Although the hurt that permeates the Ashley Madison scandal is raw, the greatest heartbreak of the story is that it's only the tip of an iceberg that's always been present, an iceberg comprised of hearts that are as cold with spiritual indifference as they are hot with sexual lust. No matter how savvy the hackers, the sinful fantasies and desires that are a part of our human condition run far too deep to ever be exposed. We are deceived if we think we are somehow undeserving of a spot on any roll of impropriety apart from God's intervening grace. His holiness and view of sin doesn't allow room for private lists of "adulterers and cheaters" that we are somehow righteous enough to escape.
We need Jesus. I need Jesus. My marriage needs Jesus.
When my husband and I counsel couples, one of the things we emphasize is that every marriage has its own culture. If that culture isn't created with deliberate intention, it will be created by default. And we are all just carnal enough that a culture created by default will naturally morph into one that lends support to our sin and selfishness. It will naturally morph into one that hones out places of comfort for our flesh, places that will make sacrificial love for our spouse look increasingly unattractive.
I'm not saying there will be an affair, nor am I saying there won't be one where there's deliberate intention. What I'm saying is that a marriage culture created by default is a marriage that will make an affair sustainable. I've counseled enough couples through the deep heartache of betrayal to identify three characteristics that have marked their marriages:
1. Not Encouraging & Admonishing Each Other With Truth
Whether from a lack of desire for God and His Word, a lack of love for each other, or a fear of confrontation and warped view of authority, not holding each other accountable to gospel appropriation is one of the most detrimental things that can happen in a marriage. On the flip side, it's one of the most delightful. Nothing creates a grace-filled culture of mutual love and respect more than a marriage where a couple holds each other accountable to live out the gospel they preach.
My husband and I know each other's weaknesses and sin struggles in a way that's hidden from others. Remaining committed to encouraging and admonishing each other with truth makes our marriage the greatest venue for our growth in grace. Enjoying a culture that provokes each other to love and to the honoring of God and His Word isn't created or sustained without intention. It requires ongoing humility that welcomes kind confrontation and welcomes loving rebuke. It requires a grip on gospel grace that doesn't fear sinful imperfection, that doesn't have a need to protect itself or prove itself, but that finds its rest in Christ's righteousness alone.
I am so grieved when a woman tells me that her husband doesn't accept her admonition or encouragement to godliness without anger or defense. As the head of his home, nothing creates a culture that sustains sin more than this manifestation of pride. And I am doubly grieved when a woman reveals she has bought into the lie that allowing her Christ-professing husband to engage in a pattern of sinful behavior is somehow a response of love and a demonstration of submission. No, no, no! I wish I could shout the error of this thinking from the rooftop. I can't tell you how many times I've said to a woman, "Love your husband. Love him enough not to quietly let him continue in his sin. Love God and love him enough not to remain silently resigned."
Humbly encouraging and admonishing each other with truth isn't about having a marriage that isn't difficult or troubled. It's about having a marriage where apologies flow freely, and where grace pours over our sin-inflicted wounds and restores our spirit of love. It's about having a marriage that is marked by genuine repentance and ongoing forgiveness.
2. Not Making Sexual Purity A Priority
Most of us heartily articulate that we are committed to sexual purity, but our lifestyle and entertainment choices so often reveal that we don't make it a priority. We make not having an affair a priority, but we don't make the purity of our mind a priority. That's because we're legalists at heart who are prone to define our good standing by our external behavior. As long as we aren't indulging in the kind of indiscretion that removes us from the deacon list or lands us on the deviant list, we think we're doing well. It's dangerous thinking that deceptively leads to the very thing we pridefully think would never happen to us.
It's a legalist heart that has us patting ourselves on the back for not sinfully engaging in sexual exploits even as we entertain ourselves by gawking at those who do. It's a legalist heart that has a wife taking pride in being loyal while indulging herself with the inappropriate attention of another man. It's a legalistic heart that has a husband taking pride in being faithful while indulging himself with the immodest images of another woman.
If we aren't serious about sexual purity, the resulting culture of our marriage will be one that increasingly supports the presence of fleshly indulgence. It will happen slowly like a frog in hot water, but it will happen. Our entertainment choices will become increasingly explicit, our conversations will become increasingly laced with sexual innuendo, and we'll increasingly find humor and enjoyment in that which is shameful. And before we know it, we will find ourselves unraveling the threads of damage that have been strategically woven by the Enemy.
3. Not Staying Closely Connected
No two marriages that maintain a close connection look alike. We all have differing personalities and varying circumstances that make the dynamics of our functioning unique to our own relationship. But no matter how it looks in its physical expression, a tight connection leaves no room for functioning that involves our living emotionally independent from each other. Without the hard work of honest communication that dives beneath the surface, we will inevitably drift away from each other. Independent functioning is the culture of default for every marriage. Our children, our work, our ministry, our friends: these good things become bad things for our marriage when our affection for them finds us no longer fighting for close connection with our spouse.
In most relationships, there's typically one spouse who is more naturally bent toward a desire for emotional intimacy. To that person I say, "Lead the fight for connection. Fight for the love of your life!" I'm an intimacy freak who is happiest dissecting the entire heart of those I love. I feel insecure and grow increasingly suspicious if I'm locked out of the operating room. My husband is a bonafide introvert who is happiest keeping his heart wholly intact. He feels safest and most content sitting in the corner quietly watching his highly-favored surgeon skillfully dissect the hearts of others. If I didn't have the fortitude to keep fighting for a tight connection, the culture of our marriage would be very different. Though he still shuns heart surgery, he confesses he's grown quite fond of having me cut him to pieces.
One of the reasons it's so important to maintain a close connection in your marriage is that it doesn't allow someone to come between you without a ruthless act of squeezing that will likely capture your attention before damage is done. I'm not saying it makes damage impossible. I have far more respect for the devils' wiles than to say something so ignorant and naive. But when a connection is tight enough, even the most seductive of intruders will be met with difficulty. A tight connection sends a message that you aren't available as loudly as a loose one sends a message that you are.
In creating a culture of intention, I can't stress enough the importance of only keeping people close to you who have proven to be genuine friends of your marriage. Friends of your marriage don't tolerate any sexual banter from you about someone other than your spouse. Friends of your marriage don't promote any sinful indulgence of the flesh that shows disregard for your sexual purity. Friends of your marriage don't tempt you with sexual innuendo, seductive behavior, or any intentional impropriety. And friends of your marriage don't disparage your spouse or allow you to disparage your spouse.
Friends of your marriage point you to Jesus. They are rare gems. Don't take them for granted.