As a young 20-something, I read all the books on making a great marriage. My husband and I had all the appropriate boundaries in place to “affair-proof” our marriage. We had agreed ahead of time that we wouldn’t go places alone with members of the opposite sex, my husband wouldn’t counsel women alone, that we would go to great lengths to protect our marriage.
That’s how we were taught to affair-proof our marriage.
But do you know what? It didn’t work. Fifteen years of marriage and three kids later, I found myself facing the unthinkable: My pastor-husband had been caught having an affair with a woman in our church.
How could it be? We did everything right. We “affair-proofed” our marriage. We had all the appropriate boundaries in place. And yet, it happened anyway.
In the years since that fateful moment when I learned of my husband’s infidelities, a whole lot of life has happened. I walked through divorce—the unthinkable for a good Christian girl who loves Jesus. I’ve raised my three kids as a single parent. I’ve walked my kids through the grief of losing their father unexpectedly. I’ve remarried. And so much more.
As we enter a new year, I find myself asking the question once again: How do we affair-proof our marriage?
Adultery causes pain you cannot understand unless you’ve been there. To know there has been an unwelcome third party in your life, knowing not a single detail was kept private. To know you have been betrayed in the deepest, most intimate way. To know you have given everything only to be rejected. To feel unloved, unlovable. There’s no doubt that adultery does lasting damage that can only be repaired by the Father.
Truthfully, you can set all the boundaries you want. You can create all the rules you want. But there’s only one thing that can truly affair-proof your marriage:
To have two spouses fully yielded to the Father and to one another.
You see, somewhere along the way, my ex-husband strayed from his commitment to God and to me. Sadly, I believe pornography was the hook that dragged him away and enticed him (James 1:14). I believe his heart became hardened to the things of God as he fed his mind with things of this world. In one of the last sermons I heard him preach, he made the statement that, “We become entangled in sin when Satan gets us to doubt the good gifts God has placed in our lives.” It was a constant refrain from him in those difficult days that the church he pastored wasn’t big enough, we didn’t have enough money because I had chosen to stay at home with the kids (a choice we made together), that we needed more of everything. The seeds of discontent dripped from his mouth at every turn—rather than a heart of gratitude for the many blessings we had in our lives. The enemy had succeeded in getting him to doubt the good gifts God had given us.
We had all the rules in place, but it was the relationship that was missing. The relationship with God. The relationship with one another. The rules were meaningless without that relationship.
And isn’t that what Scripture teaches us? Christianity is not a set of rules; it’s a relationship with the Father. It’s abiding in Him daily (John 15:5). It’s allowing Him to take our old habits and mindsets and transform us into His image. It’s about being fully surrendered to Him so He can change us from the inside out.
That’s how we affair-proof our marriages. Two people. Fully surrendered to the Father. Allowing Him to have unfettered access to every part of our lives. Letting go of past mistakes and trusting God in the hard places. Asking God to transform our hearts, our minds, our attitudes. Submitting ourselves fully to Him and to our spouse.
But what does this type of transformation look like? If it’s not a list of rules, how do we affair-proof our marriage with relationship? I guess these have been a few of the questions I’ve been asking myself. Here’s a few thoughts for what they are worth.
Seek God individually and together. The last two years have been difficult. My schedule has been to get up at 4:00 am and be at work by 6:00 am. The routine has left me exhausted—physically, mentally, spiritually. I feel as if my time with God has been little more than going through the motions. This year, it changes!
If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:13
Roy and I are both committed to seeking God more this year. Both of us have experienced changes in our work schedules which will allow us more time to seek His face. We both desire to know Him more, to walk more intimately with Him.
It’s a work in progress, something we aren’t fully sure what the final picture will look like. But we know by seeking Him individually, all the pieces will fall into place.
Develop a vision.
If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. Proverbs 29:18 (The Message)
Proverbs 29:18 is often quoted from the King James: Where there is no vision, the people perish. Doesn’t that apply to marriage as well?
In my Life Coaching program, vision was a huge component of helping people move forward to achieve their goals, to create the life they’ve always wanted. It’s no different with our marriages. We need a vision of where we want to be next year, five years from now, ten years from now. We need a vision of how God wants to use us in this life.
When two people have the same heart, the same vision, they will be moving in the same direction. Their actions will be colored by what they want from life, and their decisions will be based on how to get where they want to be.
Creating a vision together and working toward achieving that vision will help create a bond that deters you from actions that would harm your marriage.
Put the past behind you. I’m not going to lie that this one can be hard. It is so easy to let your mind run wild, to allow the enemy to bring up past offenses.
Because of my past experience, I have come to realize that I am much less trusting and much more skeptical of people. I allow my past to get in the way of my present at times, taking me down a trail that could destroy me. This piece of advice is one that I am committing to for 2021—and every year to come.
No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14
This year, I am fully putting the past behind me and focusing on the race God has marked out for me today. Does this mean I never speak of my past divorce? No, absolutely not. I believe God has given me a mission to walk others through the pain and point them to the One who heals their hearts in the midst of divorce. What it does mean is that I will be working to find ways to prevent my past from coloring my interactions with others—to learn to trust again in spite of the betrayal I have experienced. It means I will change my focus from the things of earth to the things of God. When the fears and doubts creep into my mind, I will focus on Him so He can transform me by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2).
Trust God to do a work in your spouse just as He is doing a work in you. Have you seen God’s hand at work around you? Do you know His heart is good? Is He capable of taking the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26)?
I am not saying you shouldn’t have the hard conversations with your spouse. We absolutely should! But what I am saying, is that sometimes we have to let go and let God have His way.
I have seen God take Roy and totally change his heart on some issues, things that no one should ever have to face. It was not something I could do or even wanted to do. But God did things in Roy that only He could do—things that changed our lives forever.
God is a much better change agent than we are. Give God space to do His work as we encourage our spouses to seek His face. Give God space to replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh. His way is far better than ours.
2021 is full of promise and new beginnings. Can we commit together to affair-proof our marriages by fully committing to God and to one another?
Father, you know my heart, my desire to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. As we take this journey into a new year, I thank you for new beginnings—new beginnings this year and every day because you promise your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness! I pray for each person reading these words today, that you would take the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh that is fully surrendered to you. May you take our desires and transform them so we only desire what You desire. May you take our stubbornness and soften it so we can look more like you. As you transform us, transform our marriages so we can truly be a representative of the love you have for us. In Jesus name I pray, amen.