Q. Before we were married, my wife had a lot of guy friends. Now that we're married, she wants to keep her friends and sees no problem going out for lunch with them or meeting them for coffee to "catch up." I'm uncomfortable with this. Am I wrong or is it okay to have close friends of the opposite sex when you're married?
A. It's okay and even valuable to have opposite-sex friends. Yet there are several reasons why it's both unwise and dangerous to spend one-on-one time with them after you're married.
Your most important human relationship is the one with your spouse. It's especially critical in the early (and usually the most difficult) years of marriage that you invest as much time and attention as possible in cultivating that relationship. This happens by spending time with, listening to, and talking with your mate, the one who needs to become your "best" friend.
Your wife has trust and a shared history with these friends, and it's valuable for her to maintain contact with them. However, what's most important is for couples to build trust and a shared history with each other. Where one used to rely on their single friends for comfort and counsel, he or she must now learn to build that safe place with the spouse. We've seen numerous situations where a reliance on old friends hindered, significantly handicapped, and in some cases destroyed the marriage.
Another reason is that we live in a world of poor judgment and rationalized relationships that can easily lead to compromised values, and result in broken promises and emotional or physical affairs. Is your wife going to have an affair with one of her friends? Probably not. Unfortunately, affairs almost always begin as innocent friendships.
How do we handle this? We both have opposite-sex friends. But we don't spend extended time talking with them. We don't share intimate details about our relationship. We don't discuss our frustrations about our spouse. We never meet for coffee or a meal with an opposite-sex person. Never. Is it because we don't trust each other? Absolutely not! What we don't trust is our fallen human nature. If you make a commitment to avoid even the appearance of evil, you will be much more effective in avoiding evil. We don't want to provide any opportunity that might compromise our love for each other and our love for God.
Friends are valuable. Cultivating friends and maintaining friendships take time, effort, and commitment. The most important friendship married men and women have is the friendship with their spouse, and that needs to be where the most time, effort, and commitment are invested.
I Like Attention from Men
Q. I like receiving attention from other men. It makes me feel great about myself. My husband always tells me I'm beautiful—and after nine years of marriage, we still love each other. But that doesn't seem to be enough. Is there something wrong with me?
A. The fact that you're even asking the question tells us you have concerns about your behavior. As a woman I (Carrie) know the pressure of receiving my identity from "looking good," and have learned that there's a huge difference between a woman who takes pride in how she looks and a woman who needs men to be sexually attracted to her to feel she has value. While it's good to look our best, it's even more important to become all God had in mind for us when he created us.
Ask yourself these questions: What are my motives for looking good? What kinds of thoughts am I encouraging men to have about me? Are these healthy thoughts that glorify God and help those men to be faithful to their important relationships? Do I want them to respond to my character, integrity, depth, and wisdom—or to how "hot" the package looks? What is it about other men looking at me that makes me see myself as more valuable? How would my husband feel if he knew my "need" to receive attention from other men?
This seems to be an issue that has deeper issues you will want to get straight with God. We encourage you to look seriously at growing into who God has created you to be—which is something beyond the outward appearance. You have talents and abilities you can give to others that will in turn serve to fill those gaps in your self-esteem. What are your abilities and how have you seen God use you in the past?
Are you willing to go deeper in your relationship with God? Spend a few minutes each day asking God to reveal the roots of your need for attention, and then ask him to heal any past hurts. Becoming more intimate with God will probably lessen your need for approval. As you choose to be satisfied with receiving attention for your character, your husband's affection and God's affirmation will fill those holes in your heart.
No Time for "Us"
Q. My wife is a student—and when she isn't in class, she's either sleeping or doing her homework. I feel that she doesn't make any time for me or our marriage. While I've brought up my feelings before, it only leads to fights. What should I do?
A. Our oldest sons are only 19 months apart, and when they were preschoolers and Carrie was overrun with mothering duties, I (Gary) often felt the way you feel. My complaints led to Carrie saying, "You just don't understand." She was right. Eventually after feeling frustrated enough to finally pray about it, God helped me see that there was validity to my concerns and it was important for me to share them with Carrie. At the same time God was calling me to learn what it meant to be a man and love Carrie "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25).
It sounds as if your wife is overworked, tired, and drained. We all go through those seasons in life. You may want to take a look at how you approach her. Are you demanding something from her, or are you offering help? Even if you're tender with her, if your attitude says "it's all about me," and you're not willing to reach into her world, then she's less likely to trust you and respond in positive ways.
Read Matthew 5-7, which includes the Beatitudes, and Ephesians 5-6, which discusses marriage and serving each other. Listen to what the Holy Spirit says to you about loving and serving your wife. Jot down the thoughts he gives you.
Next, look for a soft moment to let her know that you want to understand her heart and eventually help her understand yours. Explain that you want to start with understanding her needs and feelings. Don't focus on whether her concerns make logical sense, but on looking through her eyes. Stay away from how you think she needs to act, or trying to solve her problems. Love through listening.
Ask if she's tired, overworked, or feeling lonely. Let her know you're willing to help in her struggles. Couples fail miserably when times of sharing are spent trying to convince each other. Seek to understand her, rather than insisting you be understood.
He's a Workaholic
Q. My husband has trouble setting work-related boundaries. He's also sensitive to criticism. I know he's deeply committed to our marriage and family, yet he tends to get distracted by work. How can I help him set aside more time for me and our children?
A. An occupational hazard of being male is our tendency to receive our value and worth from what we do. We've been taught that real men work hard, provide for their families, keep up with their neighbors, and are successful. Anything less affects our definition of masculinity. I (Gary) know that many men struggle with thoughts that "enough is never enough," and so well-meaning expressions of concern by our spouses are interpreted as condemnation for, once again, not doing it quite right.
Words of affirmation for the times he "gets it right" will go a long ways toward helping your husband move in a healthier direction. Praise him when his commitment of time matches the strength of his commitment to your marriage and family. Applaud when he says no to competing demands. Notice when he's more successful at setting boundaries and cheer him in those victories. Encourage your husband to spend time with men in your church who are learning how to put first things first.
When he seems overwhelmed offer to pray with him. If you know criticism generates walls between you, then let him know you're on his side. Most men will respond in a positive way when they are reassured that they're heading in the right direction.
Finally, make sure you're setting healthy boundaries and balancing your own time. Your example can provide hope, a model, and motivation to grow.
Carrie Oliver is a marriage and family counselor. Gary J. Oliver is executive director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Visit Carrie and Gary at www.liferelationships.com.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.
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