When, in your opinion, should cross-gender friendship be avoided?
This tends to be a question that comes up regularly in this discussion.
Before I get to answering it, I want to say that this question tends to be rooted in the danger and fear narrative. We would probably not ask when a same-gender friendship should be avoided. Our tendency is to assume that those should be taken on a case by case basis. So I would suggest that the question itself reveals a little bit of our thoughts regarding cross-gender friendships. That’s not a bad thing, but I think we need to be aware of that.
With that out of the way, the main rule that I would have would that you have to be respectful of your spouse. If your spouse is dead set against you having an opposite-sex friend, I would really encourage you to avoid that. But I would say that about any friend. (Of course if you’re dealing with an abusive spouse who questions all friends, that is a whole other situation and I would encourage you to seek counseling and keep yourself safe. Anyone who refuses to allow you relationships outside of your relationship with them is asking you to do something that is unhealthy and is setting you up for failure.)
If your spouse is merely unsure about a cross-gender friend, I don’t think that’s automatically a deal breaker. What that does require is a lot of honesty, both with your spouse and your friend. Secrets are relationship killers. When we hide thing, we are saying that we don’t trust the other person and that is going to have negative repercussions. But I do think that if there is uncertainty, it is possible to figure out how to navigate those questions and find a way toward friendship, provided openness is a huge part of the process.
A common concern is that you shouldn’t pursue a cross-gender friendship if you are having trouble in your marriage. Again, I think this misses the larger picture. If you are in a difficult place in your marriage, any friendship has the potential to eclipse intimacy with your spouse. This is not unique to a cross-gender friendship. The only other problem is sex, but this assumes that all cross-gender friendships much have a sexual element to them. If your marriage is struggling, any new friendship could cause further harm.
This brings me to my main thought which is that you have to know you. What are you looking for in a friendship? What hurt are you bringing to the relationship? What fears do you have? What do you hope to invest into the friendship?
I don’t like to give lists of dos and don’ts when it comes to friendships, but I would suggest that before you’re able to fully pour yourself into a cross-gender friendship, you need to be able to honestly answer those questions. Intimacy requires honesty and one of the most difficult people to be honest with is ourselves. As you work toward honesty in yourself, you will be a better friend.