By Chara Donahue, Crosswalk.com
An affair… It fails to convey the seriousness of vows broken and love betrayed. Unfaithful seems too broad, as though it’s on par with breaking the speed limit. Cheating, even kids are capable of that. But when God calls out the idolatrous, cosmic treason of His people, adultery is the one term He repeatedly uses to express his disgust and the vile nature of their infidelity.
When we consider the gravity of what it means to abandon a spouse to find comfort in another, we need to see it with the same degree of severity God Himself judges it with. The lasting trauma and grief that adultery can cause is something nobody wants to go through, but in reality, it is a devastation that many have felt.
It is always wise to learn how to protect your marriage from actions that can destroy it. Faithful marriages are a thing of beauty, but it is easy to get off course. The devil and our flesh war against us, but the Spirit is stronger if he is submitted to.
That submission to the Spirit of God is the most important thing anyone can do to improve their marriage. For, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:5-6).
As we seek to follow the Spirit, these principles can help to set a guard against the emotional and marital scarring an affair can bring.
1. Have People Who Check In
Most people do not enter into marriage thinking they will cheat on their spouse, but all marriages benefit from cheerleaders—people who will fight with you for your marriage. These are the people who will ask you questions like, “Is there anyone in your life that gives you feelings that feel like a crush?” Or, “Is there anyone in your life that you feel a sudden burst of excitement for when they walk in the room?”
These types of questions help root out seeds of an affair, and now you have someone who can be alert to the temptation you are experiencing and help you fight it off. Attraction happens involuntarily, but adultery is always a choice.
When we read of the Garden of Eden there is a description of Adam and Eve that we should strive to create in our marriages. Genesis 2:25 tells us, “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” If we can say our lives are lived uncovered and unashamed before our spouse, our marriage is in a healthy place. If we can’t, we need to work towards this level of transparency.
What this looks like practically is that your spouse has complete access to your phone, your personal email, your schedule, and sins of the past and present are confessed. There is nothing hidden, and questions like, “Where were you?” are not received defensively or asked out of paranoia. A transparent life doesn’t leave hidden corners for indiscretion.
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3. Depend on Each Other
Do you allow yourself to need your spouse? Not as an ultimate need, because God is the only one who should fill that role, but married people should depend on the other. This has proven to be an increasing problem in recent generations as independence has been touted as a quality to strive for. There is nothing wrong with knowing that you can do it on your own, but part of the beauty of marriage is knowing you don’t have to.
There should be a regular pattern of giving and receiving for both husband and wife. A partnership should be created between the two of you because you became one under the covenant you made before God. There is danger in creating a marriage that in reality is just two separate lives. Jesus was clear about this when he discussed the bond of marriage, “‘and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:8-9)
4. Draw Clear Lines with Others
If words or body language feels like flirting in your direction, it is okay to make sure that person knows you are married. It may feel awkward to make it a point, but a little awkwardness is a small price to pay to protect a lifelong commitment. It’s okay to draw clear lines so that people know where your boundaries are. Make clear boundaries around how you will interact with others, and let your spouse know when those lines were pushed against. Give no hint to anyone that you would be open to romantic intimacy outside your marriage.
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5. Stay Away from Old Flames
It’s easy to fool ourselves into believing a peek at a social media profile or a conversation wouldn’t hurt anything, but it’s as dangerous as playing with fire. “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” (Proverbs 6:27) If there were children involved in the past relationship, yes, some contact will be necessary.
However, keep it limited to discussion about the children as a protection against rekindling the feeling of happy memories, shared experiences, or resurrecting dead dreams you once shared together. It is easy to see the flaws in our spouse when time has helped us forget the shortcomings of an ex. Do not be deceived: memories can activate old feelings faster than you realize.
6. Create a Shared Spiritual Life with Your Spouse
When people think of a shared spiritual life they often imagine sitting down at the kitchen table and having a Bible study together. It can look like this, but it does not have to. In fact, discussing Scripture should be only one part of this pursuit. A shared spiritual life is an ongoing dynamic of how you each see God at work, what you are learning about the things of God, and how together you will continue to move your family towards God. It means prayer and accountability, a life of service and sacrifice, and loving the other as yourself, empowered by the Spirit of God.
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7. Resist Sexual Temptation
In a world constantly pushing the boundaries of sexual commerce, it is not hard to find flesh to gaze upon or even sex for hire. An excess of dating sites and pornography galore exist only a click away. People entertain the ideas of what it would be like to have affairs, an open marriage, or a homosexual relationship, and the mind begins to wander into the territory of destruction.
All of this temptation needs to be resisted and we should flee from the hint of it. If we want to protect our marriages from adultery, we need to protect our minds from meditating on it.
Remember it was Jesus who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
8. Resolve Conflict Quickly and Completely
If people view their marriage through lenses of bitterness and unforgiveness, they are more susceptible to give their emotions and bodies to another. John Henderson rightly teaches that “Forgiving your spouse will sometimes mean covering offenses. It will mean absorbing a debt that your spouse accrued and not asking him or her to pay it back, then striking it from the balance sheet as if it never happened. There will be evils and wrongs your spouse commits that love covers over—just as Christ has covered your sins, even sins you were never aware of.”
Viewing our spouse as an enemy can make another option seem like a savior. There is only one savior and Jesus doesn’t lead anyone into adultery, though he can forgive them for it.
9. Make Time for Sex
Let me say this clearly: If your sex life has not been great, it does not give you or your spouse license to cheat. If one person in a marriage cheats they will be responsible before God for it. That being said, sex is a fun and productive way to protect your marriage, and is a renewing ritual for the covenant you made.
10. Do Marriage Maintenance
Date nights, anniversary trips, or yearly “tune-ups” with a biblical counselor can all be ways to keep your marriage healthy. Get comfortable with the question, “Are we okay?” Just like a car, marriages need regular tune-ups to make sure that you are united and growing. Put some work into making your marriage healthy and whole. Coming up with a list of questions that you regularly ask each other can help with this.
What has been your favorite thing about our marriage in the last six months/year?
What has been the most difficult thing about our marriage in the last six months/year?
Where would you appreciate more support from me?
Have you felt lonely recently?
In what area of our marriage would you like to see growth?
It may take time to get comfortable with asking each other these questions, but as they become a habit you will instinctively know when something is amiss and needs to be corrected. Your marriage was a gift from God, and it is worth protecting with all of your heart.
11. Keep your Eyes on Jesus
There is no greater protection we can have for our lives and relationships than that offered by taking refuge in the work of Christ and living according to his words.
The closer we are to him the more he refines our character and the more distasteful sin becomes. When we keep our eyes on Jesus our bodies are not as likely to wander.
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