Vice President Mike Pence has been the subject of many conversations concerning his rule about not dining alone with a woman other than his wife. People are weighing in with their opinion on the matter, some thinking it is a good rule while others say it is archaic.
Regardless of your opinion, there is plenty of research indicating this area is worthy of our attention. Noted relationship experts — including psychologist and author Dr. Shirley Glass, psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Haltzman and Dr. Thomas Bradbury, psychologist and principal investigator of the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study — raise a red flag of warning regarding marriage and opposite-sex friendships.
In her book, "Not 'Just Friends,'" Glass states that contrary to popular belief, most people do not set out to have an affair. It is faulty thinking to believe that attraction to someone else means that something is wrong at home. It is possible to be attracted to somebody else, even if your marriage is good.
The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it's important to make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. This is especially true when you might be vulnerable — like right after a fight with your spouse.
Many relationship experts understand that one of the most common pathways to an affair is when a man and woman who are "just friends" innocently begin to discuss problems in their primary relationship. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.
Can opposite-sex friendships exist in marriage? It depends. Many enter marriage with opposite-sex friendships where they describe the person as "like a sister/brother," yet their spouse seems uncomfortable with the relationship. What do you do with that? This is a question each couple must answer.
Here are some guidelines that could help inform your discussion.
- Remember that clear boundaries create great guardrails and show respect for your marriage. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your marriage. You probably believe you would never be weak enough to fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. The reality is, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. A marriage where people believe they are not susceptible is perhaps the most vulnerable.
- Keep the lines of communication open. Talk with your spouse about how you can avoid creating walls of secrecy between you. How will you intentionally make sure you do your marriage work with your spouse and avoid creating unhealthy attachment or dependency on someone besides your mate?
- Ask: How will you guard against outside influences? For example, a couple attended a party where the wife observed another woman flirting with her husband. When they left, the wife told her husband the woman was being flirtatious. With big eyes, he emphatically denied it. But after encountering the woman again, he agreed that she was indeed flirting. He thanked his wife for bringing it to his attention.
- Don't be oblivious to the danger zone. Being on your guard in social and business settings where alcohol is present (and spouses are not) could help to prevent unnecessary drama in your marriage. It is common knowledge that drinking impairs judgment.
- Ask: How will you intentionally protect and nurture your marriage? Have an open conversation about how behavior impacts your marital condition. For example, images of Prince William drinking and dancing with another woman went viral. We don't know what was really happening, but it left room for questions. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can't hurt your marriage.
We all know what Mike Pence has chosen to do. Perhaps the best thing we can do is focus on what is best for our own marriage and cheer others on to do the same.
Julie Baumgardner is the president and CEO of family advocacy agency First Things First. Contact her at email@example.com.