The Wisdom of Boundaries

castle with moat

Annoyed and perplexed by the immaturity of some men, I sighed audibly. “I just don’t even understand how a man could do that,” I said, adding a mental, Grow a pair, man!

My wife had just told me about a close friend whose husband had just confessed to an affair. My wife mourned for her friend and hoped to have a word of encouragement, love, support for her. Me? I was disgusted — and frankly pissed, as I cared for this family, too — that yet another marriage was falling apart because yet another man couldn’t honor the commitment he’d made.

I was the king of cliché Christian judgmentalism. And he was the scum of the earth. So profound was my disgust that I still remember the exact intersection I was driving up to when we had this conversation.

Three Months Later

In just a few weeks, I’d gone from an arrogant moral elitist to a full-fledged adulterer.

Fast forward ninety days. My wife is devastated, dozens of close friends are hurt and confused, I’m living in my car, and two marriages are shaken to their foundation and at risk of crumbling to pieces.

Why? Because yet another man — because I couldn’t honor the commitment I’d made. In just a few weeks, I’d gone from an arrogant moral elitist to a full-fledged adulterer.

To the incredible glory of God, our marriage was eventually saved and we’re now fully reconciled (though occasionally we still have work to do), thanks to the Holy Spirit working on our hearts and some great counselors and friends and pastors working on our relationships.

Today, I love my wife more than anything or anyone else in creation, and in all humility, I can say I will never repeat my mistake.

In Retrospect

But I can’t claim ignorance anymore like I did as I braked for that intersection near my house. I do now understand how a man could have an affair. It’s remarkably simple.

All it takes is a bit of unmet emotional need (something present in all marriages from time to time), a lack of submission to real spiritual discipleship and accountability (which describes most Christians), and a total absence of key relational boundaries with the opposite sex (after all, they’re archaic, excessive, and altogether unnecessary).

In my case, I had some needs that I wasn’t self-aware enough to recognize, much less to bring up to my wife or God. I was in a position to have all sorts of spiritual oversight, but I chose to dodge such things, since those guys were so busy and I had things together. Yet even failing these two out of three, I’m convinced I wouldn’t have had my affair if I had heeded the wise counsel I’d been given before, and taken preventative steps regarding women who aren’t my wife.

Key Boundaries

I’m talking basic boundaries here. Avoid extended periods alone with other women. Be cautious when working together on projects and building camaraderie. Never play it cool when she flirts; be an oblivious, socially inept idiot. Never flirt back, even if it’s totally casual. And at the first sign of attraction, run away as fast as humanly possible. No explanation. She doesn’t deserve it. You owe her nothing. You promised your wife everything.

As a married Christian, being friends with the opposite sex is a slippery slope. And it’s far more slippery than it appears. Trust me.

At the first sign of attraction, run away as fast as humanly possible. No explanation. She doesn’t deserve it. You owe her nothing. You promised your wife everything.

I won’t go so far as to say that a married man or woman should forfeit all friendships with the opposite sex like some would say. However, I’ll go a lot closer to that than the alternative. And having been there, I’m going to err on the side of caution in every circumstance.

A Self-Assessment

Here’s how I evaluate my friendships with women other than my wife. I ask myself a series of ten questions, and if the answer is yes to any of them at all, then I need to put some serious distance into the relationship. Immediately.

  1. Am I closer to her than my wife is?
  2. Is she a friend of the family only because I brought her into the family?
  3. Do I find myself looking forward to seeing her?
  4. Am I sexually attracted to her at all?
  5. Do I find myself wishing my wife had one or more of her characteristics?
  6. Are we alone for most of our social encounters?
  7. Does she occasionally flirt with me, even casually?
  8. Have I ever fantasized about sexual activity with her?
  9. Could I see myself being content with her as a wife, should something happen to my wife?
  10. Am I upset or hurt when she doesn’t notice or acknowledge me?

Yes, it feels dated. Yes, it feels restrictive. And yes, for ninety-nine of one hundred cases, it’s completely unnecessary to inject artificial distance into a relationship with a woman.

But even if it’s only necessary one case out of a million, I promised my wife absolute exclusivity. That means zero out of infinity.

So the lost potential friendships are all worth the certainty of faithful marriage. I’ve encountered that narrow margin of error before. It’s not worth it.

I knew it at the time, and I know it now. I only wish I’d known before, when it was time for a gram of prevention instead of a metric ton of cure.

About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.