Dr. Pam Thompson

Dr. Pam Thompson

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Can My Spouse Have Friends of the Opposite Sex?

I happen to have the best friends in the whole wide world who love to provoke thought and debate about a variety of subjects. One such debate erupted some twenty years ago on the subject of appropriate friendships for your spouse to have, namely as it relates to gender. I, who have had close male friendships since elementary school, was quick to say that it was totally cool with me if my husband had friends of the opposite sex SO LONG as I knew these individuals myself, the vibes are good, and all conversations/activities are above board and often/usually include me. Also, my husband and I do not entertain friendships with those who were former romantic interests nor do we talk to friends of the opposite sex with regularity, as in daily, weekly, or even monthly. Additionally, we’d both have a raised eyebrow if either of us popped up with a TOTALLY new friend out of the blue—not because of work or church or some long-term shared recreation. Those are our rules, and every couple has to develop their own to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding. We’ve had no issues regarding friendships of the opposite sex because of our clear understanding on this matter. I happen to enjoy the perspectives of men and find that my friendships with males over the years have not compromised my values regarding fidelity and clear boundaries. As it turns out, at least two of my husband’s female friends (one who was a former co-worker and the other a home-girl) talk to me now far more than they ever talk to him. Likewise, one of my female friends from high school talks to my husband and sees him far more than she and I do because he spends 2 nights a week with her family (including husband and 3 kids) while on an out-of-town assignment. 

Twenty years ago, my two girlfriends felt the exact opposite of me on this matter of cross-gendered friendships. They were both “purists,” a word we began using then to describe their stance of absolute exclusivity when it came to interaction between their husbands and females. In short, this means the only female they believed their husbands should have friendship with was them. Period. We had quite a spirited debate that day, and I made NO headway with them. Fast-forward to today, and one of those girlfriends is now like me in her attitudes in that she routinely has lunches and meetings and business travel with males that she would have deemed inappropriate two decades ago. She laughs at the memory of how she used to think about this issue. The other girlfriend is still dug-in on her position that her husband is not allowed nor will he ever be allowed to have a female friend or companion of any kind, anywhere—not at work, church, or the neighborhood; not a lunch meeting, not a tennis partner, not a..well..nothing! She struggles to understand why there would ever be a need for a married person to kiss a person of the opposite sex on the cheek—just as a greeting of fondness. I’m thinking she’s from another planet on this one. 

By the way, if you’ve had issues of adultery in your marriage, I highly recommend against allowing friends of the opposite sex without EXPLICITLY CLEAR boundaries and rules regarding how you will be accountable to each other in order to re-build trust and protect the sanctity of your marriage. Depending on your circumstances, such cross-gendered contacts may need to be eliminated altogether unless your spouse is present or privy to the communication.

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