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Can Men and Women be Friends Without More?

Yesterday I was listening to a great new radio program called “The Happy Hour” on TODAY Show Radio (SiriusXM channel 108).  The show included lively discussion about relationships, and more specifically, the question of whether or not men and women can be friends without more.  Not surprisingly there were differing views regarding whether or not this was possible.  The thoughtful comments and insights on the show made me think about the patients I have seen over the years and how small steps across boundaries can lead to extramarital affairs.  There are definitely patterns in the seemingly minor problems that lead to major boundary crossing.  Awareness of these patterns can help prevent you from putting yourself in situations that are potentially damaging to your romantic relationship. 

It is my opinion that men and women can be friends in certain circumstances.  Of course, the key to sustaining a healthy friendship with anyone is creating and maintaining appropriate boundaries.  I think this is especially true of male/female friendships.  If you are behaving towards your friend in a way that would upset you if the same were true of your significant other, that may be a good benchmark to use for your boundaries.  It may also become important for you to ask your partner about where they feel the boundaries should be in order to avoid trouble in your primary romantic relationship. 

One factor that can influence whether a relationship can successfully be maintained on a friendship level is the circumstances under which you meet the individual in question.  For example, men and women who meet in professional settings are more likely to develop friendships that are healthy and appropriate than those that meet out socially.  The professional capacity of the relationship sets implied boundaries that facilitate the friendship’s harmless nature.  Regardless of what boundaries are introduced at the beginning of the relationship, however, it always remains important to respect and maintain those firm boundaries as the friendship moves forward. 

I’ve also noticed that men and women seem to view this issue through very different prisms.  For many women it is important that they do not share too much of themselves and develop a strong emotional connection with their male friends.  These emotional connections often cause boundaries to become blurred and potential affairs to take root.  For men, the impetus to cross boundaries often seems to be much more related to flirtations and physical proximity.  These differing motivations can also result in the two friends having drastically different perceptions of the relationship. 

One should also be mindful of the priority he/she is placing on their romantic relationship compared to other relationships.  It is typically symptomatic of a problem if you are investing more time and energy into a relationship with a friend than with your significant other, especially if that friend is the opposite sex.  Have the self-awareness necessary to recognize when you are at risk of losing the proper balance between these relationships. 

I believe that maintaining fidelity to your relationship with your significant other has to come from an awareness of, and faithfulness to, appropriate boundaries.  It also helps to invest a lot of time and energy into your relationship with your significant other and not to share emotional experiences with your friend that you wouldn’t share with your significant other. Additionally, don’t badmouth your significant other to the friend.  This may lead to comparisons such as my friend listens to me more than my partner.   Avoidance of comparison is extremely important.  Someone that you share responsibilities with cannot possibly be fun or energetic all the time whereas you might primarily be seeing your friend in their best environment.  When you compare people in this way, you might as well be comparing apples and oranges.  Maintaining healthy relationships with opposite sex friends may seem like a minefield, but if you respect boundaries you stand a better chance of maintaining the appropriate balance in your relationships. 

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