The Risk of Opposite-Sex Friendships in Marriage


Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.

Friends are those people that we do everyday life with. We live or work near each other, we do ministry together, we frequently connect online, or we work out in the same gym. This proximity helps us grow and sustain the relationship, and such “mere presence” leads to increased liking.  And this often leads to growing feelings of closeness or intimacy.

Social psychological research on friendships finds that the essential trait of close friends is that they not only like each other, but they like how they feel in the presence of each other. Close friends feel valued, heard, understood and loved. They can be vulnerable and feel safe in each other’s presence, sharing more of their hopes, dreams, and hearts, as well as more of their personal journeys.

As we grow in this togetherness and love—experiencing similar dreams, hopes, beliefs, values, and affections—an intimate relationship can develop. Here we not only enjoy being around each other, we start to feel more emotionally connected.  We experience feelings of deeper intimacy, synchrony or flow—like we are on the same page, and begin to let our guards down with each other. This is powerfully reinforcing.

The poet and author Dinah Craik elegantly put it this way:

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.                                                                                                                                     

And it is in this place where having a friend of the opposite sex can get complicated, even perilous. It is in such an intimate environment that romantic feelings can begin to spring up. Neuropsychology has shown that the brain produces higher levels of the bonding chemical oxytocin, starting a cascade of pleasurable feelings associated with this person, leading to greater attachment and intimacy, and yes, romantic feelings.

People often ask if it is ok for a married person to have a friend of the opposite sex. I believe that having friends, even of the opposite sex, is normal and healthy. Where there is some debate is about having a close or intimate friend of the opposite sex. I believe that close friendships are riskier because such familiarity deepens intimacy, and can lead to increased levels of romantic feelings.

At all times we are to make our spouse our priority. They must be told of any intimate feelings that may be developing, and there must be no secrets. This is especially true if the close friend is a past lover or someone you and your spouse have had previous disagreements about. Nothing will shake the foundations of a marriage more than a loss of trust or a violation of faithfulness.

So we must carefully count the costs—to our spouses, our selves, and our marriages. And when we do, it is no wonder so many people find the risks simply too great.

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.

How I Talked To My Boyfriend About Pornography Pt. II



I’ll admit it—I am not the best at conflict or difficult conversations. The first time I confronted my boyfriend about something, it took me 30 minutes to get one sentence out. I stood there, saying it word by word. Since then, I have gotten better at confrontation and difficult conversations and am still working on it.

A few months back, I had to approach my boyfriend about the topic of pornography. In my innocent mind, I thought it would be an easy conversation since I assumed he had never struggled with porn. Much to my surprise, it quickly turned into a difficult conversation that shed light on some of his sins.

So, with this turn of events, how did I approach this conversation with truth and love? Let me start off by saying that this conversation is normal and healthy to have, as well as important. Many of my friends who are in relationships have had this conversation with their boyfriends, and it has significantly shaped their relationships for the better. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you approach this conversation.

Pray. The most important thing you can do before you have this conversation is to pray. There’s no doubt that this conversation will be full of emotions and uncertainty, so being in prayer before you have this conversation will ultimately help you during this conversation.

Stop and Listen. The second most important thing you can do when having this conversation is to listen. It is not your job to do the talking, but simply to hear what your boyfriend is saying. This is his struggle, and therefore, his choice to be telling you. If you simply stay quiet, use nonverbal behavior to show that you are listening, and occasionally offer an empathic statement, the other person will continue to talk.

Don’t just listen with your ears—listen with your heart. In an honest and difficult conversation, it is essential to listen with your heart to what they are saying and feeling. Listen and try to truly understand where they are coming from, what emotions they may have such as hurt and shame, and how they feel towards themselves. Listening with your heart means that you listen empathically, not critically.  

Ask questions gently. If you have questions, ask. I’ve found that if you are in a difficult conversation, it is better to ask your questions right then rather than continuing to bring them up at random times. When you ask your questions, make sure to do it gently. For example, instead of asking, “Well, when did you stop looking at porn?” try, “That must have been really difficult. How were you able to stop?” By simply changing the tone of your voice and adding in a few words of empathy, you will be able to ask your questions in a non-threatening, non-judgemental way.

Be honest. I think my biggest regret from our conversation was not being honest right away. I did not tell him how sad I was or how much it hurt me in the moment. Because of that, later on, I had to bring up the conversation again so that I could explain how I felt. It is essential, to be honest up front so that later on nothing will come as a surprise.  

It is important to remember in this moment that this is not your fault; this is something with which your boyfriend is struggling. Also, keep in mind that this issue won’t just go away, so do not avoid this conversation. Although it may be extremely difficult, you need to know your boyfriend’s struggles so that you will have full knowledge of whom you are dating. This conversation can be very beneficial, bringing light into a once dark area.

It is a difficult conversation, no doubt, but it is well worth having. Pray before you go into this conversation, and pray throughout. Go into this conversation with a kind heart and a forgiving spirit.

This article was originally posted on the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and was reposted with their permission.  The original article can be found here.