I once had an enlightening conversation with a young man who believed very strongly that once a couple were married, their individual friendships with the opposite sex needed to immediately cease in order to preserve the fidelity of their own marriage relationship. “Let me get this right,” I said. “Once I get married, you and I can’t be friends?” “That’s right, ” was his stoic reply.
Even if I had taken this extreme advice to heart, it wouldn’t have worked very well once I got married to Eric. Eric has more “girl” friends than I do! I’ve given up trying to remember all their names, not to mention the long list of old girlfriends and crushes from his high school and college years. On my end, being in the military also presents its own challenges–for instance, 99 percent of the folks I work with are male. Sometimes, my job requires foreign travel and one-on-one time with other men. Occasionally, I have been the only woman living in a tent with 20 other men for months on end (you learn to live with the smell!).
Given our jobs and our histories of close friendships, it is impractical for either of us to shield ourselves from the opposite sex in some sort of protective bubble, and it would be very wrong of us to shun our former friends. Fact: if you live in the world, you will face the opposite sex. And just running away is the most healthy or most effective way of maintaining marital fidelity.
So, how do my spouse and I maintain the fidelity in our marriage relationship?
Eric and I use a rather unorthodox approach to deal with the issue of fidelity: humor. We didn’t decide to use humor, it just happened naturally. Psychologists agree that laughter and humor create a distinct bond between people. If laughter truly binds people together, then why not make a joke out of something that is, in reality, no joking matter? I realize this sounds contradictory, but allow me to explain.
Eric keeps up the running joke that I’m his “girlfriend” and he loves nothing better than to throw people off by introducing me as such. “Hello, I’m Eric, and this is my girlfriend, Amanda.” Nearly seven years into our marriage and I’m still his “girlfriend.” Several people have actually taken offense to this or raised a disapproving eyebrow, but those reactions just fuel Eric’s fire all the more. He likes the joke too well to give it up, and I like the idea that he still considers me, “his girlfriend,” because that original spark between us never died.
I try to look for my own opportunities to perpetuate the joke. When Eric asks me to go see a movie with him or go out to dinner, I respond in the affirmative so long as “none of my other boyfriends call me with a better offer!” I have a whole herd of imaginary, nameless boyfriends while Eric has his own entourage of made-up girlfriends with whom, apparently, he spends all kinds of time. We both pretend to be annoyed, jealous, or aloof at the mention of them—the cherry, if you will, on the top of our proverbial joke—and end the banter with ridiculous threats and a good laugh. It never gets old.
Humor, in this way, removes any room for defensiveness in the relationship, which, over time, can wear away at the strongest of unions. For example, Eric makes a point to tell me if he happened to talk to a female friend on the phone, or when he goes home for a visit, and I’m not there, he respects both of us enough to tell me when he has spent time with a friend of the opposite sex.
There are three potential ways I can choose to respond:
- I can probe for more information and react with a suspicious, jealous tone.
- I can receive the information gratefully and move on.
- I can receive the information gratefully AND add some situation-appropriate humor.
I usually go with number three. It not only adds levity, but it further cements that unique bond between us, a bond made stronger through lighthearted humor. Our type of humor usually involves me pretending to be very angry and displaying a mock version of a two-year-old-style temper tantrum. I usually call him several absurd names that he finds most funny, and I wrap the whole thing up by threatening to sabotage his car, along with all of his possessions unless he changes his ways. The style of humor generated by lovers is of the most ridiculous kind, I unabashedly admit.
Infidelity, on the other hand, is no laughing matter. But staying true to your spouse, because it is an excellent, right, and honorable thing, ought to be, in my opinion, is very much a laughing matter! The joy of marriage begets humor: the shared, good kind of humor of best friends—not the type that derides or puts others down. It strengthens the bonds we already have and makes a good thing better. We can laugh about the topic of fidelity because our hearts are free to do so.
Humor is, of course, only one of the ways that we maintain our sacred relationship with one another. Nothing in a marriage relationship can ever take the place of the deep mutual respect that considers the feelings and perceptions of the other person. If a word or action brings any kind of doubt or anxiety to your spouse or gives a sense of insecurity, consider whether that word or action is worth keeping around. Your spouse must matter more than any friend, co-worker, TV show, magazine, or hobby.
There are many other great ways to strengthen and maintain the sacred union of marriage. Whether it’s humor, or daily accountability, or establishing certain reasonable boundaries, we must guard the valuable treasure we have. Our marriage relationships can have no greater gift than mutual trust and the freedom of a clear conscience.