“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Proverbs 22:3 NLT
“You really need to warn couples. They are putting themselves and their marriages in harm's way!” Those are the words our friend, Carol, spoke to my wife, Shawn, as they talked late into the evening. Shawn had been sharing about the “warning signs” we see in so many couples. These warning signs took Carol back – back to a time she wish she could “re-do” in her life.
You see, eight years and two kids into Carol and Bill's marriage, Carol committed adultery in her marriage. Like most spouses who commit adultery, she never dreamed this would happen to her. Yes, she and Bill had challenges in their marriage, but she never thought she would succumb to breaking her marriage covenant. In fact, at the time she began the adulterous affair, she and her husband were involved in marriage ministry and mentoring couples. Their marriage looked good – from the outside.
I talked with Carol a few weeks after the late night conversation she had with Shawn. She said emphatically, “I hope others can learn from the mistakes I made. There were clear warning signs that I was putting myself in harm's way for adultery, but I did not recognize them. If our story can help one couple or save one marriage, then please tell it!”
Warning Signs Not to Ignore
Carol described her first warning sign as feeling that Bill was “taking her for granted”. Bill's job took him away for many weeks of each year. And when they were home together, she began to feel like the “maid”or the “nanny” more than like Bill's bride. She began to resent Bill and the job that took him away from home. She felt like she was carrying the weight of raising their two kids and managing their household alone. This resentment began to create emotional distance between Carol and Bill.
Being unaware of the “vibes” she was sending out to other men was Carol's second warning sign. On two different occasions, men who knew Carol was married made “passes” at her. The first man simply asked her “if she felt the same way he did about the two of them”. She told him “No”, and stayed clear of him afterward. The second man was more bold. They had become friends over time, and one night, out of the blue, he leaned over and tried to kiss her. She strongly rebuffed him saying “I don't know what you are thinking, but I am a happily married woman”. As Carol looks back, she now realizes that the “vibes” she was sending out to the opposite sex were giving the wrong message. If you are one of those people, like Carol, that is “friendly with everyone”, then watch out, you may be sending signals to the opposite sex that you are interested!
Carol's third, and maybe most important warning sign, was what she called “butterflies”. As she looks back, she realizes now that she would get excited at the thought that she might see this particular guy where she was going. And in tandem, she recognizes that there was little excitement about when she might see Bill or when he would come home from being on the road.
If you can honestly acknowledge that any of Carol's three warning signs is true for you in your marriage, then it is important to take action – and I would suggest immediate action!
If you feel resentment building up in your marriage relationship, then there needs to be an honest discussion about this between you. Sharing the truth with my spouse is something I must have the courage to do – and ask God to help me share this in a way that is both loving and compassionate. In addition, here's a link to a helpful Marriage Revolution post that could also guide that conversation.
Are you, like Carol, one of those “really friendly people”? I would suggest making a commitment to your spouse to be very careful when engaging with those of the opposite sex, married or not. While being friendly is a good thing, we don't want that friendly spirit to be misinterpreted as anything more than it actually is. Better to err on the side of seeming a “little unfriendly” to the opposite sex than put your marriage in danger.
And finally, if you are feeling those “butterflies”, even feeling the slightest bit of excitement when you may see or run into someone of the opposite sex, other than your spouse, then take immediate action. Two things: 1) I would strongly suggest telling this to a strong, same-gender Christian friend. The purpose of this conversation is so that this person can ask questions and hold you accountable. And 2) After doing Step #1, then confess this to your spouse in person. This will not be easy, but the sooner things are out into the light, the better. The accountability with your spouse and another mature Christ-follower will help “put a stop” to the emotional connection that is building with the other person. Taking these two steps is crucial – don't skip either of them!
Practical Safeguards to Consider
For many folks reading this, your marriage is NOT currently in a place where you are experiencing any of the warning signs described above. But as thankful as I am for that, I also want to help every couple pro-actively put up “safeguards” in their marriage to protect your marriage covenant:
If you want to affair-proof your marriage, it's important to draw a line and then stay a safe distance behind it. For each person the safety line will be different. Some people will not be able to take business trips or work late with a co-worker of the opposite sex. Others may not be able to meet a certain person for lunch or to work-out at the gym. Whatever the situation, determine where you need to draw the line. Since everyone makes mistakes, having room before you fall over the edge can be the difference between a compromising situation and losing your marriage. (1) Gary Smalley, Smalley Relationship Center
A simple but great way to safeguard your marriage covenant is by spending regular, scheduled time together as husband and wife. As a counselor, I see this over and over again – couples with “maxed-out schedules” that are in marital distress. How can you expect to grow in your marriage and work through the inevitable challenges all marriages face when you have no margin in your life and no time to connect? If someone followed you around 24/7 for a week with a video camera, would there be much evidence that your marriage is truly one of your highest priorities? There is simply no substitute for time together as husband and wife if you want to safeguard your marriage. Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage.
Each spouse needs to be actively cultivating a strong relationship with God. Your ongoing intimate relationship with God is your strongest guardrail against sexual temptation. He has the best counsel. He knows exactly how men and women are wired – because He wired them. How you deal with your sexuality is of the utmost importance to God. The closer you stay to Him, the greater will be your access to His wisdom and counsel for resisting sexual temptation. (2) From Focus on the Family
Carol had two more cautions she wanted to share, again, in hopes that a husband or wife reading this would hear and then take appropriate steps to safeguard their marriage covenant.
First, if Carol could sit across the table from you, she would share with you that her use of alcohol, many times, affected her judgment. This is not to demonize the use of alcohol, but only to remind all of us that alcohol does have effects on us mentally. So, if you use alcohol, even occasionally, please have an honest discussion about this with your spouse to put needed safeguards in place.
Secondly, Carol would ask you to consider the “locations” that you are hanging out without your spouse. Yes, most folks have to work and do the normal errands we are all responsible for, but what about the gym where you workout, or the establishment where you spend some time after work or on the weekends. These locations cannot “cause you to stumble”, but if the folks there are not helping you walk closer with God, then maybe consider spending less time there or finding another place that can help rather than hinder your relationship with God, and help protect your marriage as well.
Guarding What's Most Important
As you process through all of this as a husband or wife, don't lose sight of what is critical to remember: Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23 NLT). When Solomon wrote those words, he was warning you and me that the bottom line for protecting our marriages is guarding our hearts, because what controls our heart will control our life.
So what will you do, husband? How will you respond, wife? Will you read these pages and then do nothing to safeguard your marriage? Or will you see this as God's gracious warnings to help you safeguard your marriage covenant? May we not lean on our own ways in this moment but allow the Holy Spirit to direct our next steps.
Lord, we need Your wisdom so that we can accurately discern warning signs that we are putting our marriage in harm's way. Thank You for giving us Your Word, Your Spirit, and Your Church to help us on this journey of marriage. Help us to have an honest discussion, as husband and wife, and then to take steps of faith and action as You lead us. In the Name of Jesus!
1) Discuss Carol's three warning signs and listen carefully (not defensively) if your spouse shares any present concerns they may have.
2) Take a few minutes to talk through the three safeguards. Consider putting one or more of them into place or think of one on your own to begin putting into practice.
3) As a couple, read carefully over Carol's final cautions. Honestly discuss any concerns you have and take the first step towards any actions needed to safeguard your marriage covenant.
4) Read Psalm 139:23-24 together, asking the Lord to reveal anything He sees in your heart. Share anything He tells you with your spouse. End this time praying together over the items discussed above.
(1) Smalley Relationship Center: Protecting Your Marriage from Infidelity: https://www.crosswalk.com/family/marriage/four-steps-to-protecting-your-marriage-from-infidelity-1398637.html
(2) Focus on the Family: Protecting Your Heart against Infidelity: https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/guarding-your-heart-against-infidelity
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Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage 2019. All Rights Reserved. Please email us a info@AbidingMarriage.org for comments or questions.