A marriage of walls and windows

A few months ago, I read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s sequel to Eat Pray Love called Committed. Told in her poignant, often humorous voice, it’s a memoir-style book where she explores the ins and outs of marriage as she prepares with great trepidation to marry for the second time. As with Eat Pray Love, I adored this book because I related to her experience and to her growth on nearly every level.

One chapter in particular stuck with me because it was the first time I had seen a concept that Scott and I have always embraced in our relationship sort of “defined.” And here I thought we were original.

Elizabeth wrote about researcher Dr. Shirley P. Glass, a psychologist, author, and one of the world’s leading experts on infidelity. Dr. Glass got started in the field when she was driven to answer the question “how did it happen” to the hundreds of couples each year who wind up in situations of infidelity crying “it just happened! I don’t understand…”

In many cases, Dr. Glass hypothesized, if people dug deeper, they could see a very clear path of choices that led to the unthinkable infidelity. And she coined this one specific theory “walls and windows.” An analogy I totally love!

Her theory is that there is nothing wrong with a person in a committed, monogamous relationship having friends of the opposite sex, as long as the walls and windows of the relationship remain in place. Every healthy marriage/committed relationship is composed of walls and windows. The windows are the aspects of your life that are open to the world, you tell your friends and family about them, you share them in your blog – whatever! They are open. The walls are the barriers of trust behind which you guard and keep safe the most intimate aspect of your marriage – those things that are kept between just you and your significant other.

What can happen however is that within your harmless, opposite sex, best friends forever (BFF) relationship, you can begin sharing intimacies with your BFF that belong behind a wall – protected within the sanctity of your marriage. Maybe it’s secrets about yourself, maybe it’s frustrations you are having with your partner. Whatever it is, you expose yourself and it feels good because it’s been pent-up.

You’ve now just thrown open a window where a wall should exist. And it typically doesn’t stop there. Now that the window exists, you soon find yourself having heart to hearts with this BFF. Maybe you feel a twinge of guilt, maybe you don’t, either way you don’t want to get your spouse all wound up over nothing, so you keep these now “intimate” details of this friendship to yourself. In not being completely transparent with your spouse, you’ve now just thrown up a wall where there should be a huge picture window!

The entire architecture of your matrimonial intimacy has therefore been rearranged. Every old wall is now a giant picture window; every old window is now boarded up like a crack house. You have just established the perfect blueprint for infidelity without even noticing. (Committed, Elizabeth Gilbert)”

Anyone who has been through this type of situation knows exactly what I am talking about and how easy it can happen without ever having had the intention of sliding down the slippery rabbit hole.

Girl has boyfriend. Girl also has boy best friend. Boyfriend, trusting the commitment they share, has no issue with boy best friend. Everything is fine. Girl starts to incidentally share intimate details of boyfriend relationship with boy best friend. Perhaps about a fight, frustrations, issues in the relationship. Afterwards, girl feels guilty about sharing such details with boy best friend but chalks it up to friendship and says nothing to boyfriend. Things continue on. At some point, girl has crisis – she turns to boy best friend and they lean on each other in support – and next thing they know, they are locked in a passionate kiss neither intended nor planned. Girl realizes she’s torn between two men.

It’s not like having a best friend of the opposite sex will inevitably lead to an affair. And, it’s not like this is the only way infidelity happens but it’s definitely a trap I’ve fallen into a time or two (in my first marriage and earlier relationships). Looking back, I can see all too clearly where it all went wrong and how the writing was on the wall long before the incident took place. How could I have been so clueless?

I made a decision long before I met Scott that I would never be “clueless” again. Conscious living and 100% honesty and transparency were what I was looking for and what I wanted to give. And when we got together, he felt the same so it was a very easy and natural decision from the very start. Neither of us was engaged in a BFF relationship with someone from the opposite sex and we decided not to do so going forward.

Does this give me a false sense of security that we are safe from infidelity and other sorted types of betrayal? Absolutely not – we are human and within humanity, anything can happen – good and bad. But it does offer me a small sense of security that both of us are trying our best to be aware of pitfalls we’ve encountered and experienced in the past and avoid them. Not to say we won’t find new ones to make.

What techniques do you employ in your committed relationships to keep things safe?

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