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Article - What's all this talk about boundaries?

Vice President 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 think 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:

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Sometimes people can be oblivious of 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.

  • 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 First Things First, an award-winning nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A native of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Julie’s alma maters include Transylvania University and the University of Knoxville, where she received a B.A. in Psychology and an M.S. in Community Agency Counseling, respectively.  Julie is a Certified Family Life Educator and Certified Crisis Intervener, and is also a trained administrator and facilitator for PREP, Prepare and Enrich, Couples Communication and Family Wellness.


Why Date Nights?

At the Marriage and Relationship Education Center (MREC) we make it a practice to celebrate marriage. Our mission is to serve the community with relationship education so marriages and families thrive. With National Marriage Week USA just around the corner, we are upping the ante, looking for special ways to help others celebrate their union and make marriage a priority.

The national celebration, from February 7 to 14, is a collaborative campaign designed to strengthen individual marriages and reduce divorce rates, fortifying family and community. MREC is joining the celebration by kick-starting our Date Night Escapes series, which will offer numerous fun and reasonably-priced opportunities for couples to spend time together in 2017.

Date Nights add pizzazz to a relationship with activities designed to promote friendship and romance. In the past we’ve hosted a night in the mall with entertainment and door prizes, miniature golf, and more. Our upcoming Date Night offers glow bowling, music, food and date night tips at a nominal cost.

Studies show that couple time enhances communication, solidifies commitment and offers parents time alone, offering an exciting way to de-stress. Claudia and Dave Arp, authors of numerous books about marriage, say healthy, growing marriage relationships require friendship, fun, and romance.

“We believe that great dates are more than going to see a movie and tuning out the world for a while,” the Arps write. “They involve communication with one another, reviving the spark that initially ignited your fire, and developing mutual interests and goals that are not focused on your careers or your children. Great dates can revitalize your relationship!”

Sadly, a “Redbook” survey of readers found that 45 percent of couples “rarely” have date nights. Only 18 percent said they manage to go out around once a month. Some readers admitted they were waiting for the other one in the relationship to initiate a date. MREC is making it easier to initiate and hoping couples will bring their own Date Nights back, which will rekindle the fire at home.

Marriage works. According to stats posted by, married people are happier, live longer, and enjoy more economic security. Children with married parents perform better in school. Keeping marriages strong benefits communities as well as individual families. 

From the sidelines, we are cheering on your marriage. We hope you'll join us in making marriage top priority.       


Marriage Resources:

5 Love Languages

Dave Ramsey - Financial Peace

Do Marriage Classes Really Work?

Prepare Enrich Education Videos

Easy Relationship Tool - Better than Therapy?


A recent University of Rochester Study says - Discussing five movies about relationships over a month could cut the three-year divorce rate for newlyweds in half, researchers report.  Listen to the report and then use the "Movie List and Questions" below to put this technique into place.  Please give us some feedback on Facebook or our website to let us know how this tool works or doesn't work for your marriage.

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