Affair Prevention: What are Appropriate Boundaries for Marriage? How will YOU safeguard YOURSELF from Affairs?
What do you think the boundaries need to be in a marriage in re: to the opposite sex? Should they have friendships with the opposite sex? And if so, what kind? My husband and I were out shopping the other day and we ran into a woman that we have both met a couple of times. Her husband and mine golf together sometimes. Her husband has had back surgery and can't golf. She mentioned that she would like to golf. So, my husband said he goes early if she ever wanted to join him. I know he was being friendly and truthfully it didn't bother me but later I felt like we needed to discuss it. I brought it up and asked if he thought it was o.k. to golf alone with someone and he blew up and told me that I was acting jealous … He thinks I'm being ridiculous. I told him we needed to discuss what's appropriate and what's not. He told me that's stupid and I must not trust him.
Couples need to be realistically aware of the fact that our marriages are all vulnerable to affairs. The moment we start thinking it can’t happen to us; that very thinking makes us vulnerable. As someone so aptly pointed out at a recent seminar, sometimes after an affair, a spouse makes the mistake of assuming that now that it’s happened to them once, they’ve learned their lesson and so it can’t happen to them again, and voila! They become more vulnerable again, because they are thinking: IT CAN’T HAPPEN TO ME.
The safest boundary to maintain concerning relationships with members of the opposite sex is to avoid one on one contact. No one on one lunches or dinners, many couples even choose to avoid situations where you are driving alone in a vehicle with a member of the opposite sex, or being in a situation where you are alone at home with someone (like when your male neighbor, the computer wiz, is coming over to fix your computer at a time when only the wife is home). These scenarios can always be made to happen when both spouses are home, or at least children are present.
At the same time I’m not suggesting legalism is the answer for marriages. Sometimes a business lunch with a member of the opposite sex can be appropriate, if you and your spouse both agree. I would suggest phoning your spouse first, so the lunch is not a secret. We also need to realize that discussing problems about our marriage with a coworker is inappropriate, as is listening to problems. My husband’s affair began when a female coworker confided in Brian the problems she was having in her marriage. This is a common pattern that leads to affairs.
Going golfing one on one with a member of the opposite sex is asking for trouble. I would not be okay with Brian golfing with another woman, and he would not be okay with me golfing with another man. There would be no reason in the world that you could not join your husband on this golf outing with another woman.
A “friendship” with a member of the opposite sex that excludes the spouse is inappropriate in marriage. Why must your spouse be excluded from the relationship? I enjoy friendships with many men, and Brian enjoys friendships with many women, but we do so as a couple or as couples if that person is also married. We don’t exclude each other.
Of course Brian and I had such a boundary in place before Brian’s affair, so we have learned not to rely on “rules” to protect our marriage. When someone is truly tempted by an affair, a rule is not going to keep them from having one, obviously, because there is also the other “rule,” pledging our love EXCLUSIVELY to each other when we exchange our wedding vows, and that “rule” is not enough to protect any marriage from the subtleties that can lead spouses away from the moral standards they have set for themselves.
But this doesn’t mean we should throw the rules away. Maintaining safe boundaries when interacting with members of the opposite sex is wise. In order to truly safeguard our marriages from affairs, we need to add more wisdom, knowledge and understanding to our boundaries.
Another point that needs to be made is that of being aware of “other person influence.” Your husband’s motives may be pure enough, but there are no guarantees the other person’s motives are (although they will always claim they are). The influences that can “PULL” us into an affair are very subtle. If they were obvious, moral people would not get caught up in affairs. We need to quit being naïve.
Brian and I are not naïve about the fact that another affair could happen in our marriage. Just because we teach affair-prevention does not make our own marriage immune. So we watch out for each other. We respect each other, and we actively keep our guard in place.
One thing we have learned is that I will notice when a woman is coming on to Brian before he does and vice versa. We have therefore made an agreement in our marriage, that if either one of us feels uncomfortable with our spouse’s contact with a specific member of the opposite sex, we say so, and respect each other's wishes, regardless of whether or not we feel our partner is overreacting, being too possessive, or too jealous. (This type of unchallenged respect in itself communicates a huge message of trust and love to our spouse.)
On one occasion when Brian and I were attending a large seminar, during a break I was involved in a discussion with several people, including one man who seemed particularly interested in my work. I was, of course, enjoying his interest.
When Brian had the opportunity to talk with me privately, he told me to stay away from this man because he was “coming on” to me. I thought Brian was being paranoid. “He’s just really interested in my book,” I said, frustrated. After considerable discussion, I decided to honor Brian’s wishes in spite of the fact that I didn’t agree. Contact with this man was not worth upsetting Brian.
So during the next break, out of 200 people or so, this particular man had made his way over to me again. After a couple of minutes, I politely excused myself, walked across the room and engaged some new people in conversation. Within minutes the man Brian was concerned about had followed me. Again, I excused myself and moved on. This situation repeated itself on an ongoing basis throughout the weekend, leading me to believe that Brian’s initial observation had been correct. This man had indeed been “coming on” to me, and I had been intrigued and flattered by his interest in ME, and not as I was trying to convince myself, his interest in my work.
The lesson we learned is that I will recognize when a woman’s motives towards my husband are inappropriate before he does and vice versa. By respecting each other when one of us asks the other to be on guard around a certain person (and even to avoid them), we protect our marriage and ourselves.
Ultimately, each couple must discuss and agree for themselves what boundaries are appropriate for their marriage.
How will YOU safeguard YOURSELF from affairs? If you’re relying on willpower alone, (or the belief that because your spouse is so wonderful, you will never in a lifetime be attracted to anyone else), we believe you are sorely mistaken. You must be wise, knowledgeable and on guard.
Those of us who’ve “been there” (on any side of the affair triangle) know that any fleeting pleasure that may come from an affair is short lived at best and leads to a “hell on earth” that is simply not worth it.
To safeguard (or heal) your marriage we recommend ordering a copy of one of our audio presentations from our Prevention & Recovery series. Couples who attended these events expressed enthusiastic thanks, telling us they had many “Aha!” moments during this seminar. In fact when it was over no one seemed to want to leave! We want your marriage also to benefit from our presentation.
Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.