Writen by Gloria Ogunbadejo - Nigeria
This is an article I wrote a few years ago that I have chosen to revisit. This is mostly because I recently happened to have had a very similar encounter with a group of friends asking the same questions and making similar comments. So, I thought this might be a sign to address it again.
'Extra-marital friendships' is how a very wise gentleman described it. This was a tricky one for me as I had wildly conflicting views about it. I swung from feeling fairly confident that a married person can maintain a platonic friendship with the opposite sex without compromising their marriage to more recently possibly seeing it in another light. It's probably safe to say unequivocally that there are potential pitfalls that surround this alliance if firm boundaries are not maintained. We will read what some couples have to say on their experiences.
There are many changes that take place within a marriage over the course of time. For the most part in the early stages of normal healthy marriages, there is a compulsion and desire to share practically everything; your joys, hurts and daily experiences. Naturally as time goes on and the constraints of life take place such as children, work, family, church etc which are all natural occurrences, it can take a toll on the marriage. The closeness one once had can become diluted or even disappear.
Many times, both or one partner, may feel that they are the only one who invests in the marriage while the other just goes after their own interests. This may or may not be the case. Sometimes, even when both spouses attempt to make their marriage work, they may feel an increasing distance between them.
We may erroneously believe that as long as we don't step out of the marriage, nothing bad may come into it. Wrong! Unfortunately there are many things that compete for our love and affection and sometimes, if we are not on the alert, the outside can intrude on one's marriage. Marriage needs to be actively protected. There are many forces waiting to attack and get between one and one's mate and diminish one's relationship.
Marriage in its true sense is an exclusive two membership club with no room for a third party to receive equal share in it because it can very quickly weaken the bond, and create insecurity within the marriage.
Naturally, we all need close friends we can confide in and who can confide in us but if one finds increasingly that one is more comfortable confiding in one's friend more than one's spouse, this may place a wedge between one that deepens to the point of no return.
Friendships provide support, keep us from feeling lonely and make us well-rounded people. Encouraging and supportive friends (male or female) understand that one's best friend is and should be one's spouse, but no matter how close one is to one's spouse and kids, one often desires to have a kinship with others.
It is possible for married people to have healthy extra-marital friendships. However, special consideration must be given to a number factors that if ignored can and will threaten a marriage.
It's important that a couple develop and consistently nurture a 'best friend' relationship with their spouse. It's important to make sure that one's spouse understands the quality of one's friendship with the opposite sex and is comfortable with it. If they are not, then one needs to explore with them.
There might be a perfectly rational and reasonable reason why they have problems with it. It is important to honour one's spouses' wishes concerning one's friendship-even if it means ending it. The sanctity of one's marriage must always come first unless it is an abusive marriage and then one has other more serious issues to address.
If one's marriage is in trouble or one is having intimacy problems then it is important to avoid exposing oneself to opposite sex friendships; the boundaries may quickly get blurred. If one's friend fulfils needs that one wishes one spouse would meet, this could be a problem and lead to other things.
It was quite interesting to get the views of a few men and women who have tried to negotiate this terrain with varied results. Enjoy their stories
Jakande is on his third marriage and firmly believes categorically that close friendships with the opposite sex outside marriage are 'the devils handiwork.'
He says, "My first wife and I were deeply in love. I do not think I will ever find that type of love or happiness again. Everything was wonderful for six years until she went on a course abroad. She was there for two years and made friends with another student (male). She told me about him and I initially supported the friendship because I thought she was genuinely taking him as a brother. I did not question the friendship based on what she told me about it and I felt he was a good friend.
"My wife came home a few times on holiday and I started noticing a change in her. She didn't seem to be as keen to have sex with me like we used to especially now that we were apart. I felt the feelings should be stronger. I just knew something was not right. There was nothing major I could put my finger on but I just felt a difference in the way her body responded to me. I mentioned it but she brushed it aside saying these are some of the things that can happen in a marriage when one is apart. I have since had female friends all of which I have had sex with. Maybe I am trying to get back at my first wife I don't know but I think friends with the opposite sex in marriage are a danger to the marriage."
Fifty-year-old Remy has had a close male friend for 10 years. She had this friend before she got married and her husband was aware of their friendship. She said she cannot be without her friend and her husband accepts their friendship. In her case, she said she knew the friendship has been instrumental in strengthening their marriage. It was her friend who convinced her to marry her husband in the first place because she was unsure of him before marriage. During the marriage, she said there were many instances that she came close to leaving her husband and it was her friend that helped her understand her husband's point of view. She felt friendship with the opposite sex in marriage could if handled well and her friend is very respectful of her husband.
Donna says, ''It's all about trust at the end of the day. If you have a solid foundation and the trust is there, it should not be a problem. If one or the other is feeling insecure about the friendship, then there must be unresolved issues in the marriage that need to be sorted out.''
Sarah and John have been married for 20years and they consider themselves to have a 'very close, happy relationship.' Sarah says, ''I have always had close friendships with the opposite sex. In fact, I had more male friends than girlfriends. I just seem to get on better with the men than women. My husband had a really hard time with my having male friends before we got married as he suspected everyone and thought they all wanted to have sex with me. After we got married, he demanded I terminate all my male friendships. I thought this was very selfish of him and I resisted. We had some horrible fights about it and I did not think he was being rational about it. In the end, as much as I was unhappy about it, I chose to keep peace in my marriage but I still have a lot of resentment about it and I think it harmed our marriage as I do not have that outlet with my male friends that he cannot fulfil. There are things I can talk to my male friends about that I cannot talk to him about because he just does not understand and it does not mean I want to have sex with them.''