We have a line of trees along the west side of our country home. The previous owners wisely planted the trees to provide a hedge of protection against the winds that gust across the cornfields of central Illinois.
Those trees serve as a visual picture of another hedge of protection we need to plant in our lives: a hedge of protection around our marriage. On the day we say, “I do,” we fully intend to fulfill every promise we make. But marriage is hard work, and our feelings ebb and flow with the ups and downs of life. When our life is fast paced, or our spouse is less attentive, or our marriage is placed on the back burner of life, we can easily slip into a mode where we begin to think that maybe “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”
No marriage is immune from temptation. Hedges are advance decisions we make to protect our marriage. They keep temptation at bay, stop naïveté, and keep the marriage relationship a top priority. Let’s look at some specific hedges we all need to plant around our marriage.
(This list of 10 has been simplified from a full list of 21 hedges from our book No More Perfect Marriages! Be sure to grab a copy if you haven’t yet!)
Hedge #1: Stay clear of unnecessarily spending time with someone of the opposite sex.
This is #1 for a reason, as it’s one of the most common beginning points of affairs as we’re coaching couples.
For instance, if you are interested in securing the services of a personal trainer at the local gym, choose someone of the same sex. You’re simply being wise to not put yourself in a place where you’re consistently alone with someone of the opposite sex. Many an affair has started with the “harmless” act of enjoying an evening jog together, or something similar. If your spouse can’t participate in the activity with you, do it alone, with a friend of the same sex, with a group, or not at all.
What if you had a friendship with someone of the opposite sex before you got married? Then spend time together in family settings. When you said, “I do,” your spouse and protecting your marriage took a higher priority than your pre-marriage friendship. All of these advance decisions have nothing to do with insecurity in our relationship. They protect our hearts and those of people of the opposite sex with whom we come into contact.
Hedge #2: Share carefully.
If you find yourself sharing things about your marriage or yourself that you haven’t or wouldn’t share with your spouse, that’s a red flag to warn you to turn away from the relationship rather than toward it. Not all affairs are physical—an emotional affair is as damaging as a physical affair.
The more we share and begin to console each other, the more we begin to build an emotional bond. While the shared sympathy feels like needed comfort, it becomes a dangerous slope that can lead to a surprising mutual attraction. Then what once was a difficult marriage becomes an unbearable one in the contrast of newly discovered intimacy and attraction.
Hedge #3: Don’t be naïve.
Most people who end up in affairs don’t set out to have an affair. Infidelity usually begins with an innocent relationship with someone of the opposite sex that, in time, moves to an emotional depth that draws us to cross a line of fidelity. Fades happen in marriage. Not understanding the reality of those feelings and not doing anything about them is naïve.
Naivete is how Mark’s affair began. He reconnected with someone from his high school years on Facebook. Innocent conversations eventually became intimate conversations. Don’t be naive–if an old high school interest reaches out through social media, hit “Delete” and “Block!”
Hedge #4: Increase your investment at home.
No marriage is designed to last a lifetime if it’s left on the back burner. Solid marriages are built by spending time together, laughing together, and playing together. If you are not currently dating your mate, set up dates for the coming months and make spending time together a priority. Then stick to your plan! Lots of “urgent” needs will come up. Don’t take the bait!
There’s nothing more urgent than protecting your marriage. Too many parents are also naïve about investing in their marriage when the kids are little. Admittedly, it’s a hassle to arrange childcare and often there’s not a lot of extra in the budget for “dates” or paying a sitter. However, tending to your marriage is just as important as tending to your children. Taking care of your marriage is one of the best parenting strategies available to you. Don’t be naïve in thinking that you will take time for the two of you after the kids leave. There may not be much of a relationship for you to invest in if you wait that long.
Hedge #5: Share temptation with your spouse.
(And along the same lines, make sure you’re safe for your spouse to share temptations with.)
If you explode with anger or emotion when your spouse communicates a struggle, you’ll shut the door on future honest conversation. In one of our earliest podcast conversation, I (Jill) shared about a time that I shared with Mark about my attraction to a coworker. He stayed calm and asked questions, and I was so grateful.
There’s something powerful that happens when we move our temptation from the darkness into the light. It often removes the draw of the temptation. In darkness, the temptation grows. When we shine the light on it by admitting it, it slows or completely stops the growth of feelings.
Hedge #6: No secrets.
There’s never a good reason to keep a secret from your spouse. No secrets about where the money goes, where you’ve been, what’s on your phone, and what’s really going on in your head and your heart. If you’re hiding something, that should be a red flag that something needs to change. Honesty and vulnerability are essential in protecting your marriage. Spouses should have a master key to each other’s lives.
Hedge 7: Watch for seasons of increased vulnerability.
I (Jill) remember when my friend Becky said to me about two weeks after Mark left, “Jill, you need to be very careful. You’re in a vulnerable place emotionally and you have to make sure you don’t get drawn into temptation yourself now that you’re alone.” I’m so thankful for her wise words. It wasn’t but two hours later when I got on Facebook and an old high school boyfriend reached out to me. If you think that’s coincidence, think again. That’s spiritual warfare and I wasn’t about to play into the enemy’s hands. I hit “delete” and then “block.”
Has your spouse been ill? On the road a lot? Have you been dealing with a crisis in your family? These are all places where you’re tired, maybe discouraged, and likely feeling a little disconnected from your spouse because of life’s circumstances. These are high vulnerability times when you need to turn up the heat in your own marriage.
Hedge #8: Don’t play the comparison game.
We are all human. 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 are not seeing them in a “living under the same roof, taking care of kids at 3 a.m., struggling to make ends meet” reality.
Refrain from making unfair comparisons. This is where we have to come face-to-face with the thoughts we have that simply aren’t telling us the truth.
Hedge #9: Push transparent, thoughtful, accountable communication to your spouse.
It’s not a sign of a lack of trust for married couples to check in with each other—it’s an act of kindness and an effort of intentionality. Your spouse is always on a “need to know” status, and he or she needs to know what you’re doing. If you’re going to be late, call and let your spouse know. If you’re going to stop by the store on the way home, shoot your spouse a quick text to say so. When we find out about these things later, it can cause us to feel left out or to be frustrated because, “If I’d known you were going to the store, I would have had you pick up razor blades. I used the last one this morning!”
Communication is a courtesy to your spouse but also keeps your emotional connection a priority.
Hedge #10: Install an Internet filter.
In a recent article, we actually just talked about keeping your family safe online, sharing some of our recommendations for software as well.
You don’t have to go looking for temptation; these days you can stumble upon it very easily. Don’t be naïve. Install an Internet filter to keep the stumbling from happening to you or your kids. The statistics are startling when it comes to pornography consumption… it’s so important to take this seriously in marriage. One husband we know who struggled with being drawn to pornography decided to remove the web browser completely from his smartphone.
And while we’re talking about technology, passwords should never be kept from each other. If you have something you don’t want your spouse to see, it’s probably a red flag that you shouldn’t be involved in it. Both partners in a marriage should be completely comfortable with having their spouse look at any social media accounts, text messages, emails, or other forms of communication. These are all wise decisions to keep temptation at bay.
God’s Word tells us that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth 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 step one—temptation—can take place.
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. 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 taking an important step to build a marriage that is marked by faithfulness and on its way to lasting a lifetime.
If you feel like the spark is gone, like a critical spirit has invaded your marriage, like you want more intimacy but something is in the way, you could be suffering from the Perfection Infection. That was the case for us, and in No More Perfect Marriages we share our journey and practical ways you can kick the Perfection Infection right out and return to intimacy.
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