Vice President Pence has been the subject of many conversations lately regarding his rule about not dining alone with a woman other than his wife. People have varying opinions on the matter. Some think it is a good rule; others say it is archaic.
Regardless of your opinion, plenty of research indicates that it's 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 says that most people don't plan to have an affair. And, it's faulty thinking to believe that attraction to someone else means that something is wrong at home. It IS possible to think someone else is attractive, even if you have a good marriage.
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 their marriage problems. 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.
If you haven't talked as a couple about how you can protect your marriage, these guidelines can help inform your discussion:
- Establish clear boundaries. It creates great guardrails and shows 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 make sure you do your marriage work with your spouse? How can you avoid creating unhealthy attachment or dependency on someone else?
- Be aware, and value your mate's opinion. 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.
- Recognize the danger zones. Sometimes people can be oblivious to tempting situations. Being on guard in social and business settings where alcohol is present (and spouses are not) may prevent unnecessary drama in your marriage. It's common knowledge that drinking can impair judgment.
- Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Have an open conversation about how behavior impacts your marital health. 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.
So, we all know what Mike Pence has chosen to do in an attempt to safeguard his marriage. Perhaps the best thing we can do is focus on what is best for our own marriage. And let's cheer others on to do the same.