White lines are meticulously painted on the football field before each game. In the NFL, there is no room for error. Each line is significant and each line is precise. The lines become the boundaries that contain the game. Inside the lines, the game is alive. Outside the lines, the play is blown dead. Players on the field are intimately aware of each white line. Just an inch or the drag of a toe can make the difference between a career-defining catch and an incompletion.
Thankfully, in football there are referees and instant replay. Every inch is important and often they define the outcome of the game.
Like football, marriages must have clearly defined boundaries. Because we have neither neutral referees nor instant replay to help determine when the boundary lines in marriage have been crossed, it is best to stay as far away from the edge as possible. Even the appearance of a toe over the line can be enough to disrupt a marriage.
The advice you are about to read for creating and staying within the boundaries of marriage may seem extreme, or at least unconventional. Unfortunately, so might the idea of a lasting marriage. “‘Til death do us part” has become unconventional in our society where the median length of a marriage is just 11 years.
Here are some boundaries from my marriage that you might use to start painting boundaries of your own. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a start. Marital boundaries should be created together. They are not a punishment nor a way of saying that you lack trust in your partner. Instead, they are a way for you to voluntarily maintain accountability in your relationship.
- Share Passwords: Share all account sign-in and password information with each other for email, bank accounts, etc.. Link each other’s email accounts to your phones. This is an easy reminder not to write anything that might make your spouse uncomfortable.
- Blue-on-Blue/Pink-on-Pink: Never spend time alone with someone of the opposite sex who is not related to you. No exceptions. This includes private emails and online chatting. CC each other on emails to let the recipient know that it is not a private message.
- Same Sex Friends: It is hard for men and women to be “just friends”. To avoid the temptation from either side, maintain friendships with same-sex friends who cannot threaten your marriage. Before we were married, we both had platonic opposite sex friends. Within our marriage, we do not take that chance.
- Be Rude to Others, Not Each Other: Flirty women deserve no attention from married men and vice-versa for flirty men and married women. Make that clear by walking away if you sense something inappropriate. A good rule for NFL players taking pictures with football fans is: No Touching. Keep your hands to yourself and it is harder for the picture to be misconstrued by anyone, especially in the online socially-networked world in which we live. Even with close family friends, a one-armed hug or a high-five is usually greeting enough. Full hugs are rarely needed for non-family members.
- Don’t Complain About your Spouse: Build up your spouse in public. Tell your friends the great parts of your marriage, leave the drama for your journal or your therapist. Long after you forgive and forget, friends will still remember the dirt you shared with them about your spouse.
- Have an Accountability Partner: Choose friends who respect your marriage and your spouse. Ask them to check in with you periodically to see how you are doing as a spouse. If you need to travel separately, share a room with a same-sex friend or business acquaintance as a layer of accountability. NFL players can request a shared room with a teammate for away games.
- Date Your Spouse: Remember what drew you to each other in the first place and work to keep that alive. The grass is greenest where it is watered. Schedule weekly date nights even if you are eating dinner at home together after the kids are asleep. Dress up and commit to making your spouse feel attractive and loved. The more fun you have together the easier it will be to stay within the boundaries of your marriage.
Think of your marriage as a football field. What do your boundary lines look like? Are they old and faded or freshly painted and well defined? Maintaining clear boundaries will help you stay in bounds -- and help you create a marriage that thrives.