Early on in our marriage, we survived an affair.
We didn’t see it coming. I think we could have, but we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. We’ve now been married nearly 20 years, and looking back, there were warning signs that our relationship was vulnerable to an emotional or physical affair. If you see any of these seven things in your own marriage—stop. Turn around. Move a different direction. No one had ever spoken to us about how to protect our relationship. (And to be honest, we didn’t think we needed it.) I’m no therapist, but here’s some humble, hard-earned wisdom from our marriage in hopes it can protect yours.
Seven Warning Signs:
You both move (very) well independently.
My husband and I are both strong-minded people who are capable of a life on our own. Turns out, when we got married, we pretty much just acted like two people doing our thing, side-by-side. We never created a new identity together. Instead of becoming one, we continued relying on ourselves and building our own individual careers and interests. If you have this tendency, here are three good questions to answer on your next date:
- What would it look and feel like to actually “be one”?
- How could I put your wants or needs ahead of mine?
- What’s one way you’d like to be able to count on me?
You talk about your day, your problems, or your decisions with someone else first.
It’s important that your spouse is the first person you go to. If this isn’t the case, it’s easy to side-step their advice and create disconnection or disrespect between you. When we discuss these things with our spouse first, there’s not only ongoing communication but also unity of decisions, intimacy, and a natural sense of accountability. Someone is going to ask me who I had lunch with today! It also prevents you from thoughtlessly growing intimacy with someone else by confiding in them for help or wisdom. Research says that the healthiest couples talk for approximately one hour a day. If you aren’t doing that, here are two ways to turn around:
- Talk for 15 minutes every night and build up slowly towards an hour (total) for a day.
- Commit to making your spouse the first person you discuss problems and decisions with (even if you honestly believe your mom will help more).
There’s someone of the opposite sex you don’t want your spouse to meet.
If this is the case then you need to look hard at why. Many times it’s because you have built intimacy with someone else that you fear your spouse will witness. Or you secretly would rather be with that person without “the complication” of paying attention to your actual partner. Maybe you say it’s for some other reason, but if you’re keeping anyone away from your spouse on purpose, it’s a big deal. You need to get honest about why. And fast.
You strongly defend your right to have friends of the opposite sex.
There are sexual dynamics under nearly all opposite-sex relationships. I know you may believe you have the exception. You tell yourself that you grew up with siblings of the opposite sex so you’re just “good with them.” No matter what internal dialogue allows you to justify it, you’re in a danger zone for your marriage. My advice? Lay down your right to these friendships for the protection of your marriage. If it helps, here are our boundaries around this one:
- Work-related communication is totally OK.
- Friendly communication with someone of the opposite sex (a friend’s husband, a coworker, neighbor, etc.) always needs to happen in a group context. Add their spouse to the text. Copy others on the email. You need this accountability.
- Absolutely no seeking out the opposite sex for personal encouragement, inspiration, and support. Don’t split hairs here. No sending texts that say, “I’m really having a hard day” to someone from the opposite sex. Seek intimate counsel from friends of the same sex.
Sidenote/Tip: There have occasionally been men that I have enjoying knowing at work. I meet their spouse as quickly as possible and, if it seems like a social friendship could develop, then I communicate for social plans with the wife only.
You maintain accounts that your spouse doesn’t know about.
This could be financial, phone, email, social media, or other online accounts that you don’t tell your spouse about. Any secret accounts are a blow to trust. Total openness breeds trust. If your partner has all your accounts and passwords, they will probably never use them. After the affair we shared all passwords and accounts and agreed to share a personal email for years after.
You don’t play together.
It’s super important to have something fun you enjoy doing together: adventurous travel, watching football, running, hiking, and cooking are some of ours. The key is to actually do it! Plan the time. Get a sitter. Take a half-day off. Spend the resources you need on this one because it pays back huge dividends. You create memories, laugh, and remember regularly why you enjoy each other. Haven’t found “your thing”? Just start sampling. That process will be fun even if you hate everything you try.
Your sex is sporadic.
Listen, I know there could be lots of reasons underneath this one: childbirth, sexual trauma in your past, illness, different work schedules. But the bottom line is this: Lack of sexual connection is always going to end up hurting the marriage relationship. It’s the most complete expression of your oneness. There’s an emotional and spiritual connection that happens that cannot be duplicated with anything else. Ours was disrupted with the affair, and we always have to work at building true intimacy that makes this easy. Even if you’re “fine” without it for a while (been there) or there’s a legit reason for holding off, it still fosters separation. Talk about it so that silent hurt, rejection, or resentment won’t build. Get help from a counselor if necessary.
As you uncover things in your relationship that might leave you vulnerable to an emotional or physical affair, there’s a concept from the Bible that is hugely important in what to do next: It’s called repentance. All that means is that you stop, turn around, and head a new direction. When we are humble enough to confess what’s really happening, the reward we get for doing that is the support of God himself. He loves the humility it takes to do this and even refreshes you when you do. If you’ve read this article, know that I prayed for the refreshment of your marriage.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” Acts 3:19
Pretty words won’t change your life. This might:
Why do you think each of these signs matters?
Which one strikes you most? Is it because you resonate with it as true and want to work on it? Or because you’re bothered that it’s on the list? Either way, talk about why.
How can you start something new to strengthen your marriage this week?