Some things are built for two. Teeter-totters. Loveseats. The Porsche Boxster. And yes, marriage. Which begs the question: Can a married person have a platonic friendship with another man or woman outside of their marriage? Yes, of course they can. Platonic friendships are very possible…providing there’s no attraction between the two friends and no chance that their friendship could, at some point, take on a flirtatious undertone.
Because if there is some level of attraction between them – well, that’s not really a strictly platonic friendship, is it?
No, the two friends might not end up having sex; however, the attraction between them and the inevitable flirting may still present a degree of betrayal to the marriage, especially since their spouse is bound to notice and begin to worry about it.
The truth is, even “innocent” or “harmless” flirting in the form of inside jokes or cute text messages between a married person and their friend can be deeply hurtful to a spouse who must then oh-so-cautiously decide how to handle the situation, lest they appear a paranoid or jealous person. Too often, this can put one spouse in an unfair and unenviable no-win situation.
The no-win situation
Either the worried spouse bites their tongue and lives with the increasing hurt or concern, or they voice their feelings and are met with their partner’s defensiveness, downplaying or deflection.
And too often, as the friendship grows stronger and more flirtatious, the marriage grows weaker and colder.
Sometimes, the partner with the friendship will actually share these growing marriage troubles with their friend. They’ll complain that their wife or husband isn’t happy about their friendship.
And their friend will console them. She or he might say, “That’s awful! We’re just friends. Your wife/husband should trust you!”
And there it is – the first chink in the marriage armor.
Despite what I’ve said here, I absolutely believe that platonic friendships in marriage are possible. We all have them, and they can enrich our lives and our marriages.
But extramarital friendships that take up too much time, too much energy, and cause too many hard feelings and arguments between spouses…friendships that blur the line between friendly and flirty…at some point, you need to ask yourself whether a truly platonic friendship would really cause that much trouble in an otherwise happy and healthy marriage.
If this has resonated with you, and if your spouse is having a friendship that you fear is something more, it may be time to talk to your spouse about it in more serious terms. If that doesn’t work, reach out and get some outside help and fresh ideas to help you manage things. My Marriage SOS online programs tackle issues like overly intimate friendships head on, and can give you the expert guidance you need to overcome them.
Because of all the different types of friendships you can have, it is the romantic friendship between you and your spouse that should always come first.
Debra Macleod, BA, JD, is the creator of Marriage SOS™. She has served as an expert resource for major media around the world, from The New York Times and Entrepreneur to ELLE and Men’s Health magazine.