Trained professionals who handle firearms, manage complex work systems, work in law enforcement, or serve in the military are taught to be alert, ready to respond to threats at a moment’s notice based on what is called “situational awareness.” But they’re also taught that treating everything like a high-level threat will exhaust them, lead to costly and dangerous mistakes, and diminish their effectiveness. Similarly, in marriage, it’s important to be alert to threats, but a constant defensive stance can exhaust or smother the marriage.
Billy Graham famously committed to never being alone with a woman who wasn’t his wife, and in recent months, Vice President Mike Pence has been criticized in the media for taking a similar approach to safeguarding his marriage. Too much? Not enough? The debate continues.
To use a pop culture reference, even the crew of the TV show Star Trek only used “red alert” occasionally. If everything is viewed as a major threat, they can’t tell what’s really dangerous and what isn’t.
The other extreme is just as dangerous. If you assume nothing can threaten your marriage, you’ll be unable to see the real dangers that do come around until it’s too late. It’s smart to be on the lookout for danger, but your marriage won’t be healthy if you’re on red alert, or no alert, all the time.
If you assume nothing can threaten your marriage, you’ll be unable to see the real dangers that do come around until it’s too late.
Using the colors White, Yellow, Orange, and Red often referred to as the “Cooper Color Codes,” let’s look at different levels of alertness and how they apply to a marriage:
This level of alertness is complacency. And complacency is the subtle and silent enemy of marriage. Someone in a white zone would be unprepared for any threats to their marriage, incapable of responding to problems. This might make sense when a couple is truly alone and just enjoying each other. But it’s not a healthy place to stay on most days. A spouse that lives in this zone will not see the affair until well after it’s already happened and maybe even destroyed the marriage.
At this level, you are relaxed, but alert with a sense of preparation for whatever might happen. In marriage, being in the yellow zone means you recognize that someone or something could pose a threat, without assuming that everyone is a threat. At this level, you prepare by acknowledging that you will be tempted and are susceptible to giving into temptation if you are not on guard. You also prepare by proactively strengthening your marriage. Reading good marriage books, perhaps our new books, Lists to Love By for Busy Wives and Lists to Love By for Busy Husbands may be a good place to start. Here is my top list of other marriage books as well. This is ideally the best zone to be in on most days.
This is the level where a threat, or potential threat, is specifically identified, and an action plan is forming. For a marriage, this alertness zone should kick in when your spouse or someone outside your marriage has done something specific that is or could become a major problem. For example, if your spouse begins getting regular texts or social media contact from a co-worker of the opposite sex that has nothing to do with work and is increasingly personal. You’ll need to discuss it with your spouse right away because you see it becoming a bigger problem if ignored.
It’s time for action. In the red zone, a real threat requires immediate action. For law enforcement or soldiers, weapons are drawn and aimed, even if the triggers aren’t yet pulled. This zone is essential when a relationship or situation is undeniably harming your marriage. But again, if you live in the red zone constantly, even when there are no threats to deal with, you will exhaust yourself, and likely suffocate your marriage in the process.
Talk with your spouse about how alert and prepared you are for potential threats to your marriage. Think through more than just people. What are the life circumstances, job-related factors, financial pressures, etc. that could harm you most if you don’t stay vigilant? Communication about this question and these levels of awareness will help you stay fresh, alert, and united in protecting your marriage in a healthy way.
What level is your marriage in right now? Please share your comments below.