The definition of a third party is: a person or group besides the two primarily involved in a situation, especially a dispute.
One of my favorite life lessons and concept to follow for relationships comes from the book Keep Your Love On, by Danny Silk. There is a chart for Levels of Intimacy that I believe if followed for our relationships, we would be able to keep love and respect in proportion. Picture a target. Color in the bulls-eye and write GOD. You put God at the center of your life and that is unmovable. The target will teach us to prioritize our energy properly for relationships. You have one dot on the next ring. That is reserved for one person and one only. It is unmovable when you are in a committed relationship. That person gets first fruits. That means they get your full love and respect and attention and the relationship is held above all others in your life. Then in the next ring you have five dots. Those are reserved for your closest friends or family members who get next priority. The next ring you have eight spots. The next ring you have many…but they are further from the center. These are acquaintances, people you know of, or used to know, but are not part of your daily life. You even have a few spots outside of the circle. Those spots represent past relationship that no longer are intact, some very negative and some just neutral…far away from the center. If we truly prioritized the people in our life in this way, we would be far more successful at relationships.
We are going to address a third party to a marriage relationship. For our purposes here, we are going to specifically focus on an opposite gender friend. It is vitally important to set healthy boundaries and keep communication open as a couple encounters third party relationships in their life.
Friends can be a very positive outlet and nurture the strength of the relationship when it is healthy. Danger hits when the couple is experiencing strife or the relationship gets unstable because it opens up the opportunity for the devil to do what he does best. Satan comes to lie, cheat and steal. He does this through people and many times it is good people. We must be aware, and on guard of the clever way the devil will try to rip apart two loving people.
As an outside friend of the couple we need to be aware of the good or the bad influence we can have in the couple’s relationship. We need to be open to stepping back from the friendship with one or both parties if necessary to allow them to focus on their issues at hand. At no time should the third party be the issue. This is where the friend turns foe, whether it is intentional or unintentional, conscious or unrealized, purposeful or innocent. They can pose a threat to the success of the couple working out their issues.
Some friends, especially if they are established with one party before the couple is together may have an entitlement ownership attitude because they were “first.” That is unhealthy and dangerous to the couple. The mindset that all three parties should adopt is that the couple’s relationship comes first. It comes above all emotions, insecurities, opinions, and choices. Boundaries are set by the couple and flexible to change if needed, as they grow together. The couple can decide on healthy actions for a growing and lasting, respectful relationship.
In my experience I have witnessed repeatedly an attitude of the third party that makes one of the individuals of the couple bad and wrong. This is a red flag for the couple because it can pit one against the other and it is done with justification.
For reference purposes I will create a fictitious situation with made up names so we can peak into all three viewpoints to understand all three sides of what can happen in an unhealthy third party encounter. Third party encounters gone bad will cause a wedge, a thorn, or a destructive force for the couple to deal with, on top of what is really wrong in the relationship.
Roger and Tara have been a committed couple for 5 years. Jessica was friends with Roger long before Tara came along. She is single, fun to be with, and will often bring a casual date with to hang out. Lynn is a newer friend meeting the couple two years into the relationship. She works closely with Roger at work and they often spend their lunch hour together working on a project or escaping the project. Sometimes Lynn with bring her husband to a corporate event, but he isn’t seen a whole lot.
There are some things Jessica should be aware of and focus on when interacting with the couple. She can be a good sounding board for Roger, but without disrespecting or speaking against Tara even if he is upset. This is an opportunity for her to serve the couple as a neutral party. She can offer guidance with the relationship as a top priority. This will support and not assist in break down. She should be cautious of any intimate details or sharing of personal information when she is with Roger alone. That would be a violation of the intimacy between the couple. She is not a counselor; she is a friend and should have those boundaries in place. Jessica should also be very aware of the couple’s “temperature.” Monitor the health of the relationship to know where to spend appropriate time, and when to back away from time with Roger alone. There should be no secrets or deceit caused from this friendship. Roger is not free to violate his privacy with Tara or share personal information that would take the protective cover off of his relationship with his significant other. If at any time Tara is uncomfortable or unhappy with the relationship between Roger and Jessica, there should be extra space and time given without hesitation so the real issues can be dealt with. It is when we start coveting other relationships above the main one of importance that trouble increases. That is a slippery slope that can lead to the end of the one relationship that was to be protected above all others.
As far as Lynn the coworker is involved, it is Roger’s responsibility to keep her at enough of a distance that intimacy does not increase because of the time spent together. Both are in a committed relationship meeting after the relationships were established, they do not get to indulge in the luxury of a close friendship at this point in their lives unless they want to enter muddy waters and risk their committed relationships. This is where people really ignore the enemy’s tricks. This is where people are deceived into false relationships and affairs both emotional and physical. Discipline and protection on the part of both parties.
Find some same gender friends that you can share your life struggles. Be sure they share your faith base and have respect for your Number One relationship. If they speak against your significant other or are just there to agree with you and not hold you accountable for your own behavior, consider a different support system.