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When do Friendships Outside of Marriage Turn Into Entanglements?

affairs conflict sex Jul 22, 2020


Will and Jada Smith recently introduced a new word into the vernacular of marriage: “entanglements." It’s their way of referring to the people outside your marriage who blur the line between friendship and an emotional or actual affair.

We thought this whole idea of “entanglements" raised a fascinating question: when does a relationship outside of marriage become something more like an emotional affair? When does it begin to undermine intimacy and trust in marriage?

Underneath this question sits a real dilemma of modern marriage. As a culture, we’ve placed far too much pressure on our spouse. We now expect them to be everything: an amazing lover, a great friend, a kick-ass professional or homemaker, and a daily source of fun, inspiration, and loving support.

It's an impossible set of expectations that places far too much strain on a single person.

So it's essential to build a system of support outside of marriage -- to have friends and other relationships we can lean on. But when does an emotional connection outside of marriage go too far? When does it turn into something more?



There’s isn't an exact formula for answering this question. But we think you can use the following three questions to better understand when you're approaching this line.


Question 1:  How much does this person know about your inner experience that your partner doesn’t?

If someone outside your marriage knows just a few things that your partner doesn’t, it’s probably not a big deal. If, on the other hand, they are privy to all sorts of details of your thoughts, feelings, struggles, and dreams that you have never revealed to your partner, you may be in the territory of an “entanglement.”


Question 2: Does your connection with this person give rise to sexual energy?

The ancient Greeks drew a distinction between Philia, the kind of love you experience in deep friendship, and Eros, the experience of sexual passion. You can start to notice this distinction in yourself by paying attention to the physical sensations that accompany moments of connection with this person. Do they feel more like Philia or more like Eros? 


Question 3:  Would you be willing to reveal your texts, emails, or social media messages with this person to your partner?

 If the answer is “no,“ it’s worth reflecting on why that's the case. It could be that you wouldn’t want to reveal these messages because you are protecting someone else’s confidentiality. In that case, it’s probably not a big deal. But if your "no" comes from not wanting your partner to know what you have revealed or the fear that your partner might feel jealous, that could be another sign that you're getting close to the terrain of “entanglement.”

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