Boundaries With Friends of the Opposite Gender

Can you actually be friends with the opposite gender? In this post, we'll answer that question and more as we explore boundaries with friends of the opposite gender.

Updated June 28, 2024

Throughout middle school, high school, and into college, it's common to have lots of different friends... many of them friends of the opposite gender. Those relationships get a little fuzzier once you get into a serious, committed relationship. Where you used to be able to hang out alone with a friend of the opposite gender, that might not be appropriate any longer.

Soooo... how do you navigate all of that? In this post, we're going to share:

  • The difference between reactive and proactive boundaries
  • Questions you can ask your future spouse to start the conversation
  • The boundaries we have in our relationship
  • Boundary areas you might want to consider
  • Common questions about boundaries with friends of the opposite gender

Disclaimer: In this post, we're going to share the boundaries we have in our marriage as well as some recommendations we make to couples when we talk with them one-on-one. That said, you'll need to determine the best boundaries for your relationship. Maybe that means loosening up some boundaries or maybe it means tightening up some boundaries. It's totally up to you.

Let's jump in!

Reactive vs Proactive Boundaries

We had this conversation almost immediately after getting engaged. Talking about this topic in a proactive way allows both of you to get on the same page before an unspoken boundary is crossed.

Reactive Boundaries

Here's an example of a reactive boundary: Your husband has a good friend, a female, he grew up with. Growing up, it was normal for the two of them to hang out alone or go get dinner together. His friend comes into town and wants to grab dinner with him. Because he's done it a hundred times before, they go out to dinner and he doesn't think much of it. He comes home and you get upset with him and tell him it's not appropriate for him to do that. Now, he thinks you just don't like his friend, when in reality, you don't think he should go out with any girls without you.

Proactive Boundaries

On the other hand, here's an example of a proactive boundary using that same scenario: You guys talk about your boundaries when you're engaged. Now, when his friend comes into town and asks him to go to dinner, he automatically makes sure you're invited.

See the difference? When you talk proactively about boundaries, you're able to remove any hard conversations that happen as a result of crossing unspoken boundaries.

Talking About Opposite-Gender Boundaries

When to Talk About Boundaries

Now that you understand the difference between reactive and proactive boundaries, you might be wondering when you should even have this conversation with your future spouse.

As a general rule of thumb, as soon as you're seriously dating or engaged, it's probably a good time to talk about boundaries. Around this time is when it becomes a bit more important to take a look at your friendships and evaluate how those friendships may or may not impact your marriage.

Questions to Ask About Boundaries

If you're not sure how to even start this conversation, feel free to work through the list of questions below. Some of them will help you understand your partner's background and experience with opposite-gender friends while others will help you determine specific boundaries.

  1. Did you have many friends who were guys/girls growing up?
  2. How do you typically view friends of the opposite gender?
  3. How do you communicate with friends of the opposite gender?
  4. Did you ever have any opposite-gender friends who became your boyfriend/girlfriend?
  5. What are your expectations around friends of the opposite gender now?
  6. What are your expectations around friends of the opposite gender once we get married?
  7. Do you think it's okay to have friends who are guys/girls?
  8. In your opinion, when does an opposite gender friendship become inappropriate in marriage?
  9. Do you think there are boundaries we should have with friends of the opposite gender? If so, what are they?
  10. Should we have access to each other's phones?
  11. Should we be able to be alone with friends of the opposite gender in private? (Note: the answer to this should be "no." It's a red flag if they say "yes.")
  12. Should we be able to be alone with friends of the opposite gender in public? (eg, out to dinner, at the park, etc)
  13. Is it okay to text/call friends of the opposite gender?
  14. When is it "too late" to text friends of the opposite gender? (ie, is midnight too late? 1am? 11pm?)
  15. Is it okay to follow friends of the opposite gender on Instagram, Facebook, etc?
  16. Is it okay to like "selfies" of friends of the opposite gender on Instagram, Facebook, etc? When does it become inappropriate to like these photos?
  17. Is it okay to post photos with friends of the opposite gender without me in them?
  18. Is it okay to go to friends of the opposite gender for advice or guidance about our relationship? (Note: the answer to this should be "no." It's a red flag if they say "yes.")

For more questions about boundaries in other areas (like sex, technology, in-laws, and more), download our free guide here.

The Boundaries in Our Marriage

Again, please keep in mind these boundaries are what work best for us. Your relationship might look a bit different, and that's okay! We established these boundaries while were engaged and have revisited them a few times since.

  • No going out alone with a friend/person of the opposite gender
  • Never okay to text a friend of the opposite gender about your spouse (ie asking for advice, saying negative things)
  • Your best friend should never be someone of the opposite gender (besides your spouse obviously)
  • Don’t ride in the car alone with the opposite gender
  • Shouldn’t be texting/calling the opposite gender late at night
  • We don’t “like” scandalous photos or selfies of the opposite gender on social media

Ultimately, we've established these boundaries to protect our marriage and help us avoid a sticky situation.

Boundaries You May Want to Consider

We've mentioned this a few times already, but just in case it isn't clear: you'll need to determine boundaries in your relationship. These are a great starting point, but you may decide to change it up a bit... that's totally fine.

You may want "stronger" boundaries if: either of you has had boundary issues with friends of the opposite gender in the past, either of you struggles with pornography, either of you has been untruthful or secretive about previous relationships, or you simply want to have stronger boundaries to protect your relationship (no shame in that!).

Lastly, here are a few boundary "areas" you should talk about:

  • Communication
  • Spending time together
  • Social media

This can be an uncomfortable conversation to have... but it's an important one. Your spouse is your #1 priority and creating these boundaries helps protect your marriage and your relationship. You've got this!

When you're ready, be sure to check out our online premarital course for engaged Christian couples. It'll give you the tools you need to communicate about boundaries in a healthy way (plus a lot more).

Common Questions About Boundaries With Friends of the Opposite Gender

Below are some questions from engaged and newlywed couples we've gotten on Instagram over the years.

What should we do if one of these boundaries is broken?

It's important for both of you to address and acknowledge that a boundary has been broken. There is zero chance you can move forward if BOTH of you don't do this first. From there, an apology for breaking the boundary should be made.

Lastly, you should revisit the questions above to determine if it's necessary to tighten up your boundaries going forward.

How do we respond to people who think our boundaries are "too controlling?"

Start with this: do you and your future (or current) spouse agree on the boundaries you've set? If the answer is yes, then candidly, it doesn't really matter what people think :) Your spouse is your number one priority and that relationship matters more than any other. If it's necessary to create a boundary to protect your marriage, so be it.

There are two tangible ways you can address this though:

  1. Try to offer an alternative suggestion without disclosing the boundary. As an example, let's say you and your wife have agreed that neither of you will go out to dinner with a friend of the opposite gender. Your friend invites you out to dinner alone. Instead of saying something like, "Sorry, we have a boundary where I can't go out to dinner with you," you could offer an alternative suggestion that sounds like this: "Thanks for the invite! I'd love to bring [wife]... what times work for you this week?"
  2. Make sure your friend knows the boundary is not just for them. If you do have to disclose a boundary, or a friend knows the boundary, you can simply let them know that you have this boundary for everyone and it has nothing to do with them.

Lastly, if someone doesn't understand your boundaries or thinks they're "too controlling," that's likely not someone who is in your corner to begin with.

Do these boundaries apply to siblings-in-law of the opposite gender?

This is really something you and your partner will need to decide together. We treat our siblings-in-law in the same way we'd treat our siblings (ie, Kyler can be alone with Britt's sisters and Britt can be alone with Kyler's brother), so we don't really have these boundaries. However, if you feel they're necessary, that's totally fine too.

We have seen a lot of couples instill boundaries with siblings-in-law of the opposite gender under a few circumstances:

  1. The in-law is not dating, engaged, or married
  2. The in-law has shown they don't view your spouse as a sibling (ie, they have made passes at your spouse, flirted with your spouse, etc)
  3. The in-law is not a Christian

Again, it's 100% up to you and your spouse.

If you have questions or concerns about boundaries–we're an open book! Send us a DM at @loveyourfirstyear.

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