In a permissive society such as ours where mainstream media and the entertainment industry often dictate what is and is not acceptable behavior, it is not uncommon for men and women to become involved in relationships that are harmful and violate God’s principles regarding marital fidelity. Many of us find ourselves faced with the question: As a married person, is it okay to have a friendship with a member of the opposite sex?
Through the years some of my best friends have been male co-workers or guys I knew during my high school and college years. Although I get along well with women, I have always been quite comfortable conversing with males. But as I have grown in my walk with the Lord and comfortable in my marriage, I have had to guard my heart very closely and at times walk away from relationships that became a little too close for comfort.
Dangerous liaisons are more common than we might think, even in our churches. An opposite-sex friendship that doesn’t involve physical intimacy can be just as harmful as an adulterous affair. How can that be? you might ask. Simply put, any relationship that becomes a stronghold in our mind – whether we obsessively justify it on the basis that we are not physically intimate or simply because we hold such admiration for the other individual that our love for our own spouse is diminished – becomes an idolatrous, adulterous affair of the heart. The mind and emotions are powerful forces which, when left untamed, can lead us to think ungodly thoughts and commit ungodly actions before we realize what has happened.
Although physical attraction was a key factor in my relationships as a single woman that has not been the case in my twenty-five year marriage. Nor have I ever given thought to being unfaithful to my husband by having an extra-marital affair. But I have had friendships where the spiritual and emotional connection was so strong that my marriage was threatened and my husband’s security was compromised. The danger of loving someone other than our spouse just a little too much is a very real threat to our marriages and a danger to which we are all susceptible. So how can we keep an opposite-sex friendship from becoming an affair of the heart? The most obvious way would be to not have opposite-sex friendships to begin with, but that is neither practical nor easy, so here are some other thoughts.
1. Keep your priorities in order when it comes to your relationships – God first, spouse second, family third, and so on. “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:3-5).
2. Maintain accountability by making sure that your spouse is aware of the friendship. The surest sign you are headed for trouble is any secrecy on your part regarding the friendship.
3. Do not allow yourself to be in situations where you are alone with the other individual. If your friendship is with a co-worker at the office or in ministry, include another co-worker or your spouse in your conversations or any social situations that may arise. Even something as seemingly innocent as praying together can spark an emotional reaction that eventually gets out of control.
4. Keep communication on a professional level and keep it at the office (no after-hours Facebook, emails, tweets, or text messages!). Stay away from sensitive subjects such as family issues or personal problems, which could expose you emotionally and leave you vulnerable to the sympathy and comfort you may not be receiving from your spouse. Pour out your heart to God or to a godly counselor, not to a sympathetic opposite-sex friend who might complicate matters by making you feel even more confused than you already are! God is more than able to compensate you for what your marriage may lack, and he is the only One who is trustworthy, dependable, and true!
5. Scripture tells us that “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, NIV). In other words, realize that no one is immune from the temptation of an emotional affair. If you suspect a friend is headed that direction, lovingly and gently admonish him or her, but do so knowing that you could as easily fall into temptation.
6. “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30, NIV). You may wonder what a hand has to do with emotional adultery, but I like to think of this particular verse in terms of communication and contact information. If you have an unhealthy emotional attachment to someone who is not your spouse – someone who occupies much of your thought life – delete him or her from your Facebook friends, your email contacts, your mobile phone call list, and your address book. As painful as letting go may be for you, think of the pain you are sparing that special friend and the significant others in his or her life, not to mention your own loved ones!
7. Ask God to take the love you have for that individual and turn it into love for God himself. God gives us the capacity to love others deeply, but he never intended us to love any one person more than him. To do so is to make an idol of the relationship, whether it is our marriage or a deep friendship with someone else.
8. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). The best way to guard your heart is to surrender yourself completely to the Lordship of Christ and to arm yourself with the spiritual weapons of God’s Word and prayer. Fully clothed in God’s armor, no weapon fashioned against you – whether Cupid’s arrows or Satan’s fiery darts – can stand!
If you find yourself in a relationship you know is not God’s will for you, turn and walk away from it. Only by repenting of your sin, turning from the relationship, and running as fast as you can toward God’s open arms will you find peace and true, lasting love. God proved himself more than sufficient for me and he will do the same for you!