Opposite Sex Friends

One of you asked me to address what’s acceptable for the spouses to do with friends of the opposite sex.

Flirting at work © nd3000| dollarphotoclub.com

In the past, I’d have given most of the usual answers about limits and boundaries. Thing is, I’ve come to see these don’t work. Many of those who cheat, be it “just emotional” or sex, had such rules in place. For those who cheat a second time after being caught the percentage having all the right limits is very high, and yet the cheating still happens. On the other hand, there are plenty of couples with no such rules who never experience any level of infidelity. (I went into more detail on the common rules over on The Generous Husband.)

Limits and rules aren’t just worthless, they may be dangerous. I saw a study showing people wearing bike helmets took more risks than those not wearing helmets. Not just physical risks, they were more willing to take financial risks while wearing helmets! The supposed protection caused them to feel they were so safe they could do things they otherwise wouldn’t do. 

The limits suggested to prevent affairs are about where we go and what we do. These rules do nothing to contain the real battleground; our thoughts and feelings. If the heart has crossed the line, no rule will prevent the mind and body from following.

I am affair proof, and always have been. The reason for this is I’m wildly in love with my wife. I want her in every possible way, and I want her more than I have ever wanted any other women. I don’t have to fight the temptation to be with another woman because I am not tempted!

So the question is, how do you build such a strong marriage neither of you is even slightly tempted? The answer is not to have so much sex with your husband he can’t get aroused by anyone else. Sure, a good sex life is part of the whole, and not an insignificant part, but it’s not the whole and not the biggest part. When Lori and I were having huge sexual struggles and very little sex I wasn’t tempted by other women. Yes, I was desperate for sex, but I was more desperate for her, which meant my sexual desire was only focused on her and could only be satisfied by her.

I know many of you are thinking your husband isn’t like that. I understand, but I think he could be. If you develop a deep intimate marriage, he will change. (Some of this is actually based on hormones and how our brains work and is really beyond his ability to control – more on that next week.) 

Ever try to read your phone screen in full sun? No matter how bright the screen is, the sun is so bright you can’t see anything unless you shade the screen. A strong intimate marriage is the same – so bright neither you nor your husband will be drawn to the many weaker lights out there. 

So how do you achieve this brilliant marriage? Steady effort. Find multiple ways to connect. Do things together. Do new things together. Learn and challenge yourselves as a couple. Look for ways to build each other up. Be his cheerleader and greatest fan. Encourage him to do things he loves, and when at all possible do them with him. Promote adventure and join in. Engage his need for adventure in the bedroom too. Invest in him and doing things with him and your marriage will grow. And yes, it needs to go both ways, but if you’re the one starting it you’ll need to focus more on what he wants to get him onboard.

I’m sure my answer here is controversial, so feel free to have at me in the comments.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and Lori is my #1 lady!

ReferenceWearing a bike helmet might make you more dangerous | The Guardian 

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20 Comments on “Opposite Sex Friends

  1. There is a new book called Free to Love. Wonder if you have heard of it. I don’t think I am in agreement with it, however.

  2. @Charlotte Powers – Searching for that brought up several books, including a couple of romance novels. I’m guessing you mean Free to Love: How Oneness Transcends Marriage and Singleness. I’ve not read it, but based on the descriptions on Amazon I might mostly agree or call it dangerous!
    Paul Byerly recently posted…Opposite Sex FriendsMy Profile

  3. This attitude with the bike helmet is what I have been saying for years about driving. Cars have anti-lock brakes, airbags and all the other gadgets that the companies promise are keeping you safe. The we wear our seatbelts and have insurance to “protect” us. We go out on the streets with the idea in our subconscious mind that we are protected. Is it any wonder that people drive like they do and we have more accidents than ever?

  4. My husband has been reading Nicky Gumbel’s ‘Challenging Lifestyle’ and has read some of the part about marriage aloud to me. It sounds like it has a lot of wisdom. And I’m very fortunate to have a marriage like yours, where we are focused on one another. (Plus, I never leave men on base, if you get my drift!)

  5. As a subscriber to The Generous Husband for many years I want to thank you for your ministry to marriage. However, I think you are off point here in regards to friendships with members of the opposite sex. It appears as if you are saying that rules do no help prevent cheating, and may in fact make cheating more likely.

    I commend you for having never been tempted to stray, especially while in the middle of the sexual struggles your marriage experienced. However, not everyone has the same fortitude you had. I also experienced sexual refusal for many years, and while I never acted on it I will admit I was tempted to cheat on my wife. I loved my wife dearly, and I still do, and I did not want anyone else, but there was such a painful void inside me that the temptation to try and fill it with another woman was real. I know the same is true for others. Statistics show that sexual refusal greatly increases the likelihood of infidelity occurring, and I suspect that in many cases the cheater was very much in love with their spouse and didn’t really want a “replacement.”

    You wrote that no rule will stop us from cheating if that’s what is in our hearts, and while that may be true it is also true that we can’t cheat if we don’t have the oppurtunity to do so. Furthermore, while sin begins in our hearts, try telling your wife you were tempted to cheat, then tell her you actually did so and see which one hurts her more.

    Satan uses our weaknesses against us, and while many have the strength to say no, many others do not. We all have different life experiences that make us who we are, and I’m sure you have been tempted to sin in some areas that would not tempt me.

    You wrote that “many who cheat had rules in place,” but it’s also true that many who cheat do not have rules in place. I suspect more cheated who did not have rules than those who did. Furthermore, if people had rules in place and still cheated then by definition they broke those rules. I have a friend who is an alcoholic and is able to abstain from drinking when he is not around it, but if he is with someone who is drinking he too will drink. We all have our particular weaknesses; perhaps being alone with a woman is the last thing needed by Satan to break down our resolve to not sin.

    I agree that marruage should be about intimacy as you wrote, and rules alone won’t prvent cheating, but what if only one person is striving to develope that kind of intimacy? Also, that kind of intimacy takes time, and having good rules in place could very well prevent cheating.


    • @Rob – Part of this is knowing ourselves and our temptations. There are places I know I am at risk, and I am very careful in those areas.

      I’ve not seen a well-done study that correlated sexual refusal with cheating. If you have one, please let me know. Adultery is far more complex than this, and honestly it’s not nearly as much about sex as most want to think. For women especially, but for men as well, it’s usually more about wanting an emotional relationship. The sex is either a means to that end or a natural result of the relationship. Sure some folks just want sex and will take it anywhere they can get it, but this is not the norm.

      I do agree Satan uses our weaknesses against us. This is why we must know our weakness, and confess them to those who will help us. Rules are, at best, a poor substitute for these things, and I think give a false sense of security.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Opposite Sex FriendsMy Profile

    • Rob,
      I couldn’t agree more. Rules are like guardrails that help protect us. They won’t prevent you from going over the edge if you’re set on it, but they do help protect us from an unintentional fall. I don’t know many who have cheated that planned to ahead of time.

  6. Paul, whilst i appreciate your sentiment and obvious determination in pursuing your marriage, it is often those who feel they are untouchable that are the first to fall. I think there is a balance for us to find between being scared of every little temptation and situation and believing that we can never be tempted. Many years ago when we did our pre-marriage counselling we were given a book to read called His needs, Her Needs – it was very big on protecting yourself from falling into temptation with others, so much so that it felt like it was almost inevitable. On the other hand I always feel wary of those who proclaim it will never happen to them. Those who crusade against issues are often deeply involved in them.
    Again to finish and clarify – I am directing none of this to you personally but rather as a general observation.
    together we can bring balance to the force (my attempt at bringing star wars into the conversation)

    • @Shannon “it is often those who feel they are untouchable that are the first to fall”

      Are they? I mean this sounds good, but is it based on reality or just what we think is true? A lot, I’d say most, of those who fall were terrified of the sin they eventually succumbed to. Few of us are so self-deceived or so self-unaware we don’t feel the pull of the sins we are tempted to commit. We know where we are weak, where we are most likely to fall.

      I do agree those who crusade against something may well be fighting their demons in public.

      For me, the real issue is the typical safety rules I hear do nothing to prevent the heart from connecting with another person. It’s possible to fall madly in “love” with someone without ever being alone with them. Once that happens the problem exists, and there is sin in the heart even if nothing more happens. And once we are “in love” we will find a way to justify or ignore the rules and bring our sin to the flesh.

      The rules don’t prevent the sin of the heart, which is where sin starts. So even if rules are the way to go, what we tell people are rules that don’t work.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…You Can Live Your DreamMy Profile

      • Hi Paul,

        I think the problem with your message is you appear to have a one size fits all approach by saying that rules don’t help, and that only by having a close intimate relationship with your spouse will one prevent infidelity. While this may have been true for you and others I assure you it is not true of everyone.

        There was a time when, with the exception of sex, my relationship with my wife was great. However, the void created by the lack of sex was painful. I was committed to my wife, and I didn’t want to cheat, but I was weak, and I’m telling you that if I were in the right situation I very well might have strayed. In fact I will admit here and now that I would have.

        However, I recognized this weakness within myself, and as a result I placed rules and limits on myself. I never allowed myself to be alone with another woman, and I guarded what I spoke of (A woman I worked with started talking to me one day about her marital problems and I politely interrupted her and told her I felt it was inappropriate to discuss this, but that I would be praying for her marriage.), and I certainly never talked negatively about my wife or marriage to others, especially women (in fact I made it a rule to always praise my wife to other women).

        You wrote “The limits suggested to prevent affairs are about where we go and what we do. These rules do nothing to contain the real battleground; our thoughts and feelings. If the heart has crossed the line, no rule will prevent the mind and body from following” I will admit to sinning in my heart by lusting, however it is an absolute fact that the rules I put in place prevented my “mind and body from following.” Were it not for my rules I know I would have physically cheated.

        And yes, “rules don’t prevent the sin of the heart, which is where sin starts.,” and I am guilty of sinning in this manner, but I didn’t cross the line and sin physically. I confessed the sins of my heart to my wife, and while it hurt she forgave me, but it would have been much more painful had I actually been physically intimate with another woman.

        You questioned the validity of Shannon’s statement that “it is often those who feel they are untouchable that are the first to fall.” There can be a certain arrogance, or even a false pride, with that thinking. I personally know two people who never thought they would cheat; they never wanted to and certainly never intended to, and they didn’t think it was even possible. As a result hey didn’t put any common sense rules in place, and they wound up cheating. Perhaps rules would have made no difference, but the lack of rules certainly didn’t help.

        You wrote “few of us are so self-deceived or so self-unaware we don’t feel the pull of the sins we are tempted to commit,” and you are right. However, many people are not initially aware that romantic feelings with someone have developed (Satan is very good at deceiving us with our own feelings), and once they have developed it is much more difficult to walk away that it would have been earlier. As you wrote “once we are “in love” we will find a way to justify or ignore the rules and bring our sin to the flesh.”

        You’re also correct that “it’s possible to fall madly in “love” with someone without ever being alone with them,” but at the same time it’s also true that it’s not as likely to occur if you are never alone with that person. In addition, there are other common sense rules that can help prevent this.

        I think it’s wonderful that you were never tempted, even while being sexually neglected, but I was, and I assure you that there are thousands upon thousands of other people who are intimate with their spouses in every other way except sexually who are also tempted. And while rules do not prevent infidelity occurring for everyone, they are effective for many people.

        I don’t think anyone is saying that rules are a fail proof means of preventing infidelity, or that they should take the place of developing an intimate relationship with your spouse, but they can provide an additional layer of protection that can help prevent many people from falling; not everyone, but certainly a lot.


        • @Rob – Actually one-size-fits-all is what I am protesting!
          This is about knowing ourselves, and our weaknesses, and doing whatever is required by that.
          Someone who created posted over on TGH about this issue (http://fyre.it/F7K1jd.4) saying rules will never stop most adultery.
          As for those who thought they would never cheat and did, I suspect many of those knew deep down they had it in them. I suspect many were very worried about it. Just as some who rail against homosexuality end up being caught in a homosexual affair, some (NOT ALL) who yell the loudest about adultery are really trying to drown out their own fears of doing it themselves.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Sacrificing for What Matters to UsMy Profile

  7. Good stuff here. Rules help protect us from the unintentional fall. Rules may give us a false sense of protection. Rules alone aren’t enough, because they don’t address the root of the temptation. The temptation arises from an undernourished marriage relationship.

    In my denomination, pastors and other leaders are required to attend boundaries training. Boundaries help us avoid situations that could lead to trouble and help us nourish a healthy church, Christ’s body in the world.

    One key element in boundaries training is transparency. We do well to apply transparency to our marriages: “I’m having lunch with so and so today to discuss such and such. We are meeting at thus and so.” This is a good start, but only states the facts.

    What if I also said, “I’m feeling energized about this lunch meeting because I know he’ll compliment my work and that will make me feel valued and respected. I need affirmation and I wish I heard compliments more often from you. I want you to know me and understand me. I want YOU to affirm me. I don’t want to depend on another to fill this deep need.”

    • @IntimacySeeker – I like what you say about transparency. We should do this with our spouse, with a trusted same-sex friend, and with OURSELVES! Your last paragraph is the kind of things we must be willing to admit to ourselves because they are the warning signs of a problem. All often we suppress these things, as if denying them will make them go away.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…You Can Live Your DreamMy Profile

  8. There’s so much I could say about this, but I’ll keep it to a few key points.
    1. I’ve found that, ‘Never say never” becomes more true with age and life experience. Circumstances can make us consider and/or do things we never thought possible. I’m also becoming aware of how judgmental this thinking can be because our history and circumstances determine so much of who we are.
    2. Marriage is so much more than a sexual relationship.
    Sex is a component of marriage and one form of intimacy. But, it is not even close to the whole of what makes up a marriage. It is possible for a couple to have a strong, intimate marriage while having sexual struggles. It’s also possible for a couple to have strong sex life with little to no intimacy in other areas. Unfortunately, this message often gets lost even among very reputable, Christian bloggers. Thank you, Paul, for keeping this point as an ongoing focus of your marriage ministry.
    3. Sexual refusal gets lumped together for almost every situation when the circumstances and reasons are often vastly different.
    Someone who gets sex once a week can feel greatly hurt and deprived if they want it every day or more, but others are in a completely sexless marriage. These varied situations are rarely distinguished when advice is given. Someone who has been in a sexless marriage for 2 years has a different perspective than someone who has been in a sexless marriage for 20 years. Someone who has been in a sexless marriage for 40 years will have a different perspective than the person who experienced it for 20 years. It’s easy to say what you would do in any of these situations. “I would stay.” “I would leave.” “I would cheat.” “I would never cheat.”… But, until you’ve lived those exact circumstances you really don’t know what you would do.
    4. Our belief systems play a critical role in our thoughts, tolerances, temptations and behaviors.
    For example, the refused spouse who believes that a couple in a sexless marriage are “no more than roommates” will likely respond differently to the situation than the person who believes that marriage is more than just sex and their relationship is much more than just “roommate status”. One person may not be able to see all the positive things about their marriage, while the other may be able to focus less on what is missing from the relationship (and the continued absence of sex is a huge void).
    5. If we are using rules to guide our actions vs. using our belief systems and moral compass to guide our actions, we are probably more likely to fall.
    Having a rule to not be alone with someone of the opposite sex can easily be broken for many reasons. Having a strong belief that putting yourself in situations to be tempted emotionally or sexually could lead you to do something you would never want or think possible, would probably have a stronger influence on your actions. Not that it’s full proof, but you are guided by something much stronger than a rule or guideline.

    • @K – Sorry, I missed this comment. It came on a travel day and somehow slipped by me.

      #1 See #3
      #2 is certainly true, but in my experience, it won’t stay that way forever. A problem in any part of marriage will eventually spread into other areas just as cancer spreads. But that takes time.
      #3 I guess the issue here is how well we can know ourself. Years ago I’d have fallen more where you are, but I have come to see we can know ourselves very well if we make the effort. A sort of mindfulness of self is you will. It’s not easy and it’s not something we are taught to do, but we can know ourselves and have a very good idea what we would and wouldn’t do. Beyond that, we can know who we are in Jesus, which is even better!
      Another part of this is knowing when we are tempted early in the process. If we recognise the seeds on the ground we can avoid problems.
      #4 Yes, exactly.
      #5 You put that very well, thanks. Violating a belief is less likely than breaking a rule.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Choosing to Enjoy What She EnjoysMy Profile

  9. I absolutely love K’s response.

    We as humans are complex creatures. We have many needs, one of which is “intimacy”.
    A strong marriage needs “intimacy”. But, how do we define intimacy?
    No matter who you ask, you will get a different answer.

    My husband’s short answer would be sex.
    My response to him would be “I can’t live on sex alone”.
    I need emotional sharing, intellectual sharing, personal validation, and shared experiences.
    Most of those ‘parts of me’ are not filled up by sex.

    In some ways marriage is like owning a car. To keep it maintained and running smooth it needs MORE than lots of gas (sex). If you ignore the tire pressure, the oil levels, or the battery, eventually, it will be unable to get you where you want to go. That’s when that little red sports car in the driveway down the street sure looks inviting. Gosh, driving around in that hot car would make you feel Hot, sexy, young and alive. Tempting isn’t it?

    If “old reliable” was still running smoothly, you’d hop in and go where you needed to go.
    You might appreciate looking at that red sports car, but you and “old reliable” have been through so much together and you take care of each other so well that you don’t have that strong desire to own that red sports car for yourself.

    If we think about it, we all need new experiences and challenges to keep us interested and interesting but new sexual adventures alone won’t fill many of the voids the rest of our whole self needs to feel complete. When we feel “whole” as a person, we don’t need to look to others to fill our voids.

    My husband and I have been lucky in that regard. We have moved several times over our marriage due to job changes. Each time we have had to readjust our routines, get used to living in a new culture (every town has it’s unique culture), meet new people, adjust to new climates, all as a couple. Each time learning more about each other. By default, it has made our marriage stronger.

    I agree with Paul, often adultery isn’t about the sex at all. It’s about other parts of us that need tending, we just don’t know how to fill those voids in any other way besides sex. So when the sex in the marriage slides, we are tempted to look for a quick fix , through sex, elsewhere.

    I like Paul’s suggestions of finding new things to do together, challenging each other, finding NEW WAYS to connect (other than physically), and being each others cheerleader.

    Side note (my opinion only): we, as a society, are slacking in encouraging people (especially men and boys) to explore ways to express their feelings, emotions, and human connection through other avenues besides just sex. We put too much responsibility on sex to fill all of our marital needs. It doesn’t work.

    I’m Jolie> I’m XX and my husband makes sure All my levels are full.

  10. @Jolie “I can’t live on sex alone”
    None of us can, including the men who think they can. But when we are starved for something, it becomes huge in our minds, while everything else shrinks. We make a mess for ourselves when husband and wife are starved for different things and neither is willing to see what the other needs. Sex is a common item for men in this, but it could also be respect (at home or at work) or the ability to express his masculinity in a safe and sane way.
    Regardless of what our spouse is starved for, if we can provide it or help them get it, they then become aware of the other needs they have.
    Paul Byerly recently posted…Choosing to Enjoy What She EnjoysMy Profile

  11. James 1:14-15 says, “14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

    Temptation -> sin -> death. Be wary of opposite sex friends.
    El Fury recently posted…How to Turn Your Husband On in PublicMy Profile

  12. Pingback: Best Christian Sex Links of the Week | Married Christian Sex

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