We all have friends and colleagues of the opposite sex, and it is important that we learn to interact with them in a healthy way — especially once we marry.
If you’re newlywed, then you have likely spent a good portion of your life trying to “find” the right girl to marry. Now that you’ve found her, you must get out of “search” mode. The charm and flirtatiousness that served you so well when you were single is now a liability, not an asset.
If you have been married awhile, then you’ve probably already figured out a lot of the things I’m about to discuss. Nonetheless, the occasional reminder can be helpful, since many of us tend to forget or neglect the basics as the years go by.
To begin, let me state that being married doesn’t make you a monk. You don’t get to live in a monastery somewhere, shielded from any association with females outside your family. You still have to live in the real world, work a job, and interact with living, breathing human beings, roughly half of which are women.
For this reason, a few basic rules of engagement are in order. Four basic principles should guide a husband’s interaction with women other than his wife:
- Protect Your Reputation
Reputations, as they say, take a lifetime to build but only an instant to destroy. This is even truer in the modern era where people thirst for negative news and are quick to believe the worst. Superimpose the lightening speed of modern communications, and you have a recipe for disaster. Don’t let it happen to you.
There are several simple ways to avoid this problem:
- First, do not be alone with any woman who is not your wife.It may sound a little old-fashioned, but this sound advice may someday save your reputation and very likely your marriage if only you will follow it. Why risk ever becoming embroiled in a “he said/she said” misunderstanding when it can so easily be avoided?
Life is too full of traps and temptations as it is, why set snares for your own feet unnecessarily? Once there is an asterisk by your reputation, it never goes away.
- The second principle is a corollary to the first: Don’t spend an excessive amount of time with a woman who is not your wife, even in public.
When your co-workers or friends notice the two of you together all the time, either laughing and joking or engaged in deep, serious conversation, they begin to wonder why? Their imaginations will quickly answer that question for them, regardless of how innocent your relationship may be. It’s no longer a “he said/she said” situation, but becomes instead a matter of what “they said” — behind your back.
Steer clear of clandestine rendezvous with friends or acquaintances of the opposite gender. Always be honest and forthcoming with your wife concerning what you do when you’re apart from her, and with whom. Keeping secrets spells trouble no matter how you slice it.
- Furthermore, some subjects should be off limits for discussion between you and someone of the opposite sex.
Bawdy humor is an obvious example. Another is the discussion of marital discord, either yours or hers. Such discussion, if necessary, should always be redirected to a trusted friend or counselor of the same sex. Expressing dissatisfaction with a spouse very commonly becomes a pretext to finding solace in someone else’s arms. Don’t take that chance.
I don’t mean to imply you cannot have female friends, nor am I advocating making such relationships weird and awkward. I’ve known people who refuse to even look members of the opposite sex in the eye, lest they come across as being too familiar. In my opinion, they’ve let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction, making it hard to have even the simplest of exchanges.
Interacting with other women is both possible and necessary, but you must be careful how and where you invest the bulk of your time and energy. It’s more a question of degree — if your dearest and best friend is a woman who isn’t your wife, then it’s clearly time to reassess.
Tread cautiously when relating to female friends and acquaintances. Affairs don’t happen in a vacuum, they develop over time. Don’t let them.
Remember, also, that not all affairs are physical ones. Honoring your marriage vows means remaining faithful in thought and word, as well as in deed.
It’s understandable that we would become close with our coworkers. After all, we spend forty hours or more together every week. In some cases, this may mean we actually spend more waking hours together with them than we do with our spouses.
Some of those coworkers may be single. Some may be happily married. Some unhappily married. Many of them will be smart, attractive, kind, filled with many admirable qualities that your spouse may or may not share. But at the end of the day, no matter how wonderful your female colleagues may be, none of those women are your wife, nor should they be treated as such.
Your wife is the only woman with whom you should cultivate physical, spiritual, and emotional intimacy. She’s the one you should live with, confide in, depend on, and bare your soul to. The harsh reality is that the woman at work or the gym who seems to get you only does so because she doesn’t have to live with you. She’s only observed the “fitness” version of you or the “dressed up and working hard” version of you.
She has never seen the “flatulent, half-dressed, hair a mess, haven’t bathed in two days, sports-watching, short-tempered, forgot to pick up the milk, bring in the mail, or pay the bills on time” version of you. And that version of you isn’t nearly so attractive.
Your wife sees and knows all of you, not just the cherry-picked, carefully polished facets of your personality. She knows you as a real and complete person, not some smoke and mirrors illusion. That other woman doesn’t.
In similar fashion, the notion that you’ve found a “soul mate” other than your wife is pure fantasy. That woman at work or the gym only seems amazing because you don’t have to live with her annoying idiosyncrasies, her inexplicable mood swings, her spitefulness when upset, or any of a myriad other things that can so quickly extinguish the hottest flames of passion.
Men who stray eventually come to realize the grass on the other side of the fence isn’t as green as they initially thought. Unfortunately, that realization often comes after it’s too late. Don’t destroy the hope you have for happiness in your present marriage by seeking happiness elsewhere. All meaningful, lasting relationships take work. They demand intentionality.
To know and be known requires an investment of time and energy. Invest in your wife.
The third rule is to be considerate of your wife’s feelings in how you relate to other women. Sounds simple, but it can be more complicated than it seems. How men view certain words or actions and how their wives view them can vary significantly. Beware the landmines!
Such consideration comes in two varieties: how you interact with other women and how you speak about other women. The short version is: don’t be too positive or negative in either situation. Relative neutrality is key.
Let’s start with how you interact with other women. When your wife is present, assume her radar is up. You shouldn’t eyeball the gorgeous woman in the skimpy outfit who just walked into the room, even in your wife’s absence, but when your spouse is sitting right beside you, you certainly better refrain from gawking.
The same goes for such women in the movies or on television. Your wife needs your assurance that you have eyes only for her.
Likewise, don’t get enmeshed in a two-hour conversation off in the corner at a party with that cute new girl from work, as steam slowly pours from your spouse’s ears. And, most importantly of all, never ever ever flirt with anybody but your wife!
Of course, you can be kind and hospitable without being flirtatious, and I recommend you do so, especially when relating to your wife’s friends. Her friends are constantly judging you and providing feedback, solicited or otherwise, and it would serve you well to be in their good graces. This really isn’t that hard. Common courtesy and small talk can go a long way. While you don’t want your wife’s girlfriends to think you’re coming on to them, neither do you want them to think you are rude. Learn to walk the line. Be friendly, not flirty.
But how you behave toward other women is only half the equation, and the more straightforward half, at that. The really tricky part hinges on how you speak about other women.
You obviously can’t be too complimentary — especially about looks. However, if you are too dismissive of unusual beauty or talent, your wife will become suspicious and question your judgment, including your judgment of her.
A good rule of thumb is to compliment talent without gushing, but say nothing regarding looks, unless she specifically asks. If she does ask, be careful — she is testing you. The correct answer is to mildly acknowledge beauty, so as not to appear dense, but to include a modifying caveat, so as to reaffirm your loyalty.
You might answer, for example, “Yes, she is tall and thin, but it makes her seem frail. I have always preferred a more athletic build, like yours. It just seems healthier and more robust.”
Again, you must also be cautious with the flip side. You should not be overly critical of other women, especially of their appearance. The most serious and stoic of women are highly self-conscious about their looks. In their minds, criticism of one woman translates into criticism of all women.
This is especially true regarding weight. If you casually mention some other woman has gained weight, your wife will immediately assume that you are insinuating she, herself, has packed on a few too many pounds, as well. Just don’t do it. That discussion is a tar baby made with extra sticky tar.
All humans are territorial, and men particularly so. It doesn’t take much to instigate jealousy or even anger in their partner if you aren’t careful. You don’t want the spouse/fiancé/boyfriend of your female friend or co-worker to view you as a threat or a competitor. You should be neither, and your behavior should reflect that fact.
A moment of cuteness or flirtatiousness on your end can translate into a lot of heartache and misery on hers. Don’t do that to a friend.
Just as you should avoid flirting with other women, you should also take appropriate measures to keep them from flirting with you. Neither engage in it yourself nor encourage it from them.
That’s why it’s so important — not only for your own marriage, but also for others’ — that clear boundaries are set. Rarely if ever do these boundaries have to be explicitly stated. Usually just talking about your children and your spouse in glowing terms early on and repeatedly thereafter will clarify the situation for everyone involved without things becoming unnecessarily uncomfortable or awkward.
The same principle holds true in social settings — especially whenever alcohol is served. I remember attending an out-of-town, obligatory social event several years ago at which a woman who’d obviously had too much to drink came over to me, draped her arms around my neck, and asked what I’d be doing later that night.
When I politely explained that I would be talking on the phone to my lovely wife and our eight kids, she dropped her arms in stunned surprise and quickly moved on in search of a more receptive companion.
A couple months later, the woman was divorced. She evidently found somebody who shared her lack of concern for maintaining proper boundaries or showing appropriate consideration of her spouse.
If you want your marriage to last and your wife to feel loved, you’ll have to do better than that.
The above post was adapted from a chapter in my marriage book, 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife. Each chapter is followed by action points that makes it easy to apply what you are learning. My wife has written a companion volume, 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband. These books make a great couple-study for husbands and wives wishing to strengthen their marriage and improve communication skills.