There are a lot of different ideas of about marriage floating around in the world, but one almost universal misconception about the institution is the belief that our partners ought to be our one and only source of deep emotional support, our sole confidants in the world. No one ever says it out loud, but this belief underpins the way we conduct ourselves and the way we treat others.
It might initially seem like a romantic idea, but no one person can or ever should have to shoulder that kind of responsibility. It’s too much of a burden for any single human being to bear– spouse, friend, or otherwise. Being a parent is the closest anyone ever comes to bearing the entire responsibility of another’s happiness, and isn’t that difficult enough without also taking sole care of our other half? We might believe that we want our spouse to rely only on us, but precious few people are actually prepared to handle that kind of a load.
It is a good and healthy thing to look outside of a marriage for support and then bring that renewed energy, hope, and wisdom back to the marriage to strengthen it.
I don’t mean bitching about the love of your life to each and every willing ear. I’m talking about finding compassion and solutions from people that really care about and understand you when your partner is so burnt out that they have nothing to give, or when you are so stressed out that you want to strangle the nearest available neck. Having other resources is invaluable on the road to becoming better people and better wives and husbands.
When I say this, people frequently assume that I advocate withholding information from a significant other. Let’s be clear: I do not. There need not be anything shady about this. Oliver and I are completely open with each other about who we spend time with and talk to. We have a long-standing agreement that at any point either of us can check the other’s texts, calls or emails, or ask to be included in any activity. Because we have a very firm foundation of trust, I don’t recall either of us ever feeling the need to do any of those things, but the fact that the understanding exists fosters that trust and openness. If we’re having a stressful time, I will tell Oliver, “I’m going to go to ___’s house to get myself together,” or “I’m going to call ___.” When we know that we both will benefit from the additional support, there’s no cause for alarm.
The real issue people are uncomfortable with, the thing that we really avoid talking about, is when it comes to friends of the opposite sex. Then we really like to pussyfoot around the issue.
Real talk. What people really want to know is: where do you draw the line between a close friend and an emotional affair? Is there even a line?
Yes, there is a line, and it’s not a subtle one. One helpful indication is that I feel free to share everything with Oliver. If he walked in on any interaction, read any snippet of any conversation, there is nothing that I’d have to make excuses for. But that’s just an outward indication of healthy friendships. The real difference is much more basic than that; it’s how I view the world, how I view people, and how I view my marriage. I am so incredibly grateful for Oliver and so satisfied with my life that I don’t have thoughts of being with anyone else. I have people in my life that love me unconditionally, I have made my commitment to learning how to love Oliver better for the rest of eternity, and I’ve been lucky enough that he has also made that commitment with me. Oliver is my man. He’s the one.
It’s a tragedy that we assume that anytime a man and a woman have a close relationship, there are necessarily romantic undercurrents. This is not the case! Believe me. In my life I have father figures that I am very close to, friend’s husbands that I may not spend much time with but certainly value greatly, and even single male friends that are like brothers to me. I am not confused by any of these relationships. I don’t have room to go into great detail about how to get to that point if you are not yet currently there, but if you want to know more, call me or message me or ask me to write about it in more detail. But know that most definitely attainable. When we are really healthy, when our souls are nourished, we simply don’t have the need to see each person as a potential romantic interest.
If this is something you are currently struggling with, I do not advocate taking unnecessary risks or placing yourself in potentially compromising situations while you attempt to learn better. By all means create a safe space for yourself while you grow. But I do advocate learning better. We can do better than settling for just controlling our external circumstances. If we really want to reach our potential as spouses, we can cultivate a much deeper fidelity of heart and mind.
Reaching out for support when we need it, or even just nurturing other friendships, and being emotionally unfaithful are two completely different things. If we conflate the two, we can only succeed in making marriage more difficult than it already has to be.