It is one thing to have an opposite-sex friendship when you are single. It’s another thing to continue to have those friendships once you’re in a relationship.
Of course, that isn’t to say that you have to drop all of your opposite-sex friends as soon as you get into a relationship. Nor does it mean that you can’t continue to make friends of the opposite sex even when you’re paired up.
However, you do need to have some open communication around this topic. You and your partner may have wildly different feelings about it. Therefore, it’s necessary to clarify what those feelings are.
Do You Have An Opposite-Sex Friendship?
Before you go to your partner with this topic, it’s important that you get clear on where you stand.
First, look in the mirror. Do you have opposite-sex friendships? Why or why not? If so, what do you get from those friendships? Furthermore, do they pose any threat to your relationship? If not, do you have underlying concerns, issues, and beliefs about this topic?
Once you’re clear on that, ask yourself what you expect from your partner when it comes to the topic of opposite-sex friendship. Do you want them to follow the same rules that you do? What happens if they aren’t open to that? The clearer you can be about what you want and why, the easier it will be to begin this conversation.
Open Up the Conversation
Once you’re clear about where you stand, it’s time to start the conversation with your partner. The goal isn’t to win them over to your side. Instead, your aim is to be open and honest about your needs, wants, and boundaries. At the same time, you have to be willing to non-judgmentally hear what they express.
Here are some tips for having the conversation:
- Bring it up at a neutral time when you’re both ready for an open conversation.
- Take turns speaking about what you expect when it comes to opposite-sex friendship.
- Speak from your own experience without any blaming or shaming.
- When your partner speaks, do your best to listen non-judgmentally.
- Try to speak in general terms, setting boundaries for the whole relationship, rather than focusing on one specific friendship that might be an issue.
- If things get too heated, take a break. Commit to return to the conversation at a specific date and time when you’re calm again.
Put Your Relationship First
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to whether one or both of you has opposite-sex friendships. There’s only what is right or wrong for this relationship. It helps if you both think of yourselves as a team, working to resolve this issue. It’s not you against them; it’s the two of you against the topic. The ultimate goal is for both of you to feel a sense of safety, security, and trust in your relationship. When you approach it this way, it helps safeguard your relationship.
Signs Your Boundaries Have Been Crossed
Of course, you can’t do all of the work yourself. Once you and your partner have agreed to discuss the issue, you can establish boundaries. It’s important to pay attention to how much respect your partner has for those boundaries.
For example, perhaps you’ve agreed that they can maintain an opposite-sex friendship. However, the caveat is that they always let you know when and where they’ll be with that person. You’ve set that boundary as a way to feel secure. They’ve agreed. Then they fail to check in with you – or plans with that person change and they don’t update you. If it happens once, that’s a red flag. If it happens more than once, your boundaries aren’t being respected.
Of course, it’s a two-way street. It’s important that you respect their boundaries as well. Therefore, it’s worth it to take the time to truly carve out boundaries that you both agree will work for your relationship. One terrific exercise that can help you with this is the “want, will, won’t” exercise.
Want, Will, Won’t: An Exercise to Create Boundaries
Each of you should sit down separately with a piece of paper. Divide the paper into thirds. Then label each third with the words want, will, and won’t. Ask yourself honestly, “what do I want when it comes to opposite-sex friendships in this relationship?” Write everything you want in the want column. Write everything that you absolutely can’t tolerate in the “won’t” section. Then write everything you don’t think is ideal but will tolerate, perhaps with caveats, in the “will” section.
Come together with your partner to share your papers. This is how to set boundaries. Nothing you agree to should ever conflict with the “won’t” section of either paper. Both of you should get at least one thing you desire from your “want” column. The middle ground of “will” is where negotiations can take place.
Couples counseling can help you establish boundaries when it comes to opposite-sex friendship. Learn more about my counseling services here.