On the surface, Vice President Mike Pence’s “never dine alone with a woman” rule sounds like a good way to respect your spouse and avoid temptation. However, as an expert in helping marriages recover from infidelity, I think this type of thinking can lead to trouble.
First of all, this concept is disrespectful to his wife and all women. It is akin to saying all women are evil temptresses and men can’t control their behavior (and shouldn’t be held responsible for it, either, which is pretty much the foundation of rape culture). Saying that a man can’t be friends with a woman is saying that there can be nothing interesting about a woman aside her vagina. Is it really fair to say that because both Amal Alamuddin Clooney and Mr. Pence are married, Mrs. Clooney ceases to exist as anything other than a temptress? Has she somehow become less of an intelligent human being and adds nothing to a conversation because a married man might find her attractive?
As a pro-marriage counselor, I can tell you that it is fine to go out with a friend who is of the opposite sex. One person can’t meet all of your needs, and to think otherwise sets your spouse up for failure. Different people give you different experiences and nurture different facets of your personality. Not being able to be yourself, or be trusted, makes people feel smothered. Sometimes people have an affair as a way to establish a separate sense of self because they feel smothered in a relationship. I’m not saying this is an acceptable or wise choice, but it happens, and it’s only prudent to recognize this fact.
Getting ahead in the workplace is about networking and developing or nurturing informal relationships. How is trust built in the workplace if you can’t even have lunch with each other because of the possibility of infidelity? If you rule out social interactions with all people of the opposite sex, you are saying that you don’t trust your colleague — or yourself.
It is possible to have friendships with people of the opposite sex while respecting your marriage.
Of course, it is wise to protect your marriage. The key is to know how to place and honor appropriate boundaries. For people without a history of cheating it is unnecessary to take the drastic step of never having any cross-sexed relationships.
Steps to keep it “just friends.”
Danger comes when friendships are secret. Your spouse should know about your friend, and should also know when you meet up. Extend an open invitation to join you, so your partner knows that he or she is always welcome. Set basic boundaries, like never texting while drunk and not texting during “family time” (evenings and weekends) unless there is specific reason to do so.
When is it not okay to have a one-on-one friendship?
When do relationships lead to infidelity? It happens when one or the both of you has the “feels” for the other person. This is the slippery slope upon which many good people get themselves in trouble. You aren’t responsible for your feelings — just because you are married doesn’t mean that your ability to find others attractive goes away. However, you are responsible for your behavior.
If you develop feelings for someone who is not your spouse, the worse thing you can do is deny the truth. If you “try to get over it” and still continue the friendship, you are starting to slide down that slippery slope. Instead, be honest. Acknowledge that you are not a bad person for having feelings, but take responsibility for the fact that you are experiencing temptation.
After being honest with yourself, take steps to protect your marriage. I don’t think it is a good idea to tell your spouse, because frankly most people won’t understand that you are telling them this to protect your marriage. Instead, your spouse may freak out that you like someone else and start to worry that your confession is an indication that the relationship is progressing when, in fact, you are putting a stop to it before anything actually has happened.
Tell someone close to you that you trust is 100 percent supportive of your marriage. Ask them to help you make the right decisions to honor your marriage and resist temptation. This takes it out of the shadows. Now someone else knows and can keep you in check.
Whatever you do, do not tell the person you have a crush on. This leads to either one, them feeling awkward and distancing themselves… because, after all, you are married, or two, them saying that they have feelings for you, too. This will lead to angsty feelings that are the perfect set-up for an affair.
Once you realize you have feelings for this person, take actions to lessen the strength of your bond. Cease all one-on-one meetings with them. If you have inside jokes, let others in on it or stop indulging in them together. When something important happens to you and you want to tell your secret crush about it, don’t. Tell your spouse or someone that you do not have a crush on. Yes, if you are crushing on someone it will be difficult to take these steps, but it is a piece of cake compared to the devastation that infidelity brings to a marriage.
It’s all boils down to character and valuing your spouse’s trust.
John Wooden famously said “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Trust is the cornerstone to any relationship, but especially marriage. If you assume that you and/or your spouse cannot resist temptation and respect your vows, this is a sign that you don’t trust yourself or their character. You are so worried that your relationship cannot stand a basic test of trust that you shut out 50 percent of the population.
Trust yourself that you will be able to make the correct decisions if you are faced with temptation. Then live in such a way that your spouse never has to question your character or trustworthiness.
Caroline Madden, PhD is an author and licensed pro-marriage therapist in Los Angeles. She specializes in helping couples heal in the aftermath of infidelity. Her books include: After A Good Man Cheats: How to Rebuild Trust & Intimacy with Your Wife.