Twice a year, Edric and I speak at the Before I Do Seminar organized by ImagineNation. It is a one-day marriage preparation event for engaged couples. One of the talks that Edric gives is “God’s Design for Marriage” and he asks me to share a portion about what it means to leave and cleave to your spouse.
Neither of us are marriage experts, but we have applied the principle of leaving and cleaving in our own marriage and it has really helped us to grow in intimacy and oneness of flesh. Leaving is to physically depart from your parents by establishing your own home and identity as a couple. Cleaving is to transfer your loyalties to your spouse, forsaking competing relationships or activities that have the potential to damage your relationship. The Bible explains in Genesis that when this happens “the two shall become one flesh.” One flesh is the ultimate picture of intimacy. As one flesh, you feel the security, sanctity, unity, joy and strength that God intended married couples to experience. But, leaving and cleaving is not automatic. There must be an intentional effort to pursue oneness of flesh and to safeguard it.
Early on in our marriage Edric and I learned an important principle that was a real eye-opener — Building Hedges. Author, Jerry Jenkins, introduced it in his book, HEDGES: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It.
One of the tips that stood out to us was this: avoid spending time alone with the opposite sex when you are married.This seems so obvious, but the corporate or professional world, ministry, and friendships make it challenging to practice this. And it is sobering to consider the dangers of becoming emotionally attached to the opposite sex.
For example, one evening you have a fight with your husband. The next day, at work, a male colleague notices that you are feeling down and asks, “How are you?” because he is friendly and shows genuine concern for people. You may never have otherwise considered opening up to this person but the timing of the question made it easy to do so. At first, it may be a quick chat between two acquaintances. But, as the days and weeks go by, your interactions become more frequent as you become more friendly with one another. Work may even require you to do projects together. Initially, you may have not been physically attracted to the person, but then you begin to notice other traits about him that are likable. Instead of business meetings, you begin to have coffee breaks, just the two of you and you look forward to these moments in your day. At home, your relationship with your husband is beginning to change. While you love him, you find yourself really connecting with your friend at work. Emotionally, you begin to pull away from your husband. Your need for attention, a listening ear, someone who understands and gets you is being met by someone else. These conditions place you in a very vulnerable state, possibly a precursor to falling for this person.
No one is impervious to an affair. In fact, speaker and author, Francis Kong says that if you want to protect yourself, “avoid the ambush of overconfidence.” Thoughts like…This will never happen to me. I have such a great marriage. I really love my spouse. I would never do that to them!
I used to judge people who cheated on their spouses. What?! How could you?! What a scum… However, I better understood how it might possibly happen when you spend time with colleagues or clients. I used to be in the corporate world and I had to travel to different places because of the nature of my work. While I wasn’t attracted to any of my colleagues or clients, I would sometimes be in predicaments where I was alone with them because of a meeting or a trip to an activity or event. And it got me thinking about how professional relationships can very easily and naturally move into the friendship realm (and even beyond that for others) when you have a lot of time to talk and connect with the people you work with…especially if you are with the same person(s) frequently. I decided to be very careful about how I would interact with men at work. Eventually, I transferred jobs so I wouldn’t have to be in situations where I was likely to spend too much time with someone I worked with who was of the opposite sex.
You don’t have to be paranoid and run away from every single meeting with the opposite sex. But don’t let meeting with one particular person become a habit if you are married. And, let people you work with know that you have boundaries. If you are a woman, don’t share your marital or personal problems with a guy who is not your husband.
I really appreciate that Edric avoids private one-on-one meetings with women, too. The walls of his office are also glass so if he meets with someone, it is in full view of everyone. And he keeps a professional distance from the persons he works with. While he makes sure they know he is concerned about their well-being, he does not get too friendly. For those who do not understand where he is coming from, his manner of relating to them can be misinterpreted as cold or stand-offish. However, it is a matter of principle for him to err on being extra careful.
We both have the same mindset towards Facebook and other forms of social media and digital communication. As much as possible we don’t carry on casual chats or have frequent friendly exchanges with the opposite sex. It sounds almost ridiculous to be so strict. Yet we have both experienced how these avenues can lead to more than platonic interactions. For example, you begin to look forward to hearing from a certain person, or you wonder what they think about you, or a curiosity begins to blossom, etc.
One time there was a person on Facebook who kept trying to get Edric’s attention. She would send him random messages to strike up a conversation or dialogue. And he completely ignored her. She even accused him of being a snob. He chose not to respond to her provocations and when she persisted, he finally “unfriended” her so she would get the picture.
There is a difference between being friendly and being too personal with the opposite sex. It is possible to reach out with kindness and concern towards others while keeping your hedges up. For example, I don’t counsel men and Edric doesn’t counsel women. If ever we do, it is as a team.
Being vigilant about keeping hedges not only protects yourself and your own marriage, it also protects other persons from developing an unhealthy attraction to you. Furthermore, it silences speculations and suspicions that can be hurtful to your spouse.
By God’s grace Edric and I have a great marriage, but we are aware that it isn’t an invincible one. So we have to do our part. We have to build those hedges to protect it. Francis Kong gave a great talk called Affair-Proofing Your Marriage two months ago during a couples retreat. To illustrate how easily people can fall into an affair, he outlines 12 Guaranteed Steps to Enter Adultery which I think are helpful to know. Sometimes, we can unknowingly be in anyone of these steps and not realize the potential dangers that may ensue. An affair doesn’t happen overnight. There is a process.
1. Readiness – Anytime something new happens your guards tend to go down. A new job, a promotion, a victory or win, etc.
2. Alertness – There is someone who gets your eye and attention.
3. Innocent Meetings – You have legitimate business meetings but the one who has gotten your attention also happens to be in those meetings.
4. Intentional Meetings – The meetings are planned so you can be with the person who has caught your attention.
5. Public Lingering – Others begin to notice that the two of you are together often.
6. Private Lingering – You begin to talk about personal things, to open up and connect about interests, ideas, experiences, etc.
7. Intentional Isolation – Your spouse notices your decreasing interest and you seem detached at home. There is a growing secrecy as well.
8. Pleasurable Isolation – Spending time together becomes something you really look forward to. There is youthful euphoria and you are more conscious about the way you dress, the way you look and appear to this person.
9. Affectionate Touches – For example…a hand on the shoulder or on the arm, playful poking or tickling…(sounds so ew and silly right?)
10. Passionate Embracing – Physical contact becomes more frequent. There is greater arousal. When alcohol is involved the embracing escalates.
11. Capitulation – Finally, you actually have sex.
12. Acceptance – There is mutual acknowledgement of the relationship. It is an emotional peak for the affair but an emotional low for the marriage.
After listening to this talk, Edric and I were encouraged to be even more cautious and aware of how we respond to and relate with the opposite sex. We don’t isolate ourselves from the entire world and live on an island. We remain friendly and outgoing, but we set clear boundaries to safeguard our relationship. We check for “cracks in the wall” or “red flags” by communicating openly and asking each other hard questions when needed so nothing remains hidden that can possibly grow into something more.
The devil is an opportunist and will continually seek to divide and destroy that oneness between a husband and wife. Struggles and temptations dont go away in marriage, but with good communication, they can be uncovered and dealt with. Sometimes it may hurt to hear your spouse say, “Please pray for me because I am feeling an attraction towards this person and I want to be honest with you so you can hold me accountable.”
This is when you have to put on your best friend hat so you can receive the truth without going ballistic. And then you work through it as a couple, as a team. You pray together, you unearth the root issues or causes and solve what you can. You recognize that you are not each other’s enemy. And you build those hedges again, together, with the Lord.
There have been instances when Edric or I have opened up to each other about private struggles. When this happens, it’s like a “spell” is broken. Whatever was hidden in the darkness when brought into the light loses it’s power.
Maybe this will help to illustrate what I mean…A few months ago, we had mold in our house. I couldn’t believe it. It was the most disgusting thing. A window was left open while we were away for three weeks. Because it rained really hard for a few days, some moisture got into our place and mold began to grow. It wasn’t arrested at the beginning stages, so it spread like crazy. I wanted to burn our home down when I saw it because I was so upset!
After a few days, we finally got it all cleaned out. We let the sun in. We sprayed vinegar. We used baking soda. We found ways to kill it. Some things we actually had to throw away. Had we caught it earlier, we would have saved ourselves a whole lot of trouble.
What’s the point? Dark secrets in marriage can be like mold. Given the right conditions, they can grow, spread, and overcome. As much as possible these secrets need to be exposed and uncovered sooner than later. But no one wants to open up to a spouse who will judge, belittle, reject, or fight them for being honest, for opening up about their struggles, embarrassing insecurities, fears, offenses and sins. Therefore, as challenging and humbling as it may often be, be a haven of rest for your spouse — be the one person he or she can be completely real, honest, and vulnerable with. The blessings are open communication and trust.
I have to add that part of building hedges is also putting effort into staying fit and attractive for your spouse. Look the best you can at whatever stage you are in. For women, whether it be pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, post-pregnancy, or post-post-pregnancy, do not get complacent. Personally, a good reality check is to remind myself that I am my husband’s only option for sex, so I better make it worth his while! I don’t want him to feel like he ended up with a down-graded version of the original! So, I choose to exercise, be healthy, and not walk around the house in “dusters”! I used to wear ratty shirts and shorts because I really enjoyed being in comfortable cotton all day. But I learned from my neighbor, Kat, who is also in my Bible study group. She is put together all the time. So I wear yucky clothes when Edric is not home and when he gets home, I change if necessary. I’m sure the last thing he would like to see after a long and tiring day is a disheveled looking wifey wearing shirts with holes greeting him at the door!
There are many other ways to cleave to your spouse, like date nights, praying together, affirming one another or sharing a sport or hobby. However, I personally feel that the concept of building hedges has made one of the biggest differences in my own marriage. This has enabled Edric and I to experience true intimacy and oneness of flesh and kept us faithful to one another. At the end of the day, it is not by our own efforts that this is possible. We keep God at the center of our relationship and that is the real motivation behind choosing to build hedges in the first place…