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SoCal_Counselor

Boundaries with members of the opposite sex (when married)

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This article was originally posted by me here.

A man was interviewing new drivers for his transportation company. The route was very dangerous and went along several steep cliffs through a mountain pass. The interviewer asked each man how close he could safely drive near the edge of the cliff.

The first man responded, “I could drive within six inches of the edge.”

The second man responded, “I could drive within two inches of the edge.”

The third man responded, “I would stay as far away from the edge of the cliff as I possibly could."

All things considered, the third man got the job. Why? Because the interviewer wasn't interested in learning how close the drivers could get to the edge of the road. He was interested in an employee that would keep his company safe.

In that same light, I wanted to express some of my opinions of how married couples can stay away from the edge of affairs and other problems in their marriage.

I have written about the importance of boundaries with members of the opposite sex before. I regularly work with couples in counseling who are dealing with the aftermath of an affair (or an almost affair). Having appropriate boundaries can go a long way in preventing affairs or inappropriate relationships that could be detrimental to their marriage. These are my own thoughts and are based off of my experience as a marriage counselor as well as my life experience in my marriage. You may disagree with me. That is fine. But I encourage you to develop your own boundaries when interacting with members of the opposite sex. Staying far away from the edge is what could prevent your marriage from tumbling to destruction.

The following are DISCOURAGED with members of the opposite sex when you are married:

  • Any kind of physical touch that lasts for more than three seconds.
  • Any kind of physical touch besides a handshake, pat on the back, or a brief hug (again, no longer than three seconds).
  • Full-frontal hugs. This is when the bodies are completely touching, and not just an upper body hug.
  • Being alone socially with the other person. There are times when a job might require two people to be alone. In these times, people shoul work together as professionals and not friends. There are times when a job might require more than the three second rule (i.e. athletic trainers, professional ballroom dancers, etc.). In these cases, professionalism and not engaging in any other outside of work interactions are of the utmost importance.
  • Secret conversations (by phone, internet, etc.) with the other person. This includes facebook and other social networking sites.
  • Secret get togethers. It doesn't matter if it is "just lunch" or "just coffee."

Ultimately, you should ask yourself, "Would my spouse be comfortable if he/she saw what I was doing with this other person right now?"

  • The following are ENCOURAGED with members of the opposite sex when you are married:
  • Group dates where you and your spouse meet up with your friend and their spouse.
  • Give your spouse access to all of your email and social networks.
  • Let your spouse know if you are going to be interacting with members of the opposite sex on a professional level.
  • Introduce your spouse to all of your friends.
  • Make sure your spouse knows your co-workers and your relationship with each opposite sex co-worker.

Openess and honesty are great ways of staying away from the cliff, while secrecy and lies are like driving one inch away from the cliff. Just because you might be able to drive close to the edge, it doesn't mean you should.

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I'm curious, are these discouraged/encouraged items from personal experience as a counselor or are they more an application of theory? I realize at some point someone stopped and connected, "When people do this, bad things result." but I'm wondering if it's mostly a practical experience or application of theories you've learned from other sources?

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The Discouraged list I have no issue with. But the Encouraged list is a bit overboard.

- Group dates where you and your spouse meet up with your friend and their spouse.

- Give your spouse access to all of your email and social networks.

Really? You being a counselor, I seriously doubt you give your spouse access to all your emails. This is just overkill.

- Let your spouse know if you are going to be interacting with members of the opposite sex on a professional level.

Really? I'm sure you don't give our the names of your female patients to your spouse. That's against HIPAA.

- Introduce your spouse to all of your friends.

Really? This states that you do cannot have a friend unless your spouse has been introduced to them. I think it would be better to say to "not be afraid to introduce your spouse to your friends."

- Make sure your spouse knows your co-workers and your relationship with each opposite sex co-worker.

Really? This is, to say it mildly, frantic overkill.

This list starts from the point that the trust factor in a marriage is nil. Whatever happened to trust in marriage? I sure hope you don't require your patients to adhere to this. It can only help to aggravate bad feelings. I get the set boundaries stuff. But please, common sense, reality and practicality need to enter into the picture somewhere.

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My husband and I have total transparency. We share passwords and tell each other everything. The only time I can see that being a problem would be if either of us had a job or calling that required confidentiality. We don't.

It's worked darn well for 14 years.

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My husband and I have total transparency. We share passwords and tell each other everything. The only time I can see that being a problem would be if either of us had a job or calling that required confidentiality. We don't.

It's worked darn well for 14 years.

I agree with you, Eowyn. My husband and I know each other's passwords to our accounts. We can read each other's emails, text messaging, and Facebook. We open each other's mail. I suppose if one of us had a job that required confidentiality, then we would need to have a confidential account. But, the only thing it would be used for would be the confidential account, not for anything else.

Also, along those lines, my husband and I know each other's schedules. I know when and where he will be working, and the same for him--he knows my schedule.

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I agree, Eowyn.

DH and I are open with EVERYTHING. We know each other's passwords to personal emails, social networks - everything! And neither of us have any qualms about accessing each other's stuff. It just isn't a big deal. When my husband gets busy, he'll ask me if I've had any time to check his emails (personal & business). There's been times that I've been preoccupied with something, and I'll have DH get into my FB and check to see if any of my buddies have left me a message, and if there is one - to read it to me while I'm in the kitchen cooking dinner. We don't hide anything, we're extremely comfortable with each other and we've both found that we tell each other even the SMALLEST details because we WANT the other to know exactly what is going on. DH and I told each other, the day we stop sharing the small stuff with each other, is the day when something isn't right between us.

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I disagree, Slamjet, on most points. Trust is great but caution is better. I want my husband to know so he wont ever wonder.

My marriage is more important than anything else including setting boundries between my husband and me.

You are entitled to your opinion, and you're wrong!

I KID, I KID, now put down that flamethrower.

I agree with giving the spouse access, but I do not agree with "hey, there's a new girl at work. come by tomorrow so I can introduce you before our marriage explodes." That's the feeling I get from reading between the lines of the OP. There's a way to do it, and then there's the neurotic way. And besides, it borderlines on fostering a codependent relationship.

"I see you have a new female at work, why have you not introduced me?"

"Uhm, because, she just started, why, do you not trust me?"

"No, you are my spouse. If you don't tell me, or introduce me then you are untrustworthy."

"HON! I'm going to hang with George and his friends to watch the fight tonight."

"His friends? I don't know them. Aren't you going to take me and introduce me to them?"

"But hon, It's guys night out, what's wrong, don't you trust me?"

"What are you hiding? Do you go there to drink?"

"What?!?"

And the trust factor in the marriage starts to erode. There is a way to be open. If you open a new email account, tell your spouse and say "anytime you want, I'll give you the login info." instead of shoving it in their hand. So yes, I do agree on principle, but on practical application, not obsessive adherence.

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I'm going to have to agree with slamjet and say that the Encouraged list is overkill, especially:

Make sure your spouse knows your co-workers and your relationship with each opposite sex co-worker.

This one is not practical; I have no idea how I would get my husband to meet all my co-workers. Work activities and home activities do not coincide. And the Encouraged list gives the impression that spouses cannot be trusted in any situation.

M.

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Make sure your spouse knows your co-workers and your relationship with each opposite sex co-worker.

I think it's too easy to over-think this. Obviously, it's not always possible for your spouse to meet and know every single person that you associate with. Facebook is one example. This is another example, when I worked in rehab, I worked noc shift and my then-husband worked day shift. I had only met a handful of his coworkers and he had never met any of mine. But I'd make an effort to VERBALISE the small stuff. I'd say (for example): "Hey, ________ and I share the same lunch hour. Just so you know, we've decided to take turns driving and grab a bite together everyday." Even though this situation is strictly professional - I mention it. So regardless if your spouse can't PHYSICALLY meet each and every person you are affiliated with or associated with - it is completely reasonable for your spouse to want to know and know, what your relationship is with them.

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Yeah, I believe there is some over-thinking going on here. Dravin and I discussed this and I felt the "ENCOURAGE" should be labeled "APPROPRIATE" instead.

Dravin hasn't met all of my co-workers and I haven't met any of his co-students. But, if I were to have to go on a business trip with one of my co-workers (male or female), I'd let him know. Dravin also doesn't have the ability to access my work emails and he won't ever be able to. That is our work rules.

The thing is, being completely open to your spouse is important (open meaning not hiding or keeping things secret/private). However, there are obviously things that we cannot share with our spouses--work and church callings come to mind. But, that doesn't mean we can't be as open as we can in those situations.

These rules/guidelines aren't because I don't trust my husband--it's because I respect and honor him. I will not put anyone above my husband (ok, I'll put God first, but you know what I mean). Making adjustments in my relationships with other men is a minor thing to do to demonstrate my love, respect, and honor I have for my husband. I don't want him to even think that I value someone else's relationship/friendship more than his.

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M has my passwords and access to my email, YouTube and other accounts - it actually makes life a lot easier (allows me to be slightly lazy). "... just go read that email they sent to my account". Most of the email in there is junk anyway ;)

Regarding boundaries with the opposite sex, what is appropriate is something I've thought about on and off a lot over the years. Essentially, I'd say I don't have 'relationships' with the opposite sex other than M (obviously excluding my Mum, Aunts, etc.) By this I mean I don't have 'girly friends' I hang out with, talk to, etc. That might sound a bit extreme perhaps but it's my preferred way of being.

I of course work with and associate with many females of all ages in my work. I'm friendly, supportive, etc. to the maximum. If one of my colleagues was wandering to town for lunch I'd not hesitate to join her and chat and go pick up something to eat, etc. But, I would never meet with any female socially, either on her own or with a group where I was 'with' her as a friend - of my own accord. If M asked me to for whatever reason then I might. Having said that M suggested I could stop over at her single female friend's house when I was on a busines trip and I said no, as I didn't think it was appropriate (utterly trustable friend by the way).

As you guys have stated above, I'd rather have M never worry for a second, in fact I'd rather have her think I was socially inept around other women ;}

(Oh and I've just realised what/who the picture Eowyn uses is... thought it was familiar ehe! Sharp as a carrot I am sometimes!)

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Hah, I failed every single one of SoCal's boundaries or whatever.

I love tomxsumm's post. Love it. We don't have do's and don'ts. We have be's. That is, if you can't trust yourself to hug a guy without jumping over the cliff, then don't hug the guy. But, if there's no way you're going to jump off a cliff by hugging a guy - go right ahead. The BE is in the relationship you have with your spouse.

Oh yes, there's always the one who says - you're just risking temptation! Uhm. Not in my case. Love is not just a feeling. I'm not a slave to physical attraction. Love is a decision. I love my husband. I don't give to anybody else that kind of love we share. You know why I don't believe in divorce? Because, there's no What-if in my principles of marriage... What if my husband wakes up one day and decides he wants to be a serial killer? Uhm, okay. I married a serial killer, time to high-tail it out of there. But, that doesn't mean I'm going to divorce him so I can marry some other guy I hugged along the way. What if I meet a guy who is better looking than my husband, more suave than my husband, more money than my husband, more romantic than my husband, who wants me to leave my husband for him... Uhm, okay... he's not my husband. No-uh. This is IT. I'm married. Once. Done. Come what may. To infinity and beyond.

So yeah, one of my best friends, John. Awesome amazing guy. Full front hugs everytime we see each other. He travels too much I only get to see him once in a while. Infront of my husband and his wife even. Well, his wife is also one of my best friends... and they're both one of my husband's best friends... so they hug each other too.

A best friend of mine from high school that I haven't seen for 20 years until last year's reunion... We were so happy to see each other we talked and held hands all night long just catching up with everything.

But yeah, my husband and I have that kind of trust that I can work 2-hours out of town 5 days a week, stay at a co-workers house my husband has never met to save up on hotel/rental and think nothing of it. My friend John has the same level of trust with his wife. He travels a lot leaving wife and kids at home.

It is a kind of freedom to be able to build deep and lasting friendships with anybody outside of the family without having to worry about your spouse thinking he's not loved anymore - or whatever. Not only does my husband know he's up on a pedestal on his own, without competition, in my husband's words, "Anatess leave me? Of course not. She knows I'm the best man for her, she's not an idiot.". Yeah. I love that about him.

But, trust me with the family money? NO WAY, JOSE! You can't trust me not to spend the mortgage money on new shoes. So yeah, I get to be separated from the family funds. I won't touch it with a 10-foot pole. I get my allowance money in a separate bank account and that's all that I'm allowed to touch. Yes, I want it that way. If it was a guy you can't trust me with, I'd have carved out my eyes by now...

Edited by anatess

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The Discouraged list I have no issue with. But the Encouraged list is a bit overboard.

- Group dates where you and your spouse meet up with your friend and their spouse.

- Give your spouse access to all of your email and social networks.

Really? You being a counselor, I seriously doubt you give your spouse access to all your emails. This is just overkill.

- Let your spouse know if you are going to be interacting with members of the opposite sex on a professional level.

Really? I'm sure you don't give our the names of your female patients to your spouse. That's against HIPAA.

- Introduce your spouse to all of your friends.

Really? This states that you do cannot have a friend unless your spouse has been introduced to them. I think it would be better to say to "not be afraid to introduce your spouse to your friends."

- Make sure your spouse knows your co-workers and your relationship with each opposite sex co-worker.

Really? This is, to say it mildly, frantic overkill.

This list starts from the point that the trust factor in a marriage is nil. Whatever happened to trust in marriage? I sure hope you don't require your patients to adhere to this. It can only help to aggravate bad feelings. I get the set boundaries stuff. But please, common sense, reality and practicality need to enter into the picture somewhere.

I agree with you totally on this one.

I too am a Counsellor and TRUST is most important in a relationship. The encouraged list is way over the top.

In past relationships I have not wanted the other's passwords to emails etc. Why would I want that?

Common sense and reality are important too.

In any event, if a spouse wishes to have another relationship a second email account, a second cellphone, etc would be very easy for them to get.

.

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I agree with most here, its a little overkill. I think if people started obsessing over doing some of those things it would cause paranoia and be more damaging than anything. Trust is great, but some things are just impractical.

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I'm curious. Is it just the email password sharing that is over the top for everyone? What other things do you think are over the top in the list?

Affairs do not start with a "I think I'll go betray my spouse by cheating on him/her". It typically starts with very innocent behavior and friendships. So, in my mind, anything I can do to minimize the risk of me or my spouse to develop a relationship that could (not that it will, but that it could have the potential) lead to either an affair (emotional or physical) or cause distress to my spouse.

If my spouse disliked me having dinner with a male friend--even if it is completely innocent--then I won't have dinner with that friend. Right or wrong, my spouse is uncomfortable with it. Now, that may prompt us to discuss the deeper issue, but until it is resolved, I will not place my spouse in that position to be hurt. Because regardless if it is wrong or right, if I choose to have dinner with my friend, I have just put my friend and that relationship above my spouse and my marriage relationship.

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I know I've voiced this to you, but to share with the class:

Group dates where you and your spouse meet up with your friend and their spouse.

If for instance I got to gather every Saturday to play D&D with a group of people I think it's a little overboard to make sure to go out on double dates with the one person in the group of a half dozen who happens to be female. Seems overkill, particularly if the only time I interact with this person is at the gaming group.

Let your spouse know if you are going to be interacting with members of the opposite sex on a professional level.

Interacting is really broad term. This could be read such that if I need to run to the downtown store to have the female manager sign something that I need to make sure you know. If we're talking about say a business trip together or having to work late together, just the two of us in the office, that I can see.

Introduce your spouse to all of your friends.

Really depends how one quantifies a friend. Some people may be thinking more on the acquaintanceship side of things.

Make sure your spouse knows your co-workers and your relationship with each opposite sex co-worker.

I'm a student right now so I think in those terms. But this can be parsed that I need to make sure you know who everyone in my classes are, and my relationship to those with ovaries.

Edited by Dravin

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If for instance I got to gather every Saturday to play D&D with a group of people I think it's a little overboard to make sure to go out on double dates with the one person in the group of a half dozen who happens to be female. Seems overkill, particularly if the only time I interact with this person is at the gaming group.

But what if you're LARPing, Dravin? What If You Are LARPing?

Throws a wrench into the works, dunnit?

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I'm curious. Is it just the email password sharing that is over the top for everyone? What other things do you think are over the top in the list?

Affairs do not start with a "I think I'll go betray my spouse by cheating on him/her". It typically starts with very innocent behavior and friendships. So, in my mind, anything I can do to minimize the risk of me or my spouse to develop a relationship that could (not that it will, but that it could have the potential) lead to either an affair (emotional or physical) or cause distress to my spouse.

If my spouse disliked me having dinner with a male friend--even if it is completely innocent--then I won't have dinner with that friend. Right or wrong, my spouse is uncomfortable with it. Now, that may prompt us to discuss the deeper issue, but until it is resolved, I will not place my spouse in that position to be hurt. Because regardless if it is wrong or right, if I choose to have dinner with my friend, I have just put my friend and that relationship above my spouse and my marriage relationship.

I agree with this. I have no problem sharing emails/passwords etc, but i think that if youre constantly focused on "i need to do this otherwise he'll cheat" will just cause paranoia and hurt the relationship. Just go with what feels right and natural, not all relationships will be the same.

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