A few years ago, we hired someone to join the Family First team who was surprised by one my policies: I do not meet with, dine with, or travel with any female alone—even if that means, for example, going to the extra expense of using two cars to go somewhere. It’s not because my marriage is fragile, but because it’s strong and I want it to remain that way. I’m not immune from temptation so I want to stay completely away from it. It’s a precaution, kind of like when I put my seat belt on each time I get into a car, even though I don’t intend to drive recklessly. It just makes sense.
Some people may say that I am being unrealistic or puritanical, but I have seen and heard of too many marriages that have ended up in crisis and even divorce because a husband has gotten too close to another woman, or a wife has allowed another man to take the place in her heart that belongs only to her husband. It’s one of 7 Risk Factors for Having an Affair.
At the extreme, these unwise relationships end up in full-blown unfaithfulness. This kind of thing usually doesn’t just happen all of a sudden. There are a series of missteps along the way, and the result is among the most devastating marriage crises to face. I’m not at all saying it is impossible to recover from such a breach of trust and commitment, but there will be a lot of heartache and hard work along the road to restoration.
Unfaithfulness is on a continuum, like speeding. There may be a difference between driving at 60 mph and 45 mph in a 30 mph zone, but both are wrong and come with consequences. In the same way, it’s possible to be emotionally unfaithful in a way that will damage your marriage. You may keep back your body but give the other person your heart. This friendship danger zone is larger than it has ever been. Men and women work alongside each other in the workplace much more. Then there is the whole world of social media where you can connect with old high school friends on Facebook.
We don’t need to get paranoid about it all, and I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t have friends of the opposite sex. I certainly do. But you should be forewarned and forearmed in this area. So let me share three dos and three don’ts for avoiding this potential problem.
Don’t be alone with them.
I am not saying we can’t enjoy the company of someone of the opposite sex, it just should be around others. Meet in groups, whenever possible, or keep the office door open. Do whatever you can to avoid or minimize the potential for temptation. In offering 10 Ways to Affair-Proof Your Marriage, I explained about my policy. It costs more, but I consider it to be money well spent.
Don’t tell them secrets.
If there are unavoidable occasions when it is just the two of you, keep everything professional and public. If you find yourself wanting to tell them things about your personal life because they seem “so understanding,” that should be a big red flag. You should be able to repeat everything you say to them to your spouse when you get home.
Don’t touch them alone.
There’s more physical informality in society these days from a fist bump at work, to sideways hug at church or a high-five at the barbecue. But such gestures can be easily misinterpreted. A hug or a pat on the arm when you’re with your spouse and part of a group may be acceptable but should be off-limits if it is just you and her or him.
Do speak well of your spouse.
When you have to be together with that other person without your spouse, bring him or her along somehow. Make sure their photograph is prominently displayed on your desk. Talk about them to the other person—positively. Brag on them, and about how fortunate you are to have them as your spouse.
Do tell your spouse.
Bad things grow in the dark, so keep your interaction with that other person out in the light. Make a point of telling your spouse when you interact with that other person solo, even if it’s just greeting them when you meet unexpectedly in the store. Recount any conversation you may have had. It’s not about being under suspicion, it’s about having nothing to hide. On rare occasion, I’ve had to have a female drop me off at the airport or home as I didn’t have a car, but I’m always very careful to let Susan know when I need to do so.
Do pursue your spouse.
The best way to avoid a spark with someone else is to keep the home fires burning. That requires some effort on your part. My wife, Susan, shares some great thoughts on how to do this in this post. If the embers are cooling, here are some other ideas for how to fall back in love with your spouse.
Remember, all this is not about being a prude. It’s about making sure you are driving in your marital lane, inside the guardrails, not veering off into a danger zone.
Are there ways you need to change how you relate to friends of the opposite sex? What else do you to protect your marriage in this area? Please share your thoughts in a comment.