Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question t TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
When you interact with others at the office, or the gathering place after work, what message do you send? Perhaps this sounds like an odd question, but I’d like you to consider what message you emanate?
Do you send out a “green light,” indicating that you’re definitely available for friendly and perhaps even flirtatious interactions? You may consider yourself “just a friendly kind of person,” who likes to tease and be playful. You even tell yourself, and your mate, “there’s no harm in what I’m doing.”
Maybe you’re a bit more cautious, emitting a “yellow light,” suggesting you are cautious, but willing to proceed slowly. You’re willing to interact on a more personal basis, but not until you’ve gotten to know the other person fairly well. Even with the yellow light, you’re unclear about when you might be in danger.
Finally, perhaps you’re in the group of people who are very clear about their boundaries, and emit and very strong, bright “red light.” STOP, you indicate, when the conversation becomes too familiar. You know that allowing someone into your personal, emotional space is an invitation to potential failure.
Let’s review these three different positions, and again consider where you typically function:
- Green Light: Tend to disregard personal and emotional boundaries, have little sense of danger, and proceed ahead, sometimes recklessly. The “green light” people send out a signal that suggests flirtatious engagement is all right, and perhaps even more if the situation allows. They make compromise after compromise, indicate they are “open for business,” and then wonder how they got into moral trouble.
- Yellow Light: Tend to be a bit more cautious. They recognize danger, but still tend to disregard it. These “yellow light” folks are willing to become emotionally attached to members of the opposite sex, sharing emotional information that strengthens that relationship. They, too, “find themselves” in trouble.
- Red Light: Tend to steer clear of danger. They are friendly, but stop there and make it clear to others that they are closed for any other business. They may be perceived as a bit stuffy, but really they are simply protecting their heart, their emotions and their marriage. They don’t end up in a dangerous predicament.
Consider this story from a woman who wrote to me recently.
Dear Dr. David. My husband is the pastor of a church, and counsels mostly women. He is usually careful when counseling these women, but there are times when he spends hours on the phone with them and it makes me uncomfortable. He has started taking phone calls at home and away from his church office, and I question the wisdom of this. I had no idea how much time these women can demand, and he is not good at setting boundaries. He is available to them 24 hours a day. He answers his phone wherever we are, and receives hundreds of text messages. When I tell him my concern, he feels I am overreacting. I wonder if his situation is safe, or if there is anything we can do to make sure he doesn’t slip into a dangerous situation. ~ Anxious Pastor’s Wife
You are certainly right to be anxious, and your anxiety is a God-given indicator that there is potential for trouble. Here are several things to consider:
First, excessive friendliness often leads to familiarity that then is an opportunity for moral failure. I am most concerned that there seem to be no safeguards when he talks on the phone with them for extended periods of time. You note that he is careful most of the time, but then he becomes lax regarding his boundaries, and this is when you feel uncomfortable.
Second, share this article with him and have a conversation about what color light he thinks he emits to the people he counsels. Consider how you think he approaches his counselees. Is he concerned but thoroughly professional? Does he cross the line into friendliness and familiarity? If so, let him know what you see and why you are concerned.
Third, he disregards your concerns and criticizes you for your reaction. Our mates, or someone from the outside, can often sense when we are in trouble even before we realize it. The fact that he dismisses you concerns me. It certainly appears that he is in denial about the potential danger, and that new boundaries must be established where your feelings are not only considered, but respected.
What to do now? I strongly suggest you talk to your husband, not trying to convince him that what he is doing is wrong or dangerous, but rather emphasizing your discomfort. Don’t preach at him, scold him or try to make him feel guilty. As with other issues, we approach our mate calmly, clearly, consistently and with conviction—emphasizing our feelings. Sit with him and establish better boundaries on the amount of time, when and where he talks on the phone. With better boundaries, and watching to see which light he emits, you’re going to feel more relaxed about the issue.
Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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