Proverbs 4:23 NLT
In the next episode of Fatherhood Wide Open, I talk with author Marvin James about his book, The Secret of Marriage. It’s vastly different from other ‘marriage help books’. Instead of offering tidbits and aphorisms on how to better love our spouses and keep our marriages strong, this book tells, through the narrative of one man’s life, how NOT to do marriage. His book is appropriately subtitled, Do The Opposite Of What I Did.
I was most interested in talking with Marvin about arguably his most important chapter, No Rules Apply. In it he describes step by step how his affair began with a coworker. He further explains how he justified the infidelity, more to himself ironically than friends, and how he manipulated others to keep the affair going. Chapter eight alone is worth the price of the book.
Marvin then pinpoints the precise moment their plutonic work relationship was hurled onto a trajectory destined for something far different.
One conversation we shared in particular was her telling me something about her past. I assured her that what she shared with me was our secret. I could sense she was uneasy about the information she shared with me because not only was it personal but it was something that her current boyfriend didn’t know…It really seemed harmless…We went from speaking about our significant others with praise to bashing their faults.
I’ve written many times that affairs don’t ‘just happen’. Adultery should never come as a surprise to the people involved. The physical act is merely the final destination to a journey that started much earlier. The path of infidelity begins, as it did for Marvin, the moment secrets are shared.
Secrets are very dangerous things. When two people of the opposite sex share intimate details about themselves or the troubles had in a marriage, the dynamic of that relationship changes. A friendship that was casual and distant suddenly becomes intense and focused. When I tell another woman the problems I’m having in my relationship or complain to her about my wife’s faults, an unhealthy bond is immediately created. That openness cultivates a soil where deadly things can begin to grow. Transparency breeds familiarity. Familiarity allows for intimacy.
When Marvin’s co-worker, who later became his wife, shared that first uncomfortable secret about her boyfriend, one she couldn’t or wouldn’t share with him, as human nature dictates, Marvin was obliged to tell secrets about his own relationship problems and the perceived failures of his wife. This ultimately lead to an ‘us versus the world’ mentality. They now had a common enemy. Suddenly they were the good guys while everyone else, namely his wife and her boyfriend, were the bad guys.
By feeling listened to, accepted, and validated the relationship deepens and what naturally happens is we share more intimate details. Like a drug we can’t get enough and secrets begin piling up. Over time we get so deep into the other person we start to think we can’t make it without them in our life. We need each other. The soil of our hearts becomes so emotionally fertile, sensuality can finally take root – and when that happens there is almost no turning back.
Yet by current standards this sharing of secrets isn’t bad, and certainly wouldn’t be considered ‘cheating’. That’s because our idea of commitment has been cheapened to merely a physical behavior. So long as sex isn’t involved nothing is wrong. That unhealthy familiarity and deadly intimacy that comes when two people share secrets is believed “harmless”, much as Marvin and his coworker thought, when in reality it couldn’t be more dangerous.
This is an area of my life that I guard faithfully, even vigilantly, by erecting boundaries around my behavior hoping to protect my heart from being led down a similar dangerous path. Contrary to most, this is, for me, a black and white issue. I will not eat lunch alone with a woman. I do not ride alone in a car with a woman unless absolutely unavoidable. I feel uncomfortable talking alone with a woman in public.
Many will say this is extreme behavior and a sign of a moral weakness. They would be correct; because there’s a reality I’ve accepted about myself. Given the right set of circumstances I, and for that matter anyone, could cheat. The easiest way to have an affair is to believe we could never have an affair. Without a sober and honest respect for our human weaknesses we may unknowingly walk into situations where those weaknesses can be tempted.
The wisdom of this Proverb can’t be understated. We will always travel in the direction our heart leads. And by heart I mean our affections, our attractions, and our emotions. So unless we want our heart taking us on a journey that ends in brokenness and regret, we must guard it by the secrets we share.