Concerned About Wife’s Friendship With Former Boyfriend

Am I justified in being upset about my wife's ongoing friendship with a former boyfriend? We've been married for three years, and they have maintained a close relationship the entire time. She refuses to cut it off even though she knows it's hurtful to me. Am I being unreasonable?

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No. In fact, your concerns are well grounded and completely understandable. It’s only right that a man who genuinely loves his wife should be sensitive about a situation like the one you’ve described. But the reasonableness of your feelings isn’t the issue here. The real question has to do with appropriate boundaries in marriage.

The relationship your wife is maintaining with this other man may not be sinful, but it’s clearly unhealthy. It poses a very real threat to your marriage, especially during this early and highly formative phase in your efforts to build a new life together. Marriage is about two becoming one; it’s a matter of moving from “me” to “us.” The success of that process can be compromised and even derailed when a third party is thrown into the mix.

This is particularly true if that third party has been romantically involved with one of the spouses in the past. It’s important to ask yourself – and your wife – some honest questions about that. How close is close? And what sort of boyfriend are you talking about: a classmate, a co-worker, a platonic pal, a lover?

The answers to these questions can make a major difference when it comes to figuring out the type and degree of risk your marriage may be facing. There’s a serious possibility that your wife is deriving something from her connection with this man that she isn’t getting from her relationship with you. If so, you need to find out why.

It’s worth mentioning that a study on finding old flames on social media revealed that, in most cases, reconnecting with a lost love can work if neither of the individuals is presently involved in a committed relationship.

But reunions of this nature are not likely to turn out well when one or both of the parties are presently married or involved in a committed relationship. More to the point, this type of reconnection can pose a powerful threat to a marriage like yours.

It’s extremely easy for folks like your wife and her former boyfriend to deceive themselves about their motives for keeping a close relationship. It’s no exaggeration to say they’re playing with fire.

What can you do about it?

Plan what you want to say.

As you approach this subject with your wife, make every attempt to do so with gentleness and sensitivity. Avoid accusing or blaming. If your wife grew up in the home of controlling parents, she may react negatively to anything she thinks is as an attempt on your part to tell her what to do. So tread carefully. Ask her if she’d be willing to sit down with you and an objective third party – a pastor, a mentor, a wise Christian friend, or a trained therapist – to work out a solution.  

Work together to build boundaries around your marriage.

Read a book with your wife on this topic. (We recommend Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It by Jerry Jenkins.)

Once the two of you have decided on mutual guidelines for preserving the integrity of your marriage, make a commitment that you’ll both uphold them in your interactions with others. Ask your wife to steer clear of lunch or coffee dates with the other man. Help her see that one-on-one encounters have the potential to place both of them in an extremely vulnerable position.

Make it clear that you’re not opposed to all cross-gender friendships, but talk seriously about the importance of building appropriate boundaries around the one-flesh bond that holds your marriage together. A helpful rule of thumb: No person of the opposite sex should be closer to either you or your wife than he or she is to your mate. Simply put, it’s a good idea to handle these kinds of friendships as a couple.

If you’d like to discuss this at greater length, call our Counseling department for a free consultation. Our licensed counselors would be glad to help in any way they can.

Resources
Friendship or Flirtation? Danger Signs for Couples

Practical Advice for Protecting Your Marriage

Resource List: Marital Challenges

Referrals
Hope Restored: A Ministry of Focus on the Family

Love and Respect

Articles
The Role of Friendship in Marriage

Affairs and Adultery

Affairs/Marital Infidelity

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