The young mom chatted with me after a Hearts at Home conference. "Have you ever thought about having a conference for stay-at-home dads?" she asked. "There's a stay-at-home dad in our neighborhood who's become my best friend. We take the kids to the park, shop, and even do our once-a-month cooking together. He's a great guy!"
Sirens, whistles, and red flags went off in my head. I wanted to scream, "No! Don't be naïve. Remove the blinders! Put boundaries in place and build a hedge of protection around your marriage!" It was obvious she had no idea about the danger of this seemingly harmless situation.
My husband, Mark, and I spend countless hours mentoring hurting marriages. We counsel others based on our own "back from the brink" experience many years ago when our marriage seemed hopeless. Many of these couples are dealing with damage caused by infidelity. The story is always the same: the unfaithful spouse develops a relationship that started as an innocent friendship. It was someone to talk to who listened and cared.
We know that story all too well. Even though no lines of unfaithfulness were crossed in our marriage, at the most difficult time of our relationship, I experienced attraction for a man I worked with. Luckily I realized the dangerous place I was in and got honest with Mark. We recognized the need for establishing boundaries in our personal lives that exist specifically to keep temptation at bay.
The Bible tells us that "each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:14-15). Temptation, enticement, desire, sin, death …. those are the steps infidelity takes. Because of that, we have to put boundaries in place that keep us from stepping into situations where temptation can take place.
As we talk to hurting couples about advance decisions needed to protect our marriages, we use as an example the line of trees along the west side of our house. The previous owners had wisely planted the trees to provide a hedge of protection against the winds that rage across the cornfields. When the hedge of trees was planted on our property, each tree was planted individually. As the trees grew in size and strength they worked together to protect our home from the unpredictable weather and wind.
In the same way, we need to plant a hedge of protection around our marriage, that is, we need to make advance decisions that will keep temptation at bay and the marriage a priority. Each hedge that we plant around our marriage will do the same. Each time we make one advance decision to protect our marriage we are on our way to building a marriage that is marked by faithfulness and on its way to lasting a lifetime.
Hedge 1: Choose wisely.
Avoid unnecessarily spending time with someone of the opposite sex. For instance, if you're looking for a personal trainer at the local gym, choose someone of the same sex.
Hedge 2: Share carefully.
If you find yourself sharing things about yourself or your marriage that you haven't or wouldn't share with your spouse, that's a red flag. Not all affairs are physical-an emotional affair is just as damaging.
Hedge 3: Stay in large, public settings.
Determine not to meet one-on-one with anyone of the opposite sex. If your coworker asks if he or she can join you for lunch, ask a third person to join you as well. If necessary, don't hesitate to share the boundary you and your spouse have agreed upon in your marriage. You just might lead by example.
Hedge 4: Don't be naïve.
Most people who end up in affairs don't set out to have one. Infidelity usually begins with an innocent relationship that, in time, moves to an emotional depth that crosses a line of fidelity.
Hedge 5: Increase your investment at home.
Solid marriages are built by spending time together, laughing together, and playing together. If you aren't dating your mate, set up dates for the coming months and make spending time together a priority.
Hedge 6: Pay attention to your thought-life.
When all you think about is your spouse's faults, any other man or woman will look better. Make a list of the strengths that initially attracted you to your spouse. Increase encouragement and decrease criticism.
Hedge 7: Don't play the comparison game.
We all make mistakes, have bad habits and annoying behaviors. When we compare a "new friend" to our spouse, it's an unfair comparison because we aren't seeing that person in a "living under the same roof, taking care of kids at 3 a.m., struggling to make ends meet" reality.
Hedge 8: Seek help.
Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. A Christian counselor can provide valuable perspective and help set new strategies for a marriage that can go the distance.
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