What would you be willing to do to have an affair-proof marriage? Would you go so far as Vice President Mike Pence, whose agreement with his wife, Karen — both evangelical Christians — became public last week? The Washington Post reported, “In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.”
And the world just kind of exploded.
Many people made fun of Pence, some noted how damaging such a policy is to women who may be excluded from important situations and others said, hey, it’s no different than the strict rules of other religious groups, such as fundamentalist Muslims and Orthodox Jews.
But what interests me is what couples do — or don’t do — or believe they should do to affair-proof their marriage.
There are no guarantees
You can’t really guarantee that your spouse will never cheat on you — or you on him or her — as I’ve written before. Still, some couples set up boundaries that they hope will keep each other on the straight and narrow. Even beloved author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that he’s:
a dude who believes in guard-rails, as a buddy of mine once put it. I don’t believe in getting “in the moment” and then exercising will-power. I believe in avoiding “the moment.” I believe in being absolutely clear with myself about why I am having a second drink, and why I am not; why I am going to a party, and why I am not. I believe that the battle is lost at Happy Hour, not at the hotel. I am not a “good man.” But I am prepared to be an honorable one. tweet
As a woman whose former husband spent many an hour at the bar, where indeed the battle was lost, I understand what Coates is saying: Stay away from temptation because, as Oscar Wilde so wonderfully said, “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” And many do.
Are men are out of control?
Pence’s agreement to avoid temptation — what has been called the “Billy Graham Rule,” after the famous evangelist — only seems to apply to men; Karen and other wives, evidently, can do whatever they please. Which says a lot about how society doesn’t think men can control themselves but women can. Too bad, because women are cheating at about the same rates as men are, according to a recent study.
Beyond that, it’s dangerous to peg men and women so narrowly. As Bustle notes:
At its core, the provision implies that men are beastly creatures bereft of any command over their sexual urges. Such a practice insinuates that a man on his own is a man unchained, and that without his wife’s presence, he is spiritually predisposed to violating the vows he made to her. Because the rule removes responsibility from men in terms of thinking for themselves, it goes on to view women who are not the wives of these men as sources of temptation, not human beings. By adhering to such a concept, the person practicing it is basically viewing other women as potential betrayals to marriage. tweet
Well, we often do view other women as potential betrayals to marriage. Mate poaching is a thing (although men engage in it, too). We’re often suspect of opposite-sex friendships and even “work spouses.” And, let’s face it — for some women, being the Other Woman is empowering; they’re likely to ignore any “guardrails” men have erected and go head-on for them, no matter how honorable men want to be.
Put a ring on it and get civilized
Many conservatives believe men need to be somehow kept in check. Enter marriage. Marriage “civilizes men,” a belief that became popular during the Regan era and that persists today. As Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, states:
Marriage plays an important role in civilizing men. They work harder, longer, more strategically. They spend less time in bars and more time in church, less with friends and more with kin. And they’re happier and healthier.” tweet
Except marriage alone will not prevent anyone from having an affair because, well, Ashley Madison. Enough said.
All that said, could Pence and Coates be on to something for people — well, men — who want to try their darndest to steer clear of temptation? Should they just avoid certain situations that involve members of the opposite sex? People who have alcohol or drug issues or who are in recovery often don’t do well in social situations where booze and drugs are part of the fun. So they stay away. But at least there are options — there are many public and social events that have nothing to so with booze or drugs. Not being in the presence of women alone? That’s a hard one and in many ways rather unhealthy. But if you know that’s your weakness, I suppose that would be one way to attempt to affair-proof your marriage — well, at least your part of it.
And that’s what it comes down to. All those articles by so-called experts on how to affair-proof your marriage pretty much put the onus on women to woman up — plan for sex, go on dates, wear sexy lingerie, communicate better, etc., etc. Yawn. You can do all that and still be cheated on. Because you can’t control your spouse’s behavior, you won’t be able to “affair-proof” your marriage either.
But — and it’s a big but — your spouse can control his own behavior. Really! He may not need to pull a Pence, but the two of you can create your own agreement and what’s OK and what’s not. It’s worth a try.
Want to know how to talk honestly about monogamy with your partner? (Of course you do!) Read The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Order the book on Amazon, follow on Twitter and like on Facebook.