Emotional Fitness

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Commitment and Members of the Opposite Sex

Help your partner feel secure by behaving appropriately.

Once one is involved in a committed relationship, the complexities of friendships with members of the opposite sex can be a delicate area. This is why deep communication about how each of you will make and honor your boundaries is so important. By doing so, you will help each other feel safe and secure and you won't be setting yourself or your partner up for a disquieting situation. In order to eliminate even the possibility of problems here are some ideas to help you both feel more protected.

What does it look like? If you have lunch or socialize with someone (especially an ex) who has recently broken up, is on the verge of leaving a relationship, or is known to be promiscuous, it can create questions and may look inappropriate. To avoid a problem, think about how you would feel if your partner went out with someone similar, if it doesn’t feel good to you then it's probably not a good thing to do.

Be careful of "the edge". If a friendship with a member of the opposite/same sex has a little ‘edge’ to it that can be attributed to sexual tension, then the "friendship" should be of concern to you and even, perhaps, be eliminated. This is because, if your relationship is in trouble, your boundaries could be just diffuse enough to cause you to entertain or even act on a sexual opportunity. Just the thought of potential infidelity is enough to create distance in your primary relationship and the act itself will change your dynamic forever.

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Introductions and full disclosure. Go out of your way to let your partner know when you are meeting with a member of the opposite sex, whether it's business or not. I also recommend that you find a way to introduce your partner to your associates and friends of the opposite sex so that a face can be put to the name. Summer picnics and holiday parties are usually a great time for this.

Socialize with others in committed relationships. It will always make your partner feel better to know that the person you are meeting with is also in a committed relationship. This is one of the reasons why, when someone gets married, they usually spend time with friends who share similar values.

Be careful of terms of endearment. If you call a friend other than your partner "honey" or "baby" it may create some insecurity or at the very least make your partner feel less special. I suggest using a person's name when talking to or about them and save the pet names for your beloved.

In order to make the friendships that occur outside the primary relationship feel safe for both partners, total honesty and openness are key. You also have to be willing to give your partner some power here. If your partner is really uncomfortable about any outside relationship you have, I'd recommend you honor them and make the appropriate adjustments.

What it boils down to is that you have to make the best choices for your relationship. Unwillingness to change or even talk about appropriate choices may indicate that you have a real problem on your hands and it could require professional help. Being understanding and doing everything you can to make your partner feel safe is a loving thing to do that will also strengthen the future of your relationship.

 

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Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, columnist, and radio host. His latest book is The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.

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