My husband and I avoid hanging out one on one with people of the opposite sex who aren’t family members.
Yes — I know that sounds really weird.
We have other “rules” in our marriage (e.g. no phones at the dinner table), but those kinds of rules are socially accepted or even praised. Rules that deal with the risks of infidelity, however, are generally frowned upon. In our culture, we like to let relationships flow as they may without significant constraints on our freedom. We assume that as long as you’re a good person and your spouse is a good person and you love each other, you shouldn’t have to have conversations about “temptation” or risks. We like to think that the desire for long term commitment, alone, guarantees long term commitment. It is seen as a weakness in your relationship if you feel the need to do anything proactive to protect it.
And yet, 1 in 5 marriages have been stained by sexual infidelity, and that number doesn’t even account for emotional infidelity, nor does it account for those people refusing to admit their infidelity. These kinds of statistics are exactly why my husband and I have “rules.”
But don’t you trust each other?
Absolutely. We trust each other more than we trust anyone in the world. I trust my husband more than I trust myself. And yet, we don’t trust each other completely.
It’s not because we aren’t happy together; we are very happy together. It’s not because of something one of us has done. It’s because of what we are: human. And humans are imperfect. We know this. That’s why we ask our lovers to love our imperfections. Love, by its very nature, embraces the imperfect.
But in order to embrace the imperfect, love must actually account for the imperfect. We must take our own brokenness and potential vulnerability seriously. If we are to love the imperfect heart then we must also protect it. We must foresee the dangers and prepare for them.
The scary reality is that life is unpredictable. Pain, separation, death, sickness, stress — all these difficulties may get thrown into marriage, and when difficulties get thrown into marriage people can get weak, no matter how much they love each other. There is a theoretical situation for every person in which they would make a huge marital mistake. And though that situation might be theoretical, my husband and I cherish our marriage too much to not prepare for it.
Besides, I’m sure that the majority of people involved in affairs (in their lesser and greater forms) never thought it would happen to them. We like to think that infidelity happens only to really bad people in really bad situations. We like to think that affairs start in hotel rooms — but affairs don’t start in hotel rooms. That’s where they end. Affairs start in cars and offices. Affairs start in coffee shops and over text messages. And they happen to “good people.” We are kidding ourselves if we don’t think we have to be proactive in preventing such tragedies.
That doesn’t mean we should be paranoid. We should look at the risks rationally. We shouldn’t make these kinds of rules of out of insecurity or pride and they shouldn’t complicate marriage or make it more difficult.
In fact, my husband and I have found that an honest assessment of the risks to a marriage and preparation for them actually makes marriage so much easier. Just like it makes things easier in the long run when parents talk to their children about things like alcohol before they are relevant issues, marriages are easier and even freer when boundaries are set before they are needed. Extramarital attraction is much easier to discuss when it is hypothetical. Setting boundaries when love is strong creates an easier path when love might be weak. And if love is never weak? Well, that’s wonderful– just like it’s wonderful if a burglar never enters my house– but it’s still worth having the alarm system. It’s still worth the freedom we may lose through the precautions. Sure, I might look like an idiot turning down lunch or a ride with a guy who I’m not married to or related to, but either this marriage thing is precious or it’s not. Either it’s one big joke or it’s a rare treasure. My husband and I believe it’s a treasure, and it’s worth protecting deliberately and specifically. It’s worth over preparing. Not because you’re weak or he’s weak or she’s weak, but because we’re all imperfect. Only when we admit that can we truly appreciate and protect the beauty that is being loved despite the imperfections.