Thursday, September 27, 2007

just friends (married edition)

The post just friends below has morphed into a discussion on the phenomenon of married individuals catching a cup of coffee with a close friend of the opposite gender.

So we'll transform this post into an arena to have a go at discussing this topic.

here's a bit of what's occurred so far:

Angus:I would think catching up with a good friend of the opposite sex, as long as you and your partner trusted each other, wouldn't be a problem. Of course, it all depends on the particular couple and what everyone is comfortable with I suppose.

Me: Angus, I read that and so many red flags fly up ...
i believe that generally it is not so much a matter of trusting one's partner as it is a matter of wisdom.

Swil: But why is that limited to cross-gender friendships? UST* is not the only element that can make a friendship dangerous to a married couple. Does this mean the couple should not have any friends outside the relationship, because it might be dangerous? Of course not. It just requires wisdom, spent on a per-friendship level rather than on a blanket rule level.

32 comments:

kath said...

but it would be so boring to only have close female friends for the rest of my life! :P

i would be hesitant to give myself a blanket 'no opposite-gender friends' rule - it reminds me of how the pharisees did things.

this issue more about where your heart is. if you're catching up with a guy friend there's nothing inherently wrong (or even unwise) with that - it comes down to what motivated you, the circumstances under which you meet, and the type of people you are.

that said, you shouldn't be afraid to turn down a friendship for the sake of your marriage.

Michael said...

If you think about it, friendships across gender lines are a product of the late 20th century and other 'movements'. And with these enlightenments what has happened to the divorce rate? A cataclysmic climb!

All that said, you and your spouse are one flesh and if your spouse knows about the meeting ahead of time and genuinely doesn't care, then there's nothing inherently wrong about it (unless your mindset is out of control.)

With a divorce rate of 50% in modern society (and christendom,) I just think it's stupid and selfish. There's that word again!

IMHO, guys that have a chivalrous bone in their body wouldn't ask a married woman out to coffee alone regardless of their past together or their current intentions. A chivalrous guy would liberally apply the "not even a hint" filter to their private and public social choices for the sake of their married woman friend. A chivalrous guy wouldn't let a married woman friend put herself in a position of potential strife at home.

Laura said...

Several of my married friends have a "policy" of not being alone with a member of the opposite sex, but they call it just that -- a policy. And I agree that unresolved sexual tension is NOT the only element of danger. Emotional and intellectual intimacy can be just as awful.

Maybe a good rule of thumb (there I go with the rules again!) is to ask yourself honestly if you are seeking something you think your spouse is inadequate to provide, and if so, to run run run from the situation. But there definitely might be circumstances where it wouldn't raise major red flags for me. I think about the two guys I grew up (literally from age 4 on) with who are both married -- I would find it genuinely bizarre if one of their wives objected to me getting a cup of coffee with one of them.

kath said...

i agree that there is a need to be wary of all types of inappropriate intimacy - but they are most likely symptoms of a problem in the marriage, not a problem itself.

however, i maintain that there can be legitimate expressions of friendship between opposite genders outside of a marriage.

i wonder how a nonchristian friend would react if you told them you couldn't meet up with them because you were married?

Jenna said...

Hi there...I'm Jenna...And I just have to say that this is one happenin' blog! Some great discussions! Jumping in...

I trust my husband. If he decided that he wanted to catch up with an old friend of the opposite gender, I would have no reason not to trust that it was purely that - catching up with an old friend. However... That is very unlikely to happen for a number of reasons.

1) My husband, though he loves the Lord, knows that he is but mere man. He has no desire to put himself in a questionable situation.
2) We are living examples to our siblings and those around us. I shudder to think what people would assume if they saw my husband having coffee with some other women. And, no, we don't live our lives worried about what others think of us, but we should always strive to be "above reproach."
2) Un-Christlike or not - I would have a real problem if my husband took time away from his family to hang out with this friend, because...
3) We always hang out with old friends (especially of the opposite gender)as a couple. Kind of saying, "friends with me, friends with my wife." My husband would have nothing to discuss with this old friend that could not be discussed in front of me. And it allows me the opportunity to become more a part of his world (so to speak).

We have not broken ties with any of our previous friends because of our marriage, but instead we've both enjoyed getting to know each others friends. On many occasions we've had lunch or dinner, etc as a couple with a single friend. And you know, those friends have no problem with that! If they did have a problem with it, that would be a huge red flag!

Lest you think I'm picking on men here, I'm not! All of the above goes for me too! And it all really works out quite nicely. :)

One last thought, as far as trust... My husband and I trust each other, we really do. But trust is something to be maintained and fostered. You can build it up or tear it down. As far as a cup of coffee...I would ask, is it building trust into the marriage relationship or does it have the potential to tear it down? I prefer to build on the trust and forgo the coffee. After all, there are other creative solutions for catching up with old friends!
...sorry this is so long...

Laura said...

Jenna, that is an awesome point. I have been really blessed when my friends have gotten married to great guys or girls -- it's not that I spend less time with my friends, it's that I get to spend time with my friends AND their cool husbands or wives.

gina said...

Jenna, I think you are spot on.

Laura, we adopted the "policy" of which you spoke when we were engaged after reading this book. Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It
It just made sense to us. Why take a chance and become a statistic? Is it really that important to NOT include your spouse in that kind of friendship? Negative! (in my opinion) We have some really great friends that we gained as a couple. "Together, we're better...."

Anonymous said...

I had a girlfriend who insisted on catching up with old boyfriends for coffee (without me)... no problem right? Until you realise that she'd slept with most of them before she was a Christian.

I had a BIG problem with this. I tried time and again to explain this to her. It was a point of contention in our relationship and we fought about it constantly. What would you have done?

kath said...

jenna,
i agree with most of your points. i like the idea of having the freedom to meet up with others if the situation comes up, however having behavioural patterns that say you are a couple.
what about friends that have different interests/hobbies to your spouse? should you insist on building those friendships as a couple?

ckjolly said...

Yea! I love coming back to my blog to find a fascinating conversation!

Jenna - thank you soooo much for your insights. great to have you here.

Kath - lol ... you know how i told you when I was in Uni that I was a bit of a man-basher? Well, oddly enough at one stage I think I had more guy pals than girl friends. and I think I said the *exact* same thing you did:

"but it would be so boring to only have close female friends for the rest of my life! :P"

lol

No one's saying don't be friends with guys. Nor is it a matter of whether it's Christian or not. I'd think that secular men aren't too keen to have their wives frequently go mountain biking alone with a guy friend.

While, at this stage in your life, you may view this as pharisee-esque as a means of obtaining a higher standard of righteousness, I view it as lovingly protecting Mike and my marriage.
I'm concerned about male-female friendships (when one of the two is married) that are exclusive of the spouse rather than inclusive.

Dani said...

A slight digression and from the viewpoint of a single woman (just so you know my bias!)... if I were really good friends with a guy who got married and then, for the sake of his marriage, decided to cut off out friendship or reduce me simply to accquaintance status I would be absolutely devestated.

I'm not saying that the friendship should continue as it was before his marriage - I think that would be foolhardy and unfair to all involved (including his new wife). But I do think that he, and his wife, have some responsibility to continue fostering that friendship within the new context of their marriage. I'm not sure that necessarily means he never sees her alone, but I think it should certainly mean that his new spouse should respect the importance of that friendship and be a significant part of the process by which it morphs from what it used to be to what it needs now.

I just thought I would pipe up with these comments because this matter does not have implications for the newly married couple alone. It can be very hard for any (normally single) friend to try and work out the way in which their long-standing friendship needs to change upon the marriage of their friend. And so whilst of course that new wife/husband has an enormous responsibility to love and care for their spouse that doesn't mean that they don't also have a responsibility to love and care for dear friends of the opposite sex after they are married.

PS. I think something very similar also needs to happen when it is not a cross-gender friendship and am ever grateful to my best friend who made it very clear to me that my friendship remained very important to her after she was married... and also her husband who understood that and made a great effort to get to know me better and include me, in a special way, as part of their family.

Laura said...

I may say something about this on my blog, too. It's something I struggled with forever. I despise the legalism that says, "Married men can only give side hugs to women, can't have a cup of coffee with a longtime female friend, etc." BUT, when a good friend of mine got married, I was abruptly faced with the fact that our relationship would never be the same again -- his number one priority was pastoring, leading, and caring for his wife.

As far as that goes, it is what it is. Men's relationships just change after they're married, de facto. Period.

What was that book, Christine, that had as a chapter title "Don't marry your best friend unless you're gay"? Anyway, while I have some quibbles with a few things in that book, I thing many of their opinions are helpful in sorting out marriage and friendship issues -- especially since the couple who wrote it married a bit later in life, and so had some long-standing opposite-sex friendships.

I think their general advice was to invest in same-sex friendships while maintaining (albeit on a slightly different level) opposite-sex ones. I followed that advice and I have never been so blessed by my friendships with both men and women.

Laura said...

Oh, and Michael, I meant to give you kudos before. Excellent points.

Dwayne said...

I ran across this blog while doing a search for... I don't even remember.
Interesting post and discussion. I'll throw in a few cents' worth to add to everyone else's insightful comments.

Trust within a marriage relationship is important. Established friendships are important. Laying out overly-rigid rules to the fluidity of relationships tends to be counterproductive and Pharisaical.
General principles: Don't abuse the trust that your marriage should have, and don't open doors for either temptation, or accusations or wrong impressions.

However, I don't believe that this never allows for any exceptions. I generally try to make it a point to include my wife when visiting with old friends, unless circumstances don't allow (such as one time when I was out of town alone), or unless she isn't particularly interested in meeting or hanging out with the person (I have some weird and/or obnoxious friends).
Prior permission or notification is best, and secrecy is never a good idea, so even if I happen to forget to tell my wife about something beforehand, I always try to make it a point to tell as soon as I think of it so that she hears it from me first.

In any case, it always comes down to a heart issue -- either you're trying to be above reproach and honoring to your spouse, or your main priority is your own self.
(Sorry, this went longer than I'd hoped. :)

Jenna said...

anon,
I'll take a stab at the situation you mentioned, though I certainly don't think I have all of the answers!

To be honest, if I was in your shoes, I think that would be the end of the relationship. I believe that it's very, very dangerous to maintain ties with people that you have failed morally with. The issue isn't that she failed, but that she wasn't willing to put those ties behind her. That's my take on it!

I'm loving reading everyone's thoughts on this! Some great points have been made!

ckjolly said...

Laura, you know Michael, ... author of Marriable ... the book that includes the chapter about not marrying your best friend unless your gay.

lol

Laura said...

Ha! AWESOME.

CraigS said...

"Don't marry your best friend unless you're gay"

How come? Whats the reasoning?

Laura said...

Well, the idea, I think (she said hesitantly knowing the author might pop by at any moment) is that the nature of same-gender friendships is so different from the nature of cross-gender friendships as to merit a categorical distinction. Not that the two categories (friend and spouse) don't overlap quite a bit, but that they are at the root different types of relationships.

CraigS said...

I still don't understand. Is she saying that if you are best friends with a chick, that wouldn't make a good marriage?

Seems a bit counter-intuitive. Do you just rely on raw sexual chemistry instead?

RodeoClown said...

An old youth group leader of mine once told us we should marry our best friend, because then you already know you relate well :)

I did it, and it's working out great so far (the fact I have a hot best friend also helps...).

ckjolly said...

a "just friends" sample chapter from marriable

Angus said...

This is a bit of another tangent (I'm sorry, I really am, but... I've got lots of work to do and this is just so interesting!). Actually, this is kinda in response to Dani's comment.

I think it's important for couples to maintain their friendships with their single friends even after they're married. Whether it be individually or together.

Of course, I'm coming at this from a single point of view, so perhaps when I get married I'll think "ha! now I don't have to hang out with single losers again! Let's do things with other couples! Woohoo!". But I somehow doubt it.

I think this because our friends are so important to us for a long period of time, and while there will naturally be some shift when our perspective on life changes significantly (marriage can do that), I think they should remain important.

Some couples I know are excellent at spending time with their single friends. Others are terrible. It's a mixed bag.

I suppose when you're a couple it's easier to hang out with other couples and talk about couple things while cooking something... coupley.

But to me, my friends (male and female) mean a lot to me, and I would not like to see that lost just because I choose to spend more time with one person. I understand that some relationships will naturally drop off, but that means I'd have to work harder to maintain the ones I really value.

Anyway, 2c on a tangent.

On topic? Marrying your best friend? Um... as long as it's done for the right reasons, not because you're sick of looking. Because if someone awesome comes along who you're insanely attracted to, how's that going to play out?

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that the singles are all for "exclusive" guy-girl friendships in marriage and the married people are cautious of it.

annemarie said...

What an interesting conversation! May be time for me to delurk.

I'm a single female and I have no problem at all spending time alone with my married male friends. The three that I can think of are such high quality Christians that there is absolutely no hint of impropriety when we are together. Generally, their wives join us at some point in the meeting, but we do spend time together either before or after.

I have drawn the line at spending time alone with only a couple of my married male friends: both men who expressed interest in dating me before they moved on and married their wives. That just wouldn't feel appropriate

The people I really don't feel comfortable hanging out alone with are other single men.

wombat said...

well i never thought i'd have anything to say on blogs - i only knew what they were about 5 months ago. but this is a great discussion.

my general take on this is that i'm not going to go out of my way to meet alone with a married women, even if she's a great friend or her husbands a great friend. that doesn't mean i'm going to avoid her if we meet randomly somewhere, it's just that i wouldn't intentionally try to meet her alone. to me its respect for their marriage. i think jenna's points on this are gold!

a few people have said that placing rules like these on relationships is phariseeish. i disagree. when jesus attacked the pharisee's it was because of their self righteousness, not the rules. sure the rules were the outworking of self righteousness but rules aren't inherenetly bad.

if you set rules (boundaries) in relationships so you come across as morally tops, thats a problem. but if the rules (ie. not meeting a married person of the opposite sex alone) are to protect marriage and honour God, by all means stick by them.

i think Eph 5:13 is a great text on this. through Christ we have enormous freedom. its what we do with that freedom that counts. the passage says that we are too "serve one another in love". if that means sacrificing time alone with a married women/man to protect marriage, why wouldn't we do it?

Dani said...

>>>i'm not going to go out of my way to meet alone with a married women, even if she's a great friend...that doesn't mean i'm going to avoid her if we meet randomly somewhere, it's just that i wouldn't intentionally try to meet her alone. to me its respect for their marriage<<<

How about respect for your friendship?

I can't quite understand how (for example) a guy could have a genuinely great friendship with a woman and then as soon as she gets married only chance meeting her randomly. Frankly it concerns me that the logical conclusion of this argument is that when marriage enters the equation important cross-gender friendships are relegated to 'Oh, if we happen to stumble across each other randomly somewhere then I won't cross the road to avoid her'.

And in fact, why stop there? Sure, with friends of the opposite gender there is the issue of sexual propriety to consider. But same-sex friendships often reach an intimacy of a different kind which in it's own way can, when used improperly, be a threat to a marriage relationship. In that case, should we not be meeting alone with friends of the same-sex out of respect for the marriage relationship also?

I don't see how we are 'serving in love' our good friends of either sex by diminishing what was previously a really important friendship to the occasional random meeting should our paths happen to cross sometime after the marriage vows are said.

In fact, I think we move towards an idolatry of marriage when we see it as so exclusive that it automatically negates other very important relationships in our lives. Certainly, we must exercise discretion and wisdom so that we are beyond reproach (after all, for example, it's dead simple to have a one-on-one catch up with someone in a very public place). And certainly it is a relationships which should not be totally exclusive of a spouse. But at the same time shouldn't we be having respect for and working hard at all relationships- not just the marriage one as if it is the be all and end all?

Anonymous said...

You wouldn't also be single would you Dani?

ckjolly said...

That was a very impassioned plea, Dani. Thank you for including (towards the end) that the spouse ought not to be completely excluded from the friendship.

But, I fail to see how including the spouse in the friendship is excluding the friend. Rather, it appears to me that your point of view is rather exclusive.

How is intentionally (not randomly) inviting the friend over for dinner, going out to a movie, meeting up for lunch along with the spouse NEGLECTING the friendship? I should think that including the spouse somehow makes the friendship richer.

As for same-sex friendships ... right on ... sometimes we idolize those to the extent that the spouse is neglected. But if I'm sinning in that relationship, I don't think that it would have the opportunity to go so far as adultery.

notmyrealname said...

> Anonymous said...
> It's interesting that the
> singles are all for "exclusive"
> guy-girl friendships in marriage
> and the married people are
> cautious of it.

Consider your trend bucked, sport. I've been married for some 5 years and think this is possibly the stupidest idea I've ever heard.

If one partner spending time alone with a friend (of either sex) is an issue, I'd strongly suspect that it's just an outlet for other issues within the marriage - eg lack of sexual fulfillment, jealousy etc.

Strong friendships make for strong marriages IMHO.

Swil said...

a few people have said that placing rules like these on relationships is phariseeish. i disagree. when jesus attacked the pharisee's it was because of their self righteousness, not the rules. sure the rules were the outworking of self righteousness but rules aren't inherenetly bad.

Not true. He certainly ripped into their self righteousness, but he also ripped into their constant rule creation. See Mark 7 for a good example.

You wouldn't also be single would you Dani?

What exactly are you trying to achieve with a comment like that? Dani made some excellent points, you are free to counter them, but a passive attempt to undermine her is childish. Especially as an anonymous coward :)

I actually think the divide in opinion here would be more down to cultural background. Some cultures, particularly more conservative church ones, are very cautious (some would say overly cautious) about cross-gender relations outside of a marriage.

Tracy said...

Well, I'm very late to the party here. This has been a very interesting thread to read. I have one primary opinion to state: If you are a single friend of someone of the opposite sex who is married, you had better make it your goal to become good friends with the spouse. To expect to continue a close friendship with only the one person is a selfish and thoughtless position. Doing so puts strain on that marriage and sets up a situation that can compromise a sacred relationship.

That was my "rule" in maintaining my friendships before I was married. I had a lot of close guy friends who got married before me.
I found that often the primary friendship shifted over to the spouse, and that happened because of the couple's own preferences, it seemed.