracted to your opposite sex friend, it doesn’t mean your friend isn’t attracted to you.
For many people, it would be nearly impossible to not have friends of the opposite sex. Telling old friends, “We can’t talk anymore that I’m married,” may not seem appropriate. And in the workplace, most men and women work side by side and it could be harmful to a person’s career to purposely avoid social interaction with anyone of the opposite sex.
Friendships of the opposite sex however, can be a slippery slope. Sometimes they become physical and at other times, they remain on an emotional level. But emotional affairs can be just as damaging to a marriage as a sexual one.
When establishing friendships with someone of the opposite sex, it’s essential that married people take steps to safeguard their marriage. Here are some steps that married people can take to protect their marriage from being damaged by an opposite sex friendship:
1. Establish boundaries- Set limits on how much alone time you spend with a friend of the opposite sex. Consider spending time in group settings or with your spouse instead of one on one time alone. If you spend too much time alone or talking privately it can make the friendship become too intimate. Even private email conversations can become too intimate if people are sharing about their day to day lives.
2. Don’t share everything- Monitor what you share with your friend. Don’t say anything to your friend when you’re alone that you wouldn’t say when your spouse is present. Don’t talk negatively about your spouse either. Complaining about your spouse to an opposite sex friend can be a slippery slope.
3. Be upfront and honest- Be honest with your spouse at all times about your friend (and everything else for that matter). If you send secret text messages, hold secret meetings, or just fail to tell your spouse that your friend was at a gathering, it’s going to hurt your relationship. It is essential that you are able to be up front and honest about your relationship and if you aren’t, it’s certainly a sign that the friendship has crossed the line. Sometimes people say they hide things because their spouse is jealous and they don’t want to make their spouse upset. However, this type of behavior will just damage your marriage even further.
4. Address concerns- If your spouse feels threatened by the relationship it is important to address it. See if there are changes you can make that would make your spouse feel more comfortable. Agree to do what it takes to not allow the friendship to interfere with your marriage. Your marriage needs to take priority over the friendship.
5. Be cautious of romantic feelings-If you find yourself romantically attracted to your friend at any time it is essential to put on the brakes. Continuing the friendship in the same way is not going to be helpful to your marriage. Limit your contact with your friend. If it is a co-worker, don’t talk outside of the office or spend any time together alone.