I think almost all married people have friends of the opposite gender while married.  In today’s world, it would be almost impossible not to have opposite-sex friends. But some of us reading this blog are getting divorced or are already divorced because our husband had a friendship when we were married that became an inappropriate friendship, and then an emotional affair and finally a full-fledged sexual affair that destroyed our marriage.    

I believe my own ex-husband’s affair started out innocently enough as a workplace friendship.  When you think about it, our spouses often spend more waking hours with their work companions than they do with us. Even though some statistics say most inappropriate friendships start in the workplace, other research suggests that online is the most likely place.  The difference in statistics may be in the definition of “start.” Even though there are all kinds of different places inappropriate relationships after marriage start, according to cheatsheet.com, they all usually have an early online component.

Before an affair, many of us don’t think about specifically setting boundaries about opposite sex friendships at work, online or anywhere else. I didn’t. I trusted my then husband. I never thought about him betraying me or having an inappropriate friendship with a co-worker and throwing away 33 years of marriage. I should have thought about it because that is what he did.

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Can A Married Man Have A Female Friend?

I believe it’s okay for husbands to have female friends. Many of us work in business environments where we are around opposite sex co-workers all of the time. My ex husband had lots of female co-workers/friends at work. I never worried about it. He also had irregular hours, so I could have been fretting about that all the time, too. I just didn’t.

I had male acquaintances and male friendships through my business and at church and in other social settings. I thought being in a strong marriage made it easier to have male friends, because they all knew I was happily married and there was no possibility of a romantic relationship at all. At least for me. That often turns out not to be the case with many spouses.

After finding out about my ex husband’s inappropriate friendship during our marriage, and then the affair, I realized I made it very easy for him to betray my trust. I didn’t want to be in a relationship where I had to worry that my husband was going to cheat on me with a female friend. 

Can A Married Man Be Alone With Another Woman?

There is something in spiritual circles called the “Billy Graham Rule” which some people might think old fashioned and demeaning to women. In reality, it is probably good advice. This rule advises men not to spend time alone with any woman who is not his wife. 

In today’s work-place environment, men and women not only spend work hours together, they also go on business trips together, work late together and sometimes relax after work together. That seems like a recipe for marriage disaster! 

On the other hand, it seems almost impossible never to be alone with any member of the opposite sex except your spouse (unless it’s a female relative). Coffee shops and gyms also seem to be great places to find opposite sex friends. (One of my counselors told me that.) 

How To Set Boundaries

Sometimes, hearing about rules like the Billy Graham rule makes us ask ourselves, “Exactly what are the boundaries about friendships for me and my spouse? What is acceptable behavior and what is not?” We need to decide that before a catastrophe like an inappropriate friendship or an affair with the opposite gender has already happened. Without boundaries, “just friends” can too easily become inappropriate friends with “benefits.”

Boundaries are hard to bring up sometimes, but it’s important for our spouse to know if we think a married man should have a close female friend or not. The conversation might be difficult, but we each need to know the boundaries that are acceptable for us in our marriage.

Setting opposite sex friendship boundaries upfront makes for healthier relationships in the long run. It’s also good to know if our husband already has a close female friend at work. That should be talked through before any boundary is crossed! 

Place Limits on Sharing

Inappropriate friendships when we’re married often happen when we haven’t discussed limits on what we can and cannot share with opposite gender friends. When friends start sharing more with each other than with their spouse, that is not good for the friendship. It can be deadly for the marriage. 

My own ex husband started talking about our relationship with his opposite gender friend. She seemed to know every little fault of mine, and every thing he was dissatisfied with in our marriage. I knew absolutely nothing about her. He told her personal things and private things. I was very hurt by that. He did tell me once that she was very spiritual and I would really like her. (I didn’t like her and, I’m sorry, but a spiritual woman would not do what she was doing!) 

Limit Communication & Time Spent Together

When opposite gender friendships are in the workplace, sometimes it’s hard to limit time together. In most cases of inappropriate friendships at work, soon the friend starts not only being available during work time, but also during lunch breaks and after work. I found a message that my ex’s friend had told her husband that she was going to pick up something at the store and she had been gone for more than two hours. She was wondering how to explain that. 

Often when we find out that there is more than just an inappropriate friendship going on with our spouse, the relationship has morphed into an emotional, and often, physical affair and has already damaged our marriage.

Full Disclosure: Be Open And Honest

Being open and honest about interactions with friends of the opposite gender when we are married usually removes the worry and maybe even the likelihood the friendship will lead to an affair. In my work with midlife divorces, I often hear from women whose husbands left after an inappropriate friendship between her husband and a close friend of hers.

One of my closest friends and her husband, had a couple friendship with another couple all the way through college and even post-college. The woman from the other couple and my friend’s husband started out as mutual friends, but ended up having a hidden affair together that destroyed both marriages, of course. 

When an inappropriate friendship is getting closer to an emotional affair or a physical affair, most friends become more secretive about the relationship instead of more open about it. For most women, even though we are devastated about the inappropriate friendship, we are even more hurt that our spouse could lie to our face over and over again. Nothing can be fixed without honesty all around.

Signs A Friendship Is An Emotional Affair

There are other signs that what started as an inappropriate friendship has become an emotional affair. By the time I figured that out, we were seeing a counselor about his emotional connection with her. My ex husband tried to convince me and the counselor that his friend was having trouble in her marriage, and he was just trying to help her with that. (I’m not surprised that there was trouble in her marriage. Most husbands don’t like it when their wife is screwing around with another man!)

There Was/Is Romantic Interest

If a friendship while you’re married is inappropriate, it often gets romantic. That’s part of the thrill. A few examples: He gives her daffodils on Valentine’s Day. She is with him at a conference a few hours away even though he makes a point of checking in by phone with you. He buys her jewelry and sings to her … all very romantic things … and all while trying to make us feel crazy for suspecting him. 

I found a sexy card to my then husband from his friend at work. What she said in that card was definitely too much “romance,” for me and I told him that we needed to separate to figure out if our marriage could be saved. 

Changes In Behavior

Suddenly changes in behavior can be red flags that an inappropriate friendship is going on. 

There is the famous “starts working out” clue. Or he goes to a hair stylist instead of his regular barber. Or buys new clothes … especially underwear. Or starts leaving for work earlier and coming home later.

During an ex husband’s inappropriate friendship, he starts making excuses to leave the house during those few hours he is home. He offers to go pick up something at the store. Or he decides to go wash his car at weird times. He sometimes uses the kids to meet up with his friend who also brings her kids. 

All of those things should be red flags, but most of us are busy with life, and if he hasn’t done this before, we trust him. 

Communication At Unusual Hours

As with many inappropriate friendships, the now lovers feel compelled to be in almost-constant contact. Our spouse starts closing the door to his home office while he is on the phone. Or going out in the garage or the yard to talk. 

After becoming my own Suzy’s Private Detective Agency, I found the phone records that showed hundreds and hundreds of calls at all hours of the day and night. In the morning, evening, late at night, on ordinary days and even on special days and holidays. When I discovered the calls, I confronted him again about what he had been denying.

Significant Age Difference

Often inappropriate friendships after marriage start at work between people at different levels of office hierarchy. Men are often more likely to have inappropriate friendships or affairs with younger co-workers below them on the totem pole. An attorney and his/her administrative assistant. A physician and his/her assistant or nurse. A waitress in an upscale restaurant with successful businessmen. A manager and an employee. 

Even worse, CEOs and men in power sometimes have inappropriate relationships with someone closer to his children’s ages than his own age. We all hear about married men in inappropriate friendships destroying a family with a person not just years, but decades younger.

Boundaries about opposite sex friendships for future relationships

All of us in serious relationships should talk about opposite gender friendships and the boundaries that are good for us as individuals and as a couple. Discussing opposite sex friendship boundaries makes us aware of what is acceptable and what is not even in future dating relationships.

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