Q. My husband and I are happily married, so is it all right for us to have opposite-sex friends? Before I married, my best friend was a guy. He's married now too, but we see each other sometimes just to catch up. My husband is also friends with one of the women he works with. We've gotten together as couples with her and her husband, but mostly my husband and this woman enjoy camaraderie on the job. My mom says we're playing with fire. Why should these friendships threaten our marriage?
A. Understanding that there are exceptions and that every situation is unique, I agree with your mom: to some degree, you are playing with fire. Here's why I come down on the cautionary side of this question, even if it seems strict to you.
For starters, you see your friendship as just you and your friend. But there's a third player—the tempter himself, the enemy—who'd be happy to see your marriage threatened. Where you wouldn't intentionally stray, the devil would love to plant seeds of temptation.
The other danger is that there are usually unacknowledged "sparks" between opposite-sex friends. This isn't a problem as long as those sparks are never fanned into flame. When older folks lose a spouse, they often marry someone who's been a friend for years. The sparks were there all along, of course. It takes honesty and self-discipline to make sure those sparks don't become a fire.
So you need to work some things out for yourself—being honest before God about what your opposite-sex friendship is really about. Is it truly innocent? Is there some need for attention or affection being met there that would more appropriately be met by your spouse? How honest can you be with yourself, your spouse and your friend? If you're going to maintain this friendship, there can't be any hidden agendas.
If you plan to continue the friendship, you need some ground rules: you and your friend won't meet alone. You won't meet for extended periods of time. You'll keep your conversation from becoming too intimate. You'll broaden the friendship to include your spouse and your friend's spouse and get together as families.
Obviously, in this modern world, it's natural for there to be on-the-job camaraderie between men and women who work together. But it's crucial to maintain a professional relationship, avoiding any intimacies that could compete with marital intimacy.
So strive for honesty with yourself and with God. And be careful.
Q. My wife is a hopeless romantic. She reads love stories and cries at Hallmark commercials. No matter what I do I can't help feeling I'm a big disappointment to her. There's no way I can live up to the fantasy—that studly, ultra-sensitive hero she seems to want and expect. How can I get her to love me the way I am?
A. In your thinking about this subject, can you separate "the way you are" from "what you could do"? You could do some things for her that seem out of character for you—things you don't necessarily enjoy.
Train yourself to think in terms of her needs, not yours. Even if your idea of a loving birthday present for your wife is new tires for the car, force yourself to buy the "frivolous" presents she'd enjoy: flowers, a romantic card, poetry, candles, jewelry.
When you're the one to suggest lighting candles at dinner, when your wife knows quite well that you prefer to eat your meals with fluorescent light blazing overhead, she's going to notice that gesture. It's going to feel romantic to her.
If you take time to choose a card, actually reading all the sentiments inside instead of just grabbing the first one that sort of fits, she'll notice. And if you're no good at writing something romantic, write, "Honey, if I could write it this way, this is how I'd write it to you." She'll see that you thought about it and didn't just scrawl your name across the bottom, and that'll feel romantic to her.
I'm a big advocate of feelings following action. So don't wait until you feel like reading a poem to your wife, just go find one and read it. Maybe you'll feel something as you do it. Maybe you'll see her response and that'll make you feel more romantic. You don't see yourself as a romantic guy, but these little actions will help her see you that way. And who knows what you might become?
Q. My husband constantly bosses me, telling me what kind of job I should pursue, even what I should eat. He says it's part of my role to obey him. He thinks he's being the leader of our family; I think he's being over-controlling. Am I wrong to resist his demands?
A. No. Of course you feel disrespected and belittled by your husband's tyrannical demands. Your husband has a skewed idea of what his headship and your submission are supposed to look like—and it's nowhere near what the Bible has in mind.
Your husband wants your respect, and he wants you to follow him. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that he can't demand that kind of respect, he has to command it by his loving character. The Bible teaches that the man is head of the wife as Christ is head of the church. Christ gave his life for the church, and a man who will give his life for his wife isn't someone to fear. That kind of husband earns his leadership by sacrificing his own wants, by being trustworthy, by cherishing and comforting his wife, by his confident, godly choices and behaviors.
Meanwhile, what can you do? Pray for him. Try to respond graciously, but not as a child who has to obey a parent. Lovingly confront him when he makes these demands, and help him redefine what could make you respect his leadership. When he does behave in ways that cultivate your respect, let him know. It can't hurt to reinforce the good stuff.
Jay is not able
to respond personally to
readers' letters. But if you have a
marriage question you'd like him to
address in this column, send your
Q & A
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, IL 60188
or e-mail us at
Jay Kesler is president of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. He was formerly a pastor and also served as president of Youth for Christ.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.