The Third Party
There's no room in a marriage for an additional man or woman.
I like to read advice columns. The author often has wise, insightful ideas that help resolve unique and challenging situations. Recently I noticed a glut of questions focusing on male/female friendships and what to do about them when a romantic relationship develops with a third party.
While many may shake their heads in puzzlement, I know there are many others who are sincerely bothered by this – from one side or the other.
The girl may say, "We're just good friends and my boyfriend has to get used to it." The boy may say, "We've been friends for years and I'm not giving her up for my new girlfriend."
Although loyalty in general is admirable, in this case it may be misplaced. It may be too destructive to the core relationship.
Let's make this weightier by assuming we're discussing a marriage and not a couple that has gone on three dates. There's no room in a marriage for an additional man or woman. They simply don't belong there. Our goal is to be like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden with eyes only for each other.
It's too easy to dismiss this concern by labeling it petty jealousy. This trivializes a real problem and distracts from the goal of marriage.
We don't want a mediocre marriage or even just a good one. We want really a great marriage and that means making our partner the main focus of our energy and emotions. We can't share that with a third person.
I remember a friend of mine who was always comparing his wife's more reserved nature with the warmer, more emotionally open nature of his long-time female friend. While it certainly wasn't the only reason the marriage didn't last, it obviously didn't help.
I also recall another situation where an acquaintance was constantly complaining to his female friend about his wife's negative qualities. Luckily the friend realized that rather than helping the marriage, she was damaging it and asked him to stop.
I could cite more stories – not as scientific evidence but as danger signs and obstacles to be avoided.
It has, unfortunately, become commonplace to speak of emotional affairs, situations where married men or women, while not fitting the traditional definition of infidelity, allow themselves to get swept up in an intense emotionally relationship with a member of the opposite sex. It may start off as an "innocent" friendship and never "progress" to the physical, yet the results may be just as damaging, Like other challenges, we all think "I can handle this" or "I'm different than everyone else" – but we never are. The Torah erects universal fences against these types of interaction for a reason.
It doesn't matter if we've known the friend longer than our spouse. Getting married is a commitment and, like all commitments, it comes with a price. Like all choices, there are trade-offs.
So what to do about old friends? How do we navigate these sticky situations? There is no one-size fits all answer and of course every situation is different. But with the right perspective, we need not view them as "sticky" but rather important and appropriate choices to be made.
There is never a reason to be rude or nasty. We can be cordial yet reserved, pulled back emotionally. And we should be, no matter where we fall on the religious spectrum.
Because we all desire to have the best marriage possible, and in order to accomplish that goal, all that emotional energy should be directed at our spouse. And at no one else.
Yes, this friendship has to put on ice and we need to be absolutely and utterly convinced that our marriage is worth it. This decision may be out of step with some other couples you know. Your family may criticize you. But your spouse will be grateful. And in the end, that's what counts the most.