It was the defining point of our marriage; a moment that upon reflection signaled the beginning of its end, I only lacked the perceptive powers to understand it at the time. We had a standing appointment every Sunday that had been ongoing for half our marriage. This unassuming fact alone should have been sufficent evidence that things were amiss. I was either too stupid to read the tea leaves or had succumb to her belief that all couples get heaping amounts of marital counseling and our maximum dosage should be nothing to worry about.
The topic this particular Sunday zeroed in on a long-term friendship with her personal trainer turned ‘life coach’. Their relationship started as a business arrangement and quickly blossomed into far more. First were the lunches after workout sessions but in time these were amended to include daily phone calls which occasionally turned into drinks after work. Foolishly, I was at ease with this from the onset, I had never been a jealous man and while previously cheated on I refused to paint her with the sins of former girlfriends. But as things went on their plutonic relationship, of which I had been assured, started to unnerve me. He eventually become wedged so deeply into our marriage the pressure it created meant drastic action needed taking.
After vomiting my feelings and concerns on her and the shrink that morning our therapist turned to her and like any doctor might a terminally ill patient suggested with all the gravity he could muster
“The friendship with this other man is a real problem for your husband and for the sake of your marriage I feel you should end it now.”
Her reaction was as swift as it was defiant.
“That will not be happening”, she snapped.
In those choice words she had effectively chosen sides. With the turn of a phrase she revealed to both of us that her vows to me were of less importance than her friendship with him and ending it for the chance to save our marriage was outside the limit of what she was capable or willing to do.
Over these past weeks the internet flared up with controversy surrounding the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision allowing a dentist to fire his female employee because she had become “irresistibly attractive” to him. In light of his feelings and a few seemingly innocuous events the dentist was convinced, swayed in part by his wife, that he and the hygienist’s working relationship had started down a dangerous path. In his own words he now had two choices, “loose my best employee or lose my wife and kids”. While both consented that no misconduct took place the terminated employee nonetheless sued for sexual discrimination eventually losing her legal battle in the high court.
The blogosphere appears united in its support of the employee, the consensus is that the dentist should have been more in control of his feelings and now this hygienist is an innocent victim of discrimination at the hands of a probable misogynist. But the firing of this employee and its legality are mere ancillary issues at play here. Only when we take our eyes off the trees in this story are we able to see the true forest of this case, namely,
How far does (or should) one go to save a marriage?
Any great marriage, or great relationship for that matter, is built upon certain pillars and among those building blocks fidelity is the cornerstone. No relationship will stand if that type of trust is lost. While this is a message most are ready to accept what isn’t as widely understood is the fact that fidelity requires ample amounts of intention. There will come a time in every relationship where remaining faithful will demand a conscience act of the will; a resolve to choose the needs of the relationship over the desires of the self, to purposefully act in a way wholly opposite the feelings of the moment.
It should be noted that in the absence of such intention is when affairs ‘just happen’.
But to be intentional means more than simply saying ‘no’ when an opportunity presents itself. It also means the determination to stay off of any path that could potentially lead to such a necessity, to remain far enough from the fire so as never to get burned. One of the many lessons learned since my divorce is the need – in fact the obligation – to steer clear of those temptations by means of relationship boundaries. We all have limits, spoken or unspoken, to what we will tolerate from our partner; such as how they treat us, speak to us, and respect us. But what is more often missed is our own willingness to accept the same from ourselves. In other words, what we are willing to tolerate in our own behavior, in the way we honor our relationship, our partner, or our vows? And when and if necessary what guardrails are we prepared to establish or actions are we willing to take that will help to avoid the craggy rocks of infidelity and ensure we don’t shipwreck our relationship or marriage?
The dentist’s choice to terminate his hygienist’s employment should be viewed for it’s intended purpose, the creation of a marital boundary. The employee’s firing acted as a barrier of protection for his marriage, the creation of a guardrail preventing both he and the hygienist from possibly careening over the edge into a ravine of humiliation, regret, and sadness. He made an intentional choice to protect that marriage no matter the cost or how others might react. Instead of condemning him we should respect him for his honesty and his admission of fallibility plus commend him for the willingness to do what few others would, all in an effort to save his marriage.
We then should look within ourselves and ask if we have our own guardrails that need building.