I’m guessing that approximately zero percent of the Christians exposed in the Ashley Madison scandal planned on having affairs on their wedding days. And yet, startlingly, thousands of husbands and wives have succumbed to affairs. That’s why seasoned premarital counselors Dana and Philip McReady* spend a significant amount of time talking with engaged couples about affair-proofing their marriages from the get-go: they’ve been there. They know how easy it can be to get tangled.
The McReadys describe marriage as something like building a home. You buy your first starter home, and while it isn’t all you dreamed it might be, you nestle in. You tuck your dreams of granite counter tops and a raised-bed vegetable garden (or whatever) away, and start your day-to-day life in the little house with the chipped melamine counters.
Over time, the house fills up with memories, and more than a little clutter: arguments left unsolved, decisions deferred and disappointments unvoiced. Then, one day, you notice that the empty lot over the road is for sale. Your imagination wanders: imagine building your dream house there! One with trellised gardens and perfect, spacious counters! More and more, you notice the cramped space that is your house: a stark contrast with the dreamy lot over the way. Then, one day, in a fit of dissatisfaction, you torch your house, ready to step into your dreams.
Except for this: when the smoke dies down you realize there is no dream house. Just an empty lot in front of you, and a burnt home behind.
The business of “clearing up your clutter” and preventing yourself from building fantasy dream futures elsewhere are part of the foundational work of affair-proofing your marriage, say the McReadys.
Long, long before there are illicit looks and touches, there are dreams and disappointments that pave the way for affairs. As it turns out, newlyweds can do a lot to cultivate the habits of faithfulness from the very beginning. Here are some practical suggestions for affair-proofing your marriage:
- Be an open (e)-book — My husband and I can pick up one another’s computers or phones at any time of the day and see what the other has been up to. Of course, this means we trust each other not to post humiliating Facebook statuses on one another’s profiles, but our message histories, internet searches, email and texts are open to one another. If we wanted to, we could see what the other was reading at any given time. Given how many secrets people try to keep in different online avenues, it seems increasingly important to have your online self be open to your spouse at any given point.
- Bring your spouse to the office party — Building a relationship with your spouse’s closer friends and co workers can be a very healthy part of living an integrated, faithful life. Attending that work picnic or end-of-year holiday party and getting to know the people your spouse works with day-by-day by name can be a very healthy way to stay accountable.
- Watch your small talk — There is a time and place for sharing some of the challenges that marriage bring, but sharing them with friends or co-workers of the opposite sex can be highly flammable ground. Making jokes or aside comments about your “nagging wife” or your husband who’s “married to his video game” create a gulf between you and your spouse; and by the time you have a friend expressing sympathy for your hard-knock-married-life and saying “I’ve always thought you were nice”, and “they should treat you better”, you might already be forming a dangerous alliance.
- Own your responsibility — It is your responsibility to be faithful to your spouse, not your spouse’s responsibility to be so irresistible that you would never dream of unfaithfulness. Own your own stuff. It is not a wife’s job to be “so hot that he never looks elsewhere”, or a husband’s job to be “so attentive that she never dreams of confiding in someone else. Husbands: your eyes are your own responsibility. Wives: guard your heart. If you find yourself drawn to someone else emotionally, mentally or physically, this is a wake-up call for you to make yourself accountable and do some work in your marriage.
- Stay spiritually connected to God – Both our sexuality and our spiritually reflect something profound about our human experience: a desire to be connected to others and to God respectively. Experiencing relational emptiness with God can sometimes leave us reaching for connection… in the wrong places. And conversely: those who are walking closely with God don’t go looking for fulfillment outside of their covenant relationships. Taking care of your soul, perhaps in the company of trusted mentor or spiritual director, can do a lot to encourage us in discipleship as well as protect our marriages.
Marriage is a long journey: full of surprisingly beautiful vistas and some alarmingly bumpy patches. Cultivating the habits of faithfulness can do a lot to make sure our marriages are road-worthy from the get-go, long before we find ourselves in a ditch.