Relationship Connection: Might opposite-sex friendships undermine a marriage?

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.


My husband is working out with an all-women exercise group on weekday mornings and some weekends. I don’t believe he’s romantically pairing up with any of the women in the group, but it’s really uncomfortable for me and just seems odd. He’s the only man in the group. I share my concerns with him that this is odd and even makes me uncomfortable, but he plays it down and tells me that I’m too sensitive and has even accused me of being too jealous. I’m not athletic like these other ladies so I worry that he’ll find them more exciting than me. Does this seem strange to you? Am I overreacting?


It certainly is problematic for any marriage if one person continues to engage in a threatening behavior despite the concerns of the other. Here are a few thoughts to consider as you work to resolve this issue.

First, I think it’s a good idea to have a discussion with your husband about the slippery slope of familiarity that is always at the beginning of marital infidelity. Even though he’s currently not connecting with any particular woman, he’s at risk of becoming more familiar with individual women in the group and potentially building bonds with them that he’s not sharing with you.

Shirley Glass wrote an important book on this subject called “Not Just Friends” to help expose the subtle slide into emotional and sexual infidelity. Most people who end up cheating on their spouse rarely begin with that outcome in mind. They simply believe they are just friends. When any married individual becomes defensive of an opposite-sex relationship and uses the “we’re just friends” argument, it’s worth spending more time understand what exactly that means to them.

If a spouse is concerned about a competing opposite-sex relationship, that friendship should be suspended until the marriage can be stabilized and a safe connection between marriage partners is established again. If the opposite-sex relationship is nonthreatening to the marriage, the friend will completely understand and support the concerns of the threatened spouse. Marriage is more important than outside friendships. To continue in that competing relationship, regardless of how threatening it might actually be, is harmful to the long-term trust and safety of the marriage.

It would be important to find out why he feels like this group is the only exercise group he can join. Sometimes there are coed exercise groups and then, after some attrition, there are only women left with one guy. Perhaps he feels loyal to this group because of that kind of history.

Ask your husband to clarify the emotional and physical boundaries he has in place with this group. What does he share with them when he’s exercising? Do they meet after exercising and socialize? Does he have ongoing contact with them outside of the group? I’ve seen too many individuals unassumingly slide into an affair from seemingly innocent interactions with the opposite sex. As a result, I tend to encourage caution and boundaries in situations like this. Bonding is a natural result of spending time together in shared pursuits. Good boundaries protect the bond from becoming romanticized.

Regardless of the arrangement, it needs to support the marriage. I’ve seen healthy examples of opposite-sex business, creative, and recreational partnerships that are completely supportive of their individual marriages. Each of the individuals in these partnerships is aware of the boundaries and the need to be protective of their marriages.

However, if the final arrangement still makes you uncomfortable, then you need to stay with the conversation until it can be resolved in the best interest of your marriage. Your concerns need to be heard and taken seriously. An actual sexual affair doesn’t have to happen for trust to be damaged in a marriage. Trust is injured in any relationship when partners don’t respond to each other’s fears and concerns.

If your husband continues to connect with this group and ignores your fears and concerns, then I suggest you consider speaking with a marriage counselor who can help the two of you figure out how to work through the impasse.

email: [email protected]

twitter: @geoffsteurer

Copyright 2012 St. George News.


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