By Ashley McIlwain

Growing up I always got along better with guys. Unlike most of the girls in my class, my closest friends were guys. Girls just didn’t seem to like me too much, and I wasn’t a fan of the drama that often came with girlfriends. Instead, I found guys to be straightforward, simple, and relatively drama free. Plus, my interests aligned better with the male population – sports, sports, and more sports. For whatever reason, I just clicked with guys better than girls despite my best efforts.

While being surrounded by my guy pals worked well for most of my life, there was a point where this became something I needed to think twice about. That point was when I began entering into serious relationships. Suddenly I realized that having a best friend that was a guy could present some issues and challenges when dating.

At first I really didn’t know how to handle the reality that it probably was inappropriate and unfair to my significant other to be spending time with another guy. But what was I supposed to do? I mean, I couldn’t simply isolate myself and disown all of my friends just because I was exclusively dating someone. At the same time, I couldn’t continue in the path of friendship I had previously been on with them. It was a real conundrum.

In college, my solution to this situation was to simply become close with all of my significant other’s close friends. He trusted them, and it made sense since we were always spending time with them. These guys all quickly became my closest friends, and we all had a blast together. At the same time, in the back of my mind, I knew that this was a temporary solution.

Down the road when I got married, I found myself in a new place and a new stage of life. I had moved to Southern California in a major turn of events and was busy working through my Master’s degree while holding down a full time job. At first I didn’t have time for friends, but when I graduated and things settled down post-wedding, I found myself longing to have some close friends. I was married though, and I knew that my approach to finding friends needed to change and accommodate my new stage of life.

The truth is, even if you aren’t prone to having best friends of the opposite gender, many married people struggle with how to handle friendships and relationships in this situation. What are the rules? What is appropriate? Is any relationship or friendship with people of the opposite gender okay? There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about this because it really is an important topic of discussion. So, as a converted guy’s girl, I wanted to share my rules for handling this sticky situation.

The Rules

Rule #1 – Avoid close friendships with people of the opposite gender.

Everyone will develop their own set of ground rules related to interactions with the opposite sex, but I think there are a few key guidelines that all couples should at least consider if not implement. First of all, close friendships with someone of the opposite gender that isn’t your spouse just isn’t a wise decision.

I know, I know, you may be saying, “But, we’ve been friends forever, and there’s nothing romantic there.” The point is: it’s not worth the risk. It’s not that you can never talk to a friend of the opposite gender, but it’s keeping them at arms distance. I have plenty of old guy pals that I touch base with from time to time, but we aren’t spending substantial (if any) time together. It’s not like the friendship we used to have; it now has strict boundaries and a safe distancing involved.

Truthfully, no one should know you better than your spouse, especially not a friend that shares the same gender as your husband or wife. Sharing your heart with someone builds intimacy whether you realize it or not, so it’s crucial to consider who you are building that intimacy with. Relationships develop based on communication and quality time, so regardless of how little concern you feel there is for being attracted to your guy pals (ladies) or girlfriends (guys), it’s not worth the risk.

Rule #2 – Better safe than sorry.

Most people who have affairs report that it started out with just small talk or minimal interactions. Then it developed into lunch, and as the two people began sharing more of their thoughts, time, and energy with each other, a sexual relationship ensued. The point being: affairs, mistakes, and other marital problems that occur with the opposite gender rarely begin with the extreme scenario. They start out as “harmless” and develop from there.

So, a solid rule of thumb is just to avoid any sort of in depth conversation or alone time with someone of the opposite gender once you are married. If it’s a work relationship, make sure you are surrounded by co-workers when interacting with people of the opposite sex. If it’s a friendship, keep communication to a minimum and always bring your spouse along for get-togethers. That may seem extreme to many of you, but I truly ascribe to the philosophy, “Better safe than sorry.”

Rule #3 – Consider your spouse.

Another ground rule, consider your spouse in every interaction you have with a friend or person of the opposite sex. How would they feel about what you are saying or doing? How would you feel if he/she did what you are doing right now? Use your wedding ring as a reminder of your commitment to your spouse, and always keep him/her in mind whenever you do anything. Consider this the Golden Rule – do unto your spouse as you would have him/her do to you.

Rule #4 – Develop friendships with people of your same gender.

It was challenging for me to reach out to some fellow females in hopes of developing a close friendship with them. I had been burned many times in the past, and I felt most comfortable with guy friends. But, I knew that for the sake of my marriage and my own well-being, I needed to stretch myself to cultivate girlfriends. And while this wasn’t easy for me to do, I’ve discovered some amazing ladies out there who have become my nearest and dearest of friends. Now I don’t know what I would do without our girl talks and girlie moments. My husband has said the same thing for himself; there’s nothing like having a great guy friend.

Men and women need friends of their same gender. It helps to have someone who can relate to you, encourage, and keep you accountable to your marriage. And while you always need to be careful and selective about whom your friends are in general, it’s just smart to start with people who are your gender. It eliminates a lot of extra heartache and potentially dangerous situations for your marriage.

Rule #5 – Run for the hills.

If for any reason, at any time, there is even the tiniest hint of attraction between you and someone of the opposite gender regardless of whose end it’s on, run for the hills! This means that if that cutie at work gives you butterflies when you happen to get coffee at the same time together each morning, avoid that coffee time like the plague. If your friend is showing a slight interest or makes some off-color remarks occasionally, cut off that friendship.

The bottom line: don’t even put yourself in a situation that has the tiniest glimmer of temptation written on it. No matter how miniscule that flirtation, glance, or fluttery feeling is, it has the potential to develop into a disastrous situation that could destroy everything. That momentary tingly feeling isn’t worth it. Squash it from the word “go.”

Rule #6 – Exes do not make good friends.

Too many times I have heard people say that they are best friends with their ex. This is ridiculously dangerous. I don’t care how long ago it was, you have no business getting close with your ex. It is a recipe for disaster.

Obviously there are some blended family situations where kids are involved, but beyond that, there is zero reason you should put yourself, your spouse, or your marriage in that position. If feelings developed once, they can easily develop again. You have a history with one another, and that’s never going to change. So, just throw that whole idea that exes make great friends out the window because that is one of the worst opposite gender friendships you could ever pursue.

Trust me, I know that it may seem a bit extreme to pretty much eliminate all friendships or relationships with the opposite gender. For me that meant starting from scratch in the friend department, and I felt a lot like I was in a foreign country trying to establish girls for my best friends. It was a necessary step though for me and my marriage.

Granted, I am not saying you can never speak to someone of the opposite sex, but developing an in-depth friendship with them just isn’t a good idea. Your marriage is of utmost importance, and it’s simply not worth the risk to jeopardize that over a friendship with someone of the opposite gender. Your marriage is number one.

No one ever regretted being overly cautious. But there are plenty of people that regret being overly trusting or oblivious. The best way to avoid disaster is to take three steps back. Whatever you think is acceptable; choose two levels before that as your stopping point. Your marriage is the most important relationship you will ever have, so treat it that way by making wise and prudent decisions with your friendships.

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