Many couples have at their core a deep and abiding friendship. According to psychologist and researcher Dr. John Gottman, having a strong friendship is one of the most important traits that makes a marriage fulfilling and lasting. Quality relationships outside the marriage are also key for a rich and fulfilling life. But when those relationships cross boundaries and become inappropriate, a marriage can quickly be turned upside down and torn inside out. Couples can benefit from constructing clear boundaries to protect their marriage.
Setting Boundaries with Friends
In my own life I have the joy of celebrating 28 years of marriage. I can say my husband is my best friend. Early on in our marriage we began the practice of exercising healthy boundaries with our friendships, specifically those friendships with people of the opposite gender. We made a list of clear lines of demarcation in other relationships, as we never want to compromise our marriage.
Contrary to what many believe, not all affairs are due to a troubled marriage or a lack of love between spouses. A loving marriage and good friendships can coexist if you are careful and cognizant of not crossing emotional and physical boundaries. Physical boundaries are fairly obvious; however, what many people don’t understand is that emotional affairs generally happen gradually. From there they may transition into physical affairs, creating havoc and turmoil when they are exposed.
The challenging aspect is that many emotional affairs don’t set out to be so. Infidelity often starts out simply in workplace relationships, platonic friendships, or community acquaintances. Generally, they happen without premeditation. It is when people start to cross boundaries of emotional intimacy, sharing information which should only be discussed with their spouse, that trouble begins.
When emotional boundaries are crossed, it gradually leads to more and more intimate communication being shared. Stronger feelings may grow, and before the person knows it, they’ve developed an attraction for their friend. If left unchecked, this will most likely lead to sexual infidelity and most assuredly violate the security of the marriage.
How can you tell if you or your spouse are in the danger zone with your other friendships?
15 Signs Your Friendship Has Crossed the Line
- When talking to your friend, you feel more comfortable confiding in them than you do your spouse.
- When talking to your friend, you share negative thoughts or feelings that you have toward your spouse.
- When talking to your friend, you share intimate details about your life, more so than with your spouse.
- You do not share the extent of your friendship with your spouse.
- Your spouse does not know about your relationship with your friend.
- You would feel uncomfortable if your spouse were to listen in on the conversations you have with your friend.
- You find yourself thinking about your friend more than you know you should be.
- You look forward to being with your friend more so than with your spouse.
- You meet your friend alone for coffee or meals without your spouse knowing about it.
- You regularly engage with your friend on social media without your spouse’s knowledge.
- You feel a sexual tension or attraction when you are with your friend.
- You and your friend are discussing the sexual tension you are both feeling in the friendship.
- When you and your friend are alone, you interact differently than when other people are around.
- You find yourself regularly looking forward to meeting with your friend.
- You are in love with your friend.
If you disagreed with all these statements, then most likely you are not having an emotional affair. If you agreed with most of these questions, then you may be involved in an emotional affair.
Ending an Emotional Affair
If you are having an emotional affair, you may be jeopardizing your marriage. It may be a good idea to put an end to that friendship. If this is a work colleague or someone you must see on a regular basis, you may want to consider putting up some strong boundaries starting now. If you desire to preserve your marriage, you may want to seek out the support of a therapist to help you process your feelings and hold you accountable.
Contrary to what many believe, not all affairs are due to a troubled marriage or a lack of love between spouses. In my practice I often find couples get caught up in careers, raising children, or caring for elderly parents. All these commitments can cause people to lose sight of their marriage or spouse. Healing the marriage is often just a matter of not taking our spouse for granted and making sure we stay emotionally connected to our partner.
Glass, S. P. (2004). Not ‘just friends’: Rebuilding trust and recovering your sanity after infidelity. New York, NY: Free Press.
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