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Opposite-sex friendships: Are they possible?

  • TwoofUs.org
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, at 11:23 p.m.

“Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.”

And with this statement, the debate began when the movie “When Harry Met Sally” took the conversation of opposite sex friendships to a whole new level.

Granted, it’s been more than 20 years and most of us would like to believe that yes, of course we can be friends with the opposite sex; but those friendships can get tricky when a dating relationship becomes exclusive.

Whether we admit it or not, studies have shown that 90 percent of the time, one of the individuals in an opposite sex friendship has experienced romantic feelings for his/her friend at some point. Sometimes it is addressed and sometimes it isn’t, but the feelings are – or were – there.

According to Thomas Bradbury, psychologist and principle investigator of the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study, it’s not that married men and women can’t be friends with people of the opposite sex.

"It’s just that with divorce rampant and even greater percentages of unmarried relationships fizzling – marriage can seem pretty fragile,” Bradbury said. “We become concerned when a married person develops a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex.”

The good news is that it’s actually fairly easy to get a handle on the situation long before it becomes a point of contention in your relationship.

According to Sharon Rivkin, a marriage and family therapist, and author of “The First Argument, Cutting to the Root of Intimate Conflict,” limiting friendships with the opposite sex once you’re married or in a committed relationship doesn’t allow for the richness and perspective that can be gained from those friendships.

“With some foresight and consciousness, it’s possible to have friends of the opposite sex and keep your marriage strong and healthy,” Rivkin said.

Often issues arise because the insecurities of our spouse or partner can lead to jealousy, so she recommends setting some opposite-sex friendship ground rules, such as:

• Don’t keep secrets. Everyone should know each other and know about the friendship.

• Time spent with the friend should never supersede time spent with your spouse.

• Establish ground rules and boundaries from the beginning such as what’s acceptable and what’s not for everyone involved.

• Do things together. Invite your spouse to join you and your friend whenever possible.

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