When ‘Just A Friend’ Is Really ‘Just’ A Big Threat To Your Marriage
After working with couples for nineteen years I would like to take a moment and dispel of few myths about affairs.
Myth #1: Affairs are just about sex.
This can be true but a lot of times affairs are about emotional connection. Some of the most pain I have seen has come from one partner having an ‘emotional affair’ where there has been no physical cheating.
Myth #2: People set out to have affairs because they are unhappy.
Again this can be true however a lot of affairs are not sought out but evolve from relationships where people are not maintaining proper boundaries and from a lack of recognition about dangerous situations.
Myth #3: Affairs just happen and all you can do is hope you married the ‘right kind of person’ who would never cheat.
Can be true but there are some things that can help you and your partner to be mindful and will help protect your relationship–one way to safeguard your relationship is to be vigilant about people in your life who are ‘Just Friends’.
Now, I am all for having friends of the opposite sex and don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this type of friendship but there are rules that should be observed to keep the boundaries clear.
Rule #1: Your partner should be your number one intimate relationship.
You should not be sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with a friend of the opposite sex that you don’t share with your partner. If this is happening and you feel like your partner doesn’t understand or care about your feeling the way ‘Just a Friend’ does then it is time to seriously consider couples counseling. This is a warning sign that should not be ignored. It also means it is time to pull back on the friendship. Especially if the next rule is being broken.
Rule #2: Do not talk to ‘Just a Friend’ about the negative state of your marriage or about how dissatisfied you are with your partner.
This may be a useful thing to do with a same sex friend or a therapist or even better yet with your partner. And if ‘Just a Friend’ starts confiding to you in this way–run for the hills! This is a danger sign. It can be very intoxicating to feel like you are the one person who ‘Just a Friend’ feels understands them. But anytime you two are in your own bubble of ‘understanding’ and ‘caring about each other’ this is a threat to your marriage.
A friend to you is a friend to your marriage if that is where you want to be and you should not be teaming up with someone else against your partner.
Rule #3: If you are lying about or hiding contact with ‘Just a Friend’, this is damaging your marriage.
Your partner should know your friends and there should be openness about your communications. Social media and the internet provide all sorts of portals of contact to people. Catching up on Facebook with an old boyfriend may be fun and harmless if all it amounts to is a quick hello that your partner is aware of and it doesn’t continue or include intimate chats. But more than that can open a can of worms–especially if it is done behind your partner’s back. I have heard of partners continually texting with people other than their spouses and not recognizing the danger. If you are keeping it from your spouse this should be telling you something.
Talk to your partner if you’ve heard from someone in your past and have a candid conversation on how you both feel about contact. Some things are best left in the past. Your energy should be spent on emotional investment in your marriage, not just being in proximity to your partner while you are texting someone else.
Rule #4: If you partner feels the friendship is a threat–it is!
Now for this one I am assuming that you are in a healthy relationship and not with a jealous, insecure partner who thinks that everyone you talk to is a threat–even the waiters at restaurants. If this is happening then please get help. If your partner is usually fine with your friends but expresses discomfort about a certain friend then pay attention. If you meet your partner’s concern with the dangerous and dismissive, “He’s ‘Just a Friend’” without taking time to really listen and examine what’s happening, you’re missing a big warning sign. I always tell couples that if one of you has a problem, you both have a problem. Think about rowing a boat with someone. If one person drops an oar and the other person wants to ignore this and keep rowing you just go in circles. You have to stop and figure out how to retrieve the oar so you can start rowing again together. If your partner feels that your friend is a threat, take time to explore this. Relationship expert John Gottman says one of the biggest predictors of divorce is a partner’s inability to be influenced by the other partner and this way of saying, “I don’t have a problem–you do,” is a great example of this.
Unfortunately we don’t teach these things to people and the Internet has caused so many problems with boundaries. Most people want to be good partners but they don’t realize the dangerous situations they place themselves in. It would be a lot easier to prevent problems than to try to repair the damage done by affairs. We teach driving to teens but not much in the way of relationship skills. As long as people continue to see affairs as a matter of making one choice rather than a series of loosening of boundaries I fear these problems will continue. For those interested there is a great book called Not “Just Friends” by author Shirley Glass that goes into more detail about these ideas and is also a great resource for helping people repair their relationships if an affair has occurred.
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