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 reminder of another hedge of protection we need to plant in our lives: a hedge of protection around our marriage.
No marriage is immune from temptation. Hedges are advance decisions we made to protect our marriage. They keep temptation at bay, stop naïveté, and keep the marriage relationship a top priority. Here are some specific hedges to plant around your marriage.
Not all affairs are physical—an emotional affair can be as damaging as a physical affair.
- Stay clear of unnecessarily spending time with someone of the opposite sex. For instance, if you’re 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. 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.
- 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 can be as damaging as a physical affair.
- Stay in large public settings. Determine to not meet one-on-one with someone of the opposite sex even in the workplace. If your coworker of the opposite sex asks if he or she can join you for lunch, ask a third person to join you as well. If necessary, share the boundary you and your spouse have agreed upon in your marriage. You just might lead by example.
- Don’t be naive. Most people who end up in affairs don’t set out to have an affair. Infidelity usually begins with an innocent relationship that in time moves to an emotional depth that draws us across the line of fidelity.
- Increase your investment at home. No marriage is designed to last a lifetime if left on the back burner. Solid marriages are built by spending together, laughing together, and playing together. If you’re 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.
- Step into your spouse’s world. Stay engaged in each other’s world as a way of investing and protecting your marriage.
- Add fun to your relationship. Tuck a note in his lunchbox, send her on a scavenger hunt for love notes you’ve written, call him over lunch, send her a quick text that simply says, “I’m thinking of you.” Remember, sometimes the little things are really the big things. Fun in marriage is a little thing that really can make a big difference!
- Share temptation with your spouse. There’s something powerful that happens when we move our temptation from the darkness into the light. When we shine the light on it by admitting it, it slows or completely stops the growth of feelings.
- 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, and what’s really going on your head and your heart. If you’re hiding something, that should be a red flag that something needs to change.
- Watch for seasons of increased vulnerability. 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. There are high vulnerability times when you need to turn up the heat in your marriage.
- Pay attention to your thought life. When all you think about is your spouse’s faults, any other man or woman will certainly look better. Make a list of the strengths that initially attracted you to your mate. Increase the encouragement and decrease the criticism you give your spouse.
- Don’t play the comparison game. We all make mistakes, and 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 the kids at 3 a.m., struggling to make ends meet” Refrain from making unfair comparisons.
- Communicate your needs to your spouse. When we communicate directly rather than working to get our needs met in a roundabout way, we’re actually putting a hedge around our marriage. Even if our spouse doesn’t respond in a positive way, we can know we did the right thing by communicating.
- Push transparent, thoughtful, accountable communication to your spouse. It’s not a sign of 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” 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. Communication is a courtesy to your spouse but also keeps your emotional intimacy a priority.
- Stay away from pornography and erotic movies and novels. Viewing pornography is an affair in and of itself. Porn draws our mind away from our spouse. It sets up unrealistic expectations. It erodes contentment. Porn is addictive and can become an idol in our life.
- Watch whom you spend time with. We need to be lights to a dark world, so this hedge isn’t about not interacting with nonbelievers. It is, however, a call to ask yourself if your friendship with a person is food for your marriage or not.
- Seek truth. Keep reading the Bible. Wisdom counters naïveté. The Bible is full of wisdom with which we desperately need to saturate ourselves. Our goal needs to be to become more like Jesus every day. The only way we can do that is to spend time with him and learn more about the upside-down, sometimes unpopular decision he made when he lived on this earth.
- Love and respect around the clock. If you wouldn’t say it or wouldn’t say it with that tone in public, then don’t say it or say it that way at home. This small but important hedge protects our spouse’s tender heart.
- Install an Internet filter. We’ve used K9 Web Protection (com) the most, installing in on all our computers. We’re also familiar with Covenant Eyes. One husband we know decided to remove the web browser 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.
- Seek help. Seek encouragement even in the good times. Find someone today—a Christian counselor, an older married couple—you can talk to about the little things. If your marriage is struggling, the answer isn’t another relationship. Seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. A mentor or Christian counselor who will honor your values regarding marriage and commitment can provide valuable perspective and help set new strategies for a marriage that can go the distance.
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.
Adapted from No More Perfect Marriages: Experience the Freedom of Being Real Together by Mark and Jill Savage (© 2017). Used by permission. www.MoodyPublishers.com.