Ground Rules for Opposite Sex Friendships Both Partners Can Respect

In my last post, “Can Men and Women Really Be Just Friends?” I covered the issues that make opposite sex friendships challenging. It explores the perspectives of both partners — the one involved in the friendship as well as the one outside it. Please read that post first to begin to understand your partner’s point of view. Scan this list of suggestions if you are going to have an opposite sex friendship . Review them with your partner to bring him or her into the decision-making.

For The Partner With The Friendship

1. Discuss the strictly platonic nature of your relationship with these men or women and make sure everyone has the same goals and perspective for the friendship. It’s best to define the relationship as a friendship and nothing more to them and yourself. Just because you don’t have any interest doesn’t mean they don’t.

2. Avoid excess physical contact with your friend. It may seem minor, but do you kiss on the cheek or the lips when you greet each other and leave each other? Do you give each other a hug? Do you flirt with them? These kinds of physical interactions can incite jealousy in your mate.

3. Refrain from sharing personal primary relationship issues or your own problems with them. Are you sharing your own hopes, passions, dreams and fears? Are they sharing theirs with you? Save most meaningful issues for your primary relationship. Keep relationship issues between you and your primary partner.

4. Be honest with yourself about your intention with this friendship. When are you getting out of it? Also, think hard about whether you are seeking something that you’re not receiving from your partner. Discuss what the relationship is lacking with your partner and possibly a relationship counselor. Acknowledging these problems is the first step in fixing them.

5. Share with your friend how in love you are with your partner. Make sure the friend understands the depths of your primary relationship.

For The Partner Observing The Opposite Sex Friendship

If you’ve decided to accept your partner’ opposite sex friendship, I commend you. This is not always an easy feat. You still need to manage your natural feelings of jealousy, insecurity and mistrust.

Take what you can from these tips:

1. Consider whether these were friendships that your partner had before the two of you met.These may be relationships that have been cultivated for quite some time and are very important to your partner.

2. Consider that you may project in your insecurities and preconceived notions onto your partner. In and of itself, men and women can successfully become close friends. There is no one right way to do “relationship.”

3. Recognize that your partner cannot be everything to you and you cannot be everything to your partner. And that’s okay! It is very normal and natural for a partner to have some needs met outside the primary relationship. Of course these needs do not include sexual and emotional intimacy.

4. Recognize the source of your feelings of jealousy and insecurity. Feelings of jealousy and insecurity can be deep seated, springing from our families of origin. Your sense that you’re not loved may not originate with your partner at all. Instead, your partner’s behaviors could be triggering OLD feelings of insecurity, separation and being unloved. These feelings have nothing to do with your partner and everything to do with early childhood experiences. This could be especially true if either of your parents had an affair.

5. Recognize that you’ve created a script about how your partner should behave and that according to your rulebook they are not playing by the rules of your script. Has your partner seen this script? Has he or she grown up with it? It’s important to recognize your preconceived notions and resist believing your own “story”. Know that it could be just a story based on your own fragile needs mixed with the cultural/social expectations you grew up with.

6. Recognize that your partner may actually be doing you a favor by inadvertently pointing out your “triggers” –the very areas of your personality that need the most work. Often, we expect our partner to fill our emptiness. That’s not their job. Filling our emptiness is an Inside Job.

7. If you make an issue of your partner having relationships with the opposite sex, then be prepared for those accusations to trigger your partner’s own story and script which is usually negative. Perhaps she feels like you’re asking her to sacrifice her needs for your needs and that is something that she has had to do her whole life. Or perhaps you are becoming the controlling boyfriend which reminds her of her controlling parents.

Whatever it is, the only thing that will come from an aggressive and defensive stance will be a wall between the two of you. Your script or story is not your partner’s problem and their story is not your problem. Your life’s task in relationship is to bring your story and your partner’s into consciousness so that you’re aware when you’re triggering each other. Becoming aware of the deep-seated core issues around feeling separated from each other begins this important and ultimately liberating work.

Pitfalls of Strict Demands

The bottom line is you need to take responsibility for your own feelings and beliefs that somehow you’ll be happy if your partner acts certain way. Firmly held beliefs that threat a relationship can include:

  • I will be happy when you stop seeing these men/women.
  • I will only be happy when you need only me.
  • I will be happy when you sacrifice own needs for me.

It’s important to recognize that these are false beliefs. Nobody else can be responsible for your feelings. As I mentioned above, each individual’s happiness is an Inside Job.

Couples and Marriage Counseling in San Diego and La Jolla

If you’re struggling with your partner’s opposite sex friendship, please don’t hesitate to get fresh, informed perspective from a qualified San Diego marriage counselor. Consider, too, that a short term premarital counseling program can resolve lots of consumer issues for the walk down the aisle. I help partners communicate and resolve the issues, often in a matter of weeks or months rather than years. Keep in mind that it’s not hard to do the right thing, but it IS incredibly difficult to determine just what the “right thing” is. Counseling can help you and your partner to clarity and understanding.