OPPOSITE SEX FRIENDSHIPS CAN BE A SOURCE OF NEEDED SUPPORT, BUT THEY CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS.
Relationship challenges can be wide and varied. Issues around sex, money, and any number of topics get activated as two people settle in and become a couple. Insecurities arise; gaps and openings in each other’s armor give way to disagreements, fighting, and unrest. Men tend to turn to their buddies, and women to their girlfriends, to find solidarity, comfort, and support. Yet, what happens when that support and friendship is sought out not through same-sex friendships but through opposite-sex ones?
I had a female client once say to me, “It takes a pretty secure person to be OK with your husband having a deep, sharing friendship with another woman. I’m not one of them.”
For many women and men in committed relationships, knowing their partner has one or many friendships with members of the opposite sex is often another area of challenge. See, when we are single, we tend to connect with men and women who provide us with a wide variety of our needs. For many, it is like eating off a Chinese menu: one from column A and two from column B. We are usually far more spread out finding comfort, solace, communication, and intimacy with a larger number of people. Mostly because we don’t have someone significant and special who manages all of our wants and needs.
Opposite sex relationships can threaten even the most solid relationship
When we commit to a single relationship, our time tends to become more centered on one person. Our needs, once up for grabs within a group of people, have in many ways come together with this one person. Opposite-sex friendships can sometimes pose a threat not only to time but also to the intimate bond now formed. Same-sex friendships often slide because of physical time availability and the tendency to now associate more with other couples than single friends, and when you have kids – well, you just start adding more people who need your direct attention.
The largest threat to opposite-sex friendships outside of a relationship is when one or both partners have a history of seeking approval from the opposite sex in a variety of areas. I once had a male client who realized that since being in a committed relationship he had spent years cultivating friendships with women who were far more manipulative than authentic. Several were occasionally sexual; others were for his need to be pumped up and prized in a variety of circumstances both personally and professionally. Now that he had committed, those other relationships had all but drifted away.
Jealousy is often a factor. Knowing your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend is confiding in another man or woman can be disconcerting. “What else must be going on?” is often the lingering question. For others, it is less about jealousy and more a concern that their partner isn’t coming to them. And, let’s face it, there are others who feel secure enough in their relationship and are fine with it, perhaps even encourage those friendships. Bottom line – as long as these friendships don’t hurt or sabotage your relationship, why not?
Time to think and communicate
Here are some things to consider if you find that you are questioning yourself or your partner and want greater clarity.
Is there a history with any of these relationships that have not been spelled out? Was it ever more than friendship, and, if so, what were the circumstances? The truth here is helpful. It is zero fun if your significant other discover that you left out a few important details.
What are the boundaries within your own relationship when it comes to sharing intimate details or specific issues you are going through? Deciding what is OK for each of you to discuss outside of your relationship is a healthy way to set boundaries that protect the sanctity of your union.
Be honest with yourself: What do you get from having these relationships? What wants and needs are provided, and can you get them from your significant other? And, if not, is this a red flag about your relationship?
Ask your partner these very same questions. It is not about a lack of trust. It is ultimately about strengthening your own relationship when it comes to intimacy, friendship, and honest communication.
In the end, there is no right or wrong here, just being clear with yourself and with your partner so that what you find outside of your relationship is not a substitute for what’s sorely missing between the two of you.