I sat wide-eyed as I watched the fire safety video at summer camp. Images of burning houses and fields flashed before my eyes. Firemen demonstrated how to stop, drop, and roll. Finally, a smiling fireman came onto the screen. “Don’t be scared; just be prepared,” he insisted.

I went home terrified. Though I was only seven, I had witnessed a brush fire in the canyon behind my house a few months earlier, so fires were a real threat to me. I decided I was going to be the epitome of prepared when the next fire came my way. So as soon as I returned home, I charted out my escape route.

Later that evening, my dad came to tuck me in. As he walked through the doorway he asked, “Are you ready for—” He stopped mid-sentence and stared at the big black garbage bags piled against all four walls of my princess-themed room. It looked like a very odd landfill.

What’s going on in here?” he asked.

“Well … I, um, I started to pack my emergency bag, but then I decided that I didn’t want to leave any of my stuff behind if there’s a fire. I want to take all my clothes and toys with me.”

Have you ever packed your bags to evacuate in case of an emergency? 

Setting up escape plans is a wise response to a potential emergency. If a fire strikes your home, it’s good to know how you’ll get everyone out of the house quickly and safely. If a catastrophic earthquake separates your family, it’s reassuring to know how you’ll find each other. Being prepared for natural disasters is both smart and comforting.

But there are other situations where having an escape route planned beforehand can create problems—in relationships, for example. Even though our society tends to treat them that way, relationships are not natural disasters. Yet we create escape plans that allow us to exit whenever the relationship becomes inconvenient, unsatisfying, or difficult.

Take John, for example. He’s a successful Christian businessman in his late twenties who’s been in a relationship with Cynthia for three years. Everyone is asking him when he’s going to pop the question. But he can’t bring himself to do it. She’s great, but not perfect. If he puts a ring on her finger, he won’t be able to get out of the relationship if someone better comes along. He’s not ready to settle quite yet. He wants room to escape—just in case.

Or consider Leslie. She’s engaged to Oscar, a wonderful Christian man. Her fiancé notices how stressed out she is and wants her to start looking for a less demanding job. But if she gets a less demanding job, she’ll make less money. And she doesn’t want to lose the career she’s built up or the financial security her job provides. Oscar’s great, but what if something happens? What if they get divorced? You never know nowadays. Her job is her security, her way of escape in case she isn’t as happy as she believes she should be.

And last of all, look at Ricardo, a guy in his early twenties. He’s in a relationship with Cindy, but he won’t give up his special friendship with another girl because she’s his “back up.”

Our culture says these are all perfectly acceptable escape plans. In fact, there are books published with titles like, Preparing for Divorce While Happily Married. 

Escape plans in the area of relationships aren’t smart. Frankly, they can be detrimental. If you’ve already secretly strategized exit routes, what will be your first reaction to trouble? Will you fight for your marriage? Or put your escape plan into action?

When you’re considering forming an escape plan from your relationship, take a moment to first reflect on this: