No one likes rules. That’s why you so often hear the saying “Rules were meant to be broken.”

As parents, we see it played out on a regular basis. Our kids often have a knack for breaking rules the same way we did when we were their ages. The go-to excuse for my daughter when she breaks the rules is to claim it was an accident. Of course, it was not. She sits on a “throne of lies,” much like the Santa imposter in the movie Elf. It’s not a good situation for her. The truth is she didn’t like the rule, so she chose to break it.

As adults, sadly, we have moments when we aren’t that different. We make decisions by weighing the consequences and choosing whether or not to risk it. We evaluate the risk of getting caught and whether or not the punishment is bearable. This is a daily occurrence for most of us, especially the ones who drive on the Interstate regularly, setting our Cruise Control to an exact number above the speed limit.

In other cases, in the heat of the moment, we develop tunnel vision and fail to consider the risk or consequences at all. In all likelihood, that’s the situation with my daughter – tunnel vision.

Making those choices is much easier when it’s black and white. But, how do you handle it when it’s gray? The only way to handle gray areas – areas where there aren’t hard and fast rules – are to make up your own rules and stick to them. This is a much-needed task in our marriages, as there are plenty of gray areas we all have to navigate.

The best way to prevent problems in your marriage, I believe, is to set rules for yourself and live by them. Without them – without safeguards to protect your marriage – it’s sure to become a much weaker version of what it set out to be.

Consider your marriage as a house. If not maintained, it will slowly deteriorate. My wife is great about encouraging me to stay on top of some of the things around the house that need to be done. At our last home, I didn’t do much to maintain the exterior. As a result, when it came time to sell, the outside wood trim was full of dry rot.

Dry rot is the weakening of wood caused by fungus. Perhaps you’ve dealt with it at your own place. The best way to prevent dry rot damage is to reduce or eliminate excess moisture in the first place, before it becomes a problem. Sure, you can repair damage done to your home by rotting wood. But it’s costly. The better solution is to prevent it from occurring at all. And, the only way to do that is to keep a close eye on it and protect it from the beginning.

Our marriages are the same. Without regular upkeep, they will slowly rot around the edges. Eventually, they’ll weaken. In some cases, they might appear strong, but when tested – as when you poke your finger into a rotted window sill – you’ll find mere shards of what existed before.

One of the best ways to monitor your marriage and prevent its deterioration is to set certain rules for yourself. This is not about trust. Sure, you should trust your spouse and your spouse should be able to trust you. (That’s why this is not a directive to set rules for your spouse!) Instead, this is about guarding your heart, as it says in the Scriptures” “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23).

I have the utmost respect for Billy Graham, who, early on in his ministry, had the foresight to set a few rules. These rules were not an attempt to be legalistic, but rather they were put in place to safeguard the ministry to which God had called him. One of those rules was to avoid even the appearance of any impropriety when it came to the opposite sex. Neither he nor a member of his team was allowed to travel, meet, eat or be alone in any context with a woman who wasn’t his wife.