Human beings are designed to connect.
Infants die if they're deprived of loving contact with adults. Solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments a prisoner can endure. Our need for intimate connection is one reason we marry.
But marriages can be strengthened by healthy relationships with same-gender friends.
It's relaxing and comforting to talk with others who speak our native language. Since men and women use words differently, men need time with other men speaking “male,” while women need time with other women speaking “female.”
John Gray explains one gender difference by noting that, “when a man speaks he has already silently mulled over his thoughts until he knows the main idea he wants to communicate.” However, “a woman does not necessarily speak to make a point; speaking assists her in discovering her point.”
This can be confusing for men and frustrating for women. Sometimes a man's wife knows the point before she starts talking; sometimes she speaks to find the point. Men can't tell which is happening and may conclude that she doesn't have a point. Meanwhile, she may feel that he's not listening and won't let her talk her way to her point. She thinks he doesn't care.
Men enjoy the banter, competition and friendly put-downs of male conversation. They also engage in what authors Barbara and Allan Pease call “fire gazing,” times of complete silence, when they all just gaze into the fire or stare blankly off into space. Group fire-gazing allows men to recharge their emotional batteries, refocus their thinking and build camaraderie among the group. This is best done with other men.
Women enjoy the emotional bonding and stress release they experience in female conversation. Talking about family and relationships and filling in all the details helps them find their emotional center. They want to understand issues, not necessarily resolve them. This is best done with other women.
Same-gender friendships are important, but there are some cautions.
Your marriage is still your most important relationship. You didn't marry your friends. While time with friends is important, friends should never replace your marital relationship as the main priority for time or emotional investment.
Same-gender friends need to be friends of your marriage even more than they're your friends. Same-gender friends, who constantly put down those of the opposite sex, minimize the importance of your marriage or try to make your spouse into your competitor do you harm and undermine your marriage.
If you hear such phrases as: “You need to stand up to her / him,” “You haven't trained her / him very well,” “You shouldn't put up with that” or “You need to be more independent,” you're not talking to a friend of your marriage.
Never share marital secrets with your same-gender friends. The hopes and dreams, fears and failures and personal health issues that your spouse shares with you are sacred trusts. Passing them on to friends violates that trust.
Pick people who will challenge and strengthen you and not just tell you what you want to hear. They support good decisions that help you and your marriage grow. They don't support every decision you make, no matter how destructive it is, so you can “feel affirmed” and “better about yourself.”
Of course, the exception is domestic violence. That shouldn't be put up with and needs to be shared with friends who can help you to safety.
Husbands and wives should encourage each other to have same-gender friends. However the marriage must always remain the priority in time, importance and trust. Keeping a healthy balance will help the health of your marriage.