“What would be your advice to a wife on male friendships?”
That’s the question one of my readers sent in a few weeks ago. From the signature, it appears to have been written by the husband, not the wife — which tells me the matter has likely become a point of contention in their marriage already.
By way of response, I’m going to post a chapter from my book, 25 Ways to Communicate Respect that deals with this topic, but first I need to address an underlying question:
Can a married woman have male friends?
Roughly half the world’s population is male, so a woman will inevitably have to interact with the opposite sex at some point during her married life. She will encounter male bosses, physicians, waiters, police officers, sales clerks, coworkers, pastors, teachers and countless other men as she goes about her daily business.
Hopefully, all such interactions will be on friendly rather than antagonistic terms. So, in that sense, my answer is yes, a married woman can have male friends. Absolutely she can. But this sort of friendly acquaintance is not anything that would bother most husbands, and I don’t think that’s the problem troubling the one who wrote to me. His question runs much deeper than that:
Should a married woman have close male friends?
- Should she cultivate an opposite-sex friendship that excludes her husband or makes him feel displaced?
- Should she pour time and energy into any male-female relationship outside her immediate family?
- Should she be texting, flirting, or spending time alone in the company of a man other than her husband?
- Should she ignore her husband’s reservations concerning the amount of time she spends with a male colleague?
My answer to all these questions is no. It would be best for her marriage if she didn’t. (The same can be said for married men in regards to other women, a topic my husband addresses from a man’s perspective here: Husbands, Be Careful with Female Friendships)
Getting married changes a lot more than the marital status of the bride and groom — it also affects every other relationship either spouse is involved in. Family dynamics shift, responsibilities change, and old friends take a backseat to the new spouse.
That’s because marriage calls for a leaving and cleaving. When a man and woman become husband and wife, they should leave home and family behind — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally — as they begin to pour themselves into establishing a new family, building their own home, and investing in their joint future.
Roles change after marriage. Sure, family’s still family, and we still love them, but the dynamic is different. No longer are we children under parental authority, bound by their rules and dependent upon their provision. Rather, we’re mature adults who must make our own way and answer directly to God for the path we choose.
But marriage doesn’t only change the way we relate to our family, it also alters how we handle friendships.Not that our friends aren’t still our friends, but time spent with friends can no longer predominate our lives or free time.
This is especially true when it comes to male-female friendships.
Time spent socializing with friends of the opposite sex should probably be scaled back to zero, unless spouses are present. Such a practice would be consistent with traditional marriage vows, which include a pledge to “forsake all others and cling only unto thee.”
If you want to safeguard your marriage and assure your husband of your undying love and devotion, then you must be extremely careful in the way you relate to, speak of, and think about other men.
Once you’re married, there is no room for flirting with anyone except your husband; you must be more guarded when interacting with the opposite sex. Let there be no ambiguity about your commitment to marriage in general or to your husband in particular.
Never compare your husband unfavorably to another man. It is neither fair nor respectful and will only breed trouble and discontent. Don’t compare him to your:
- family members
- fellow workers
- Facebook followers
- fictional characters
- fantasy of ideal manhood
Assure your husband that he has your whole heart. Affirm and admire him every chance you get. You may want to avoid even positive comparisons, because they still send the message that he is being measured against other men. This can cause feelings of insecurity, for if you make a habit of comparing your husband to others, he may fear that a comparison will eventually be made in which he’ll be found lacking.
Take care not to rave too enthusiastically about a member of the opposite sex, real or imaginary. Many wives would feel slighted to hear their husband go on and on about how drop-dead gorgeous another woman is. Even if it were true, and the woman in question were strikingly beautiful, it would seem inappropriate for a married man to provide gushing commentary on that fact.
Likewise, most husbands would prefer not to hear the rapturous praise of another man being sung by their wife. If your eyes are going to light up when you speak about a man, you’d better be talking about the one you’re married to.
A wife should avoid watching movies or reading books that might cause her to stumble in this area, as well. Jesus said that when we lust in our heart after someone to whom we are not married, we are guilty of committing adultery. (Matthew 5:27-28) Notice that this warning applies as readily to women as it does to men.
So before you pick up that romance novel, or buy that movie ticket, or pin that portrait of some shirtless star onto your (real or virtual) bulletin board, ask yourself whether doing so will be a snare and a trap to you. If so, choose the high road.
Pray with the psalmist, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14) The word for “meditation” may also be translated “thoughts.” And there are many more verses that address the importance of our thought patterns:
- “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
- “For out of the heart come evil thoughts… adultery, sexual immorality…. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:19)
Having eyes only for your husband doesn’t really start with your eyes. It begins with your heart and with your mind. So take the battle there and prevail.
Put It into Practice:
- It’s good for married couples to develop friend-ships with other married couples. Look for couples who share and support your values and vision for family. Couples who are in the same season of life will be able to identify closely with your struggles, which can be good for encouragement and brainstorming, but you should also form friendships with older couples if possible — couples who are a little further down life’s road and can point out the pitfalls and provide wise and godly counsel.
- When praising your husband, use comparisons only in the most general (and superlative) terms: “You’re the sexiest man alive” is acceptable. “You’re better looking than our mechanic” probably isn’t. Let your husband’s good qualities stand on their own merit rather than measuring him against a specific person. Build him up without tearing others down.
- If you’ve developed a habit of comparing your husband negatively to others, either verbally or mentally, turn over a new leaf. If faults must be addressed, do so prayerfully and respectfully without dragging anybody else into the picture.
This post was adapted from 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband: A Handbook for Wives