If you look up “how to affair-proof your marriage” on the internet, you’ll find a lot of Youtube videos and articles by therapists and preachers explaining how to build your marriage and save your marriage. They talk about establishing an emotional connection with your spouse by having romantic dinners and fight-free conversations. Isn’t that all nice and tidy?
And if you’ve been attending church for long, you’ve also gotten the Christian take on strengthening your marriage: you’ve read the books and attended the conferences. You’ve established the weekly date nights. You pray together and go to small group together. You’re safe. You’ve done the work.
Yet all around you, marriages are crumbling because one spouse cheated while one didn’t (somewhere between 13-41 percent, conservatively). While your married friends go to church and raise moral children, one of them is cheating, while one of them is not.
Maybe this is not your friend’s story. Maybe it’s yours. So the concept of “affair-proofing” your marriage really ticks you off. Just another infuriating Christian cliché.
Well, you’re in luck. This is not advice about affair-proofing. It’s kind of the opposite.
Here are 3 reasons you can’t affair-proof your marriage (and what you should do about it):
Reason 1 - You can’t control what your spouse does. You can’t know what’s in your spouse’s heart or mind. You can’t manipulate his/her fantasies, fears, actions, or past abuse. As much as you want to, you can’t make your spouse a spiritual person. And you have only two responses to this stark reality:
Fear: This is the first and most natural response. It’s easy at first, but it will consume you in the end. If you don’t fight fear, you absolutely will develop phobias, insecurities, suspicion, controlling behavior, rage, impatience, intolerance, judgment, disdain, distrust, pride, and/or manipulation. Not pretty, and not how you save or strengthen a marriage.
Love: This is the spirit-filled, grace-filled option. It’s hard at first but rich in rewards. Choosing to love will develop in you grace, humility, patience, trust, submission, forgiveness, hope, joy, and respect (even for a jerk).
In other words, you will become the selfless, serving wife or husband—the antithesis of the American sit-com. You will be an anomaly.
Love and fear don’t seem like opposites, but they are. Love manifests itself in the presence of fear and beats it back. It’s how Jesus conquered death on the cross and how martyrs face their executions. It’s how the enslaved forgive their oppressors and how the grieving conquer bitterness. Love eradicates fear. Jesus stated, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 Jn. 4:18). There’s only one way to control your worst phobias—show love.
Real affair-proofing is choosing to love your spouse regardless of what he/she is doing, like God loves us. He doesn’t condone bad behavior, nor does He throw Himself at us. John finishes his thought with this explanation of “perfect”: “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” The two words in this verse for “perfect” carry an idea of maturity and completion, a virtuous conclusion, an intended purpose fulfilled. This is the reality that marriage was meant to produce—a process of spiritual maturity in you!
Love and maturity never result from worthiness, coercion, or incentive. You can’t will your spouse to love you more. You can't make them grow emotionally or spiritually. You can only direct yourself to conform to the image of Jesus, one day at a time. You can monitor the movies you watch and the books you read and the philosophies you believe and the words you speak. You can feed your spirit on God’s word. These are the things that will perfect you into the person you were created to be.
Reason 2 - You can’t undo the damage done to you or your spouse before you got married. No matter how much you may want to provide healing for your spouse, you can’t undo what happened to him/her. Many people enter marriage with abuse and betrayal in their histories, either from parents, friends, or former love interests. Marriage promises a new start, an erasure of a hurtful past. Unfortunately, marriage won’t erase any of your emotional traumas; if anything, marriage will bring your trauma to the surface because the emotional connection between you and your spouse deepens as you live in the reality of connectivity. The safer you feel, the more you will reveal about yourself.
Many a good marriage has been corrupted by an affair, not because the husband and wife didn’t care for each other or didn’t work on their marriage, but because someone didn’t do the personal work needed to live a life of integrity. Someone didn’t dig through the emotional baggage and retrain the mind. Someone didn’t get help.
Living with baggage in marriage can affect you in two ways (whether it’s your baggage or your spouse’s baggage): A negative cycle of helplessness, anxiety and anger, or a positive cycle of help, love and patience.
Whichever cycle you find yourself on, the key is the degree to which help arrives. Therapy, counseling, and encouragement keep a positive cycle going, while the lack of help keeps a negative cycle going. You are not called to fix your spouse. You are called to fix yourself and love your spouse.
This is a liberating truth. Gal. 5:13 says, “You… were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” You can stop the damage from growing, but you can’t grow for your spouse. Instead, pray, encourage, forgive, and love.
Reason 3 - You can’t compete with every person on the planet for your spouse’s attention. If you’re middle-aged, you’ve already figured that out. How do couples stay married for 50 years and still hold hands, kiss, and flirt with each other (to the embarrassment of their children)? It’s not because they have maintained ripped abs and tight skin. According to Reuters news agency, the global health and wellness industry has skyrocketed past a $3.4 trillion net worth. Fitness, diet, and beauty are perhaps the fastest-growing worldwide obsession. Every aging adult feels the pressure to look and act 10 years younger. Why?
You want to look good and be healthy. Of course you do. But perhaps you are also afraid. Because on every magazine cover and every film screen, a younger-looking, a more beautiful person than you smiles at you and subversively whispers that you are not good enough. That maybe you’ve never been good enough.
And your insecurity infiltrates your own self-image and the self-image of your marriage. You worry that your spouse will meet someone more beautiful or interesting than you. You feel compelled to focus time, money, and attention on outward beauty—fashion, hair, skin, fitness, persona.
But that’s not the real issue.
In the last 1800s, Margaret Wolfe Hungerford coined the expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” People have often used that expression to explain how a beautiful person can fall in love with a homely person, but that’s selling the concept short. Peter explains true beauty in 1 Pet. 1:3-6 like this, when he speaks to wives:
“Your husbands… may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment… Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight… do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
The word "quiet" translated in English actually means "tranquil" or "peaceful." In other words, your ability to bring peace and authenticity is what makes you desirable. True attraction comes through soul connection. Anyone who’s shallow enough to only love an attractive spouse is an affair waiting to happen, because there is always someone better. But the spouse who provides stability and unwavering love?—why would anyone walk out on that?
You cannot affair-proof your marriage. Set that fear aside. Instead, affair-proof yourself. And the beauty of that truth is this: people who affair-proof themselves are desirable, infectious soulmates whose spouses generally affair-proof themselves also. Because the last thing a soulmate wants is to lose his soulmate.
That’s how affair-proofing really works. It’s not a formula. It’s not a riveting video.
It’s a transformation lifestyle of love and selflessness.
Sue Schlesman is a Christian writer, teacher, and speaker. Her blogs, fiction, and non-fiction reach a wide audience. You can find her philosophizing about life, education, family, and Jesus at www.susanwalleyschlesman.com and www.7prayersthatwork.com.
Publication date: May 27, 2016
Sue Schlesman is a Christian author, high school English teacher, pastor’s wife, and speaker. She has a BA in Creative Writing and a Master’s in Theology & Culture. Her second book Soulspeak: Praying Change into Unexpected Places released in August 2019. Sue’s material appears in a variety of print, online, radio, and podcast mediums. She has a passion for missions, social justice, traveling, reading, and the local church. Sue has been married to her husband Shane for 30 years, and they have 3 adult sons. You can find her in Richmond, VA, writing about life, education, family, and Jesus at sueschlesman.com.