I'm not really into reality-based television. I've never seen Survivor, Boot Camp, Big Brother, When Good Pets Go Bad, or The Real World. And I have no plans to watch Fear Factor, Chains of Love, or Plastic Surgery Nightmares. The titles alone make me break out in a cold sweat! But I have a confession to make: My husband, Scott, and I did watch last season's Temptation Island, because, frankly, we couldn't resist all the advertising hype. But as we watched it and rolled our eyes, a surprising thing happened: We learned some valuable marriage lessons.
Scott and I were amazed at the constructive conversatations Temptation Island initiated—topics we probably wouldn't broach at the supper table—such as, "How can we avoid temptation?" and "How can we please each other?"
These are good conversations to have, especially in light of today's sex-saturated society. The Bible tells us to "guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the [husband] of your youth" (Malachi 2:15). Here are seven strategies to safeguard your marriage I discovered from the TV show and from more reputable sources.
1. Talk to Your Husband
Each week on Temptation Island, the four couples who'd been separated from their partners were able to send a video message to each other. Three couples did. They told each other honestly what was happening—their feelings, the situations they were in, who was nice, who wasn't so nice. Then they reaffirmed their feelings toward each other. The fourth couple took the silent treatment route. They didn't communicate, not even a "Hi. I'm still here." Guess which couple didn't survive?
We hear over and over from marriage experts how important communication is to a healthy marriage. But you'd be amazed how many people withhold their thoughts and feelings from their spouse for a variety of reasons, from anger to fear to laziness to punishment—all avenues that make it simple for temptation to gain a foothold. If another man comes along who "connects" with us, the door to temptation gets opened. We can survive it, but that door's tougher to shut once it's been cracked.
Some of the best advice my father gave me before my wedding was to remind me that my husband, Scott, can't read my mind—so I shouldn't make him. I'll be honest, this is a toughy for me. I have a demanding work schedule and a long commute to my job, and when I get home there's always something to do—cleaning, church responsibilities, committees. By 6 p.m. I'm pooped and don't feel much like talking. So Scott and I eat out a lot—partly because I'm not that hot of a cook, and partly because it provides us an opportunity to reconnect without the distractions of a ringing telephone or blaring television set. For other couples, such as my friends Amy and Todd, they find that if they connect during the day—having lunch together or calling each other at work—they're more comfortable to share the struggles and stresses they face.
Proverbs 12:18 says, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Every weekend Scott and I try to put this verse into practice as we take an hour to hang out at our local coffee shop to discuss the "state of our union." We're on neutral ground, the coffee shop's atmosphere is low-key, and we discuss the past week's events and the upcoming week's plans. We're able to communicate our needs—and enjoy a double skim latte in the process.
2. Guard Your Heart so Jealousy Doesn't Take Over
Jealousy isn't bad (after all, Exodus 20:5 says that God is a jealous God). It's how we react to it that becomes the problem. Let's be honest, we've all partnered with the green-eyed monster at one time or another. We've been frustrated by our husband's lack of attention or affection to something else: a job, computer, sport, or hobby. Or we've compared what he does or doesn't do with someone else's husband—real or fictional. In steps Mr. Green Eyes. And out steps Mr. Intimacy.
When my jealousy goes awry, I either make sarcastic, snippy comments, I withdraw physically, or give the silent treatment. The gals on Temptation Island went the one-upping route. These, of course, are all non-God-honoring things. Scott responds by doing exactly the opposite of what I want him to do! Yet when I harness my jealousy, I'm able to communicate my needs and feelings honestly and kindly, I persevere through the circumstance, I pray, I wait. That's God-honoring and husband-honoring. Plus Scott is more willing to hear and act positively. That doesn't mean he becomes Super Husband and I'm no longer jealous; it means I've given myself an attitude adjustment. Too bad the TV show gals never learned that lesson . …
3. Enjoy Your Husband
Everyone wants to be appreciated and respected—including your mate. When we consciously make the decision to appreciate and enjoy our husband, three things happen: We honor God, we build up our mate, and we're reminded of what an awesome guy we married.
When Scott and I first started dating, I decided to keep a journal of good things about Scott's character. That's been one of the best things I've ever done—and possibly one of the worst. When I get angry or frustrated over something Scott's done, God picks that moment to remind me to reread that journal. After the umpteenth entry on something kind Scott did in the past, my perspective gets realigned, and I'm better able to appreciate him. That journal is one way I safeguard my relationship.
I have a friend who's committed to giving her husband a sincere compliment every day, both to him and to others about him. She says, "When I began to do that, I watched his self-esteem go through the roof! He started doing things to prove what I said was true. Talk about boosting his desirability quotient!"
4. Run like the Wind!
You know where you're most vulnerable. And newsflash: So does the Evil One. His specialty? To take your vulnerability and match it with a man who'll "understand" and "appreciate" you. Take a wild guess who that man is. (Clue: It's not your husband.) That's why God's Word is so specific about this topic. It warns us to guard our heart (Proverbs 4:23); to not even flirt with danger (Ephesians 5:3); and to flee temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18).
This is where the IQ police could have arrested the couples of Temptation Island. Basically, they never should have gone to the island in the first place! But four couples willingly stepped onto an island where they spent their days and evenings being tempted. At first it was fun, exciting, fresh—that's the way of all temptations! But as the time wore on, the couples shed a lot of tears and spent several sleepless nights agonizing over what they and their partners had done to their relationship.
About seven years ago, before I was married, I was performing in a play opposite a married man who'd recently become a first-time father. He and I got along famously. We joked, worked hard, had intelligent conversations about culture, faith, politics. I didn't realize I was "fulfilling" a need he felt wasn't being met at home by a wife who was a first-time mom grappling with all the insecurities and stress motherhood includes. I was simply trying to make our working environment enjoyable.
One evening he turned to me and said, "You know, if my marriage doesn't work out, we should get together."
I was stunned and ashamed. I knew I had to change the direction of that relationship—fast. In that situation, I wasn't able to run physically. But I sure changed my tone in a hurry. I apologized for my unintentional misleading, and told him his first priority was to his wife and child—not to the theatre or the people there. Then I stayed as far away from him as possible. I learned a hard lesson in setting appropriate boundaries within a relationship.
5. Take the Hubby Comfort Test
In today's world, we simply can't avoid cross-gender relationships. Men and women work together, business travel together, attend small groups or PTA meetings or neighborhood barbeques together. These things can pose a challenge to a marriage. So what can you do?
In my job I frequently travel with a male photographer who's great fun to be with. When I travel with him I use the hubby comfort test. Author/pastor John Ortberg suggests asking yourself this question when relating to a man other than your husband: Would I be comfortable if my spouse were here and could know and see what's going on? He goes on to say, "If you keep secrets from your husband, if you express intimacy at a level you don't want him to know about, that's a problem." I add to that by asking myself, Would I want to watch my husband say or do this with somebody else? Those questions help me keep a God-honoring perspective and set proper boundaries with the men with whom I interact.
6. Find Others to Keep You Accountable
In Ephesians, the apostle Paul says, "Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more" (4:19). Eek. That's why we diligently need to get involved in a church, a small group, anything that will hold us biblically accountable for our marriage. Seek out strong Christian friends who'll allow you to be honest about your marriage, will support you in it, but won't take any loads of baloney—if you know what I mean. Good friends keep us sharp. They help us overcome our self-deception.
The gals of Temptation Island had accountability partners—each other. Not quite the right kind. They could sympathize and offer advice—but they were in the same mess. They really needed someone who'd give it to them straight.
This is the real secret to success. You can do all the above and still succumb to temptation.
Several years ago, I was visiting my grandparents. My grandfather had to work on Saturday morning and would be leaving around 6 a.m. For some odd reason—call it providence?—I awoke early. I got up, went downstairs to use the "little girl's room," and paused at the family room when I heard my grandfather's voice. He was praying. I tiptoed by and glanced in, not wanting to disturb him, when I stopped dead in my tracks. There in the family room were my grandparents kneeling by their recliners, praying for their marriage, for their day, for their family, for God's blessings. They never knew I was watching them (of course, they do now if my grandmother's reading this), but that made an enormous impression on me. They've been married close to 60 years. I'd bet the farm those prayers are the reason.
My grandparents gave me a wedding gift that day—even better than the fondue set they gave us on our wedding day. My husband, Scott, and I have made a commitment to pray every morning. Before we get out of bed, the first thing we do is thank God for the day, pray for the day's events, for our family, and for our marriage. If your hubby doesn't want to pray with you, don't let that stop you from praying. God will still hear and bless you for your faithfulness!
In the end, it's up to us to choose what's right. I find comfort knowing I'm not alone when it comes to being tempted. And God promises to help me find an escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I guess God can use all sorts of forums to teach us his ways—including a show called Temptation Island. I don't know about the couples on the show, but that program sure reminded me about what to avoid in my relationship—and what not to avoid. In fact, I think I'll call my husband right now and tell him I love him.
Copyright © 2001 by the author and Christianity Today