This third lesson in our  four part series is entitled Keeping Inside the Fences. Normal human beings have a healthy fear of intimacy. Intimacy is dangerous and makes us very vulnerable to harm. We have a defensive “fence” around us to keep people away from us who are not our spouses or partners. Think of being in an elevator. If there are only two people in the elevator, where do they stand? They normally stand on the opposite sides of the elevator with plenty of space between them. When the elevator starts to get full of people, there is no longer any space between people. What happens when other people get into our space? We find that people will start to pull their arms up in front of them or stand very rigid and unmoving and unresponsive (like a statue). These automatic responses are the “fences” that keep us apart from people we don’t know. If you are in that same elevator and see two people standing together or even touching each other, you have a pretty good idea that they are partners. They have dropped the fences and allowed that person to live in their personal space.

People who are heading for infidelity start by dropping their fences

What we learned in that study long ago about how infidelity happens was, “Once the fences go down, it is only a matter of time.” Let me make a partial list of the normal fences that keep us at a healthy distance from people.

1. Physical closeness

If you are a dance instructor you have to be close to your student. You are living in their space that is restricted to intimate partners. BE CAREFUL! Once you have dropped a fence like physical closeness, you must put up another one to replace it.  This is true of people like physical trainers, physical and massage therapists, medical personnel, piano teachers, coaches, or anyone who must be in contact with their clients or students in order to do their job. Physical closeness has been the downfall for many, many thousands of people who did not even know they were at risk.

2. Length of time alone

There are jobs where you are expected to be in an office with someone of the opposite sex for many hours each day with no one else around. This is a very dangerous situation if you are not aware of the pattern. There are situations where we work side by side but have little interchange or conversation except what is needed to get the work done. But, this healthy situation can become a potential bombshell when we have time to talk about things that are going on in our lives. As surprising as you might find it, there are couples who talk with people at work more hours of the day than they talk to their spouses. Normal stories of events just naturally change into exchanges of thoughts and feelings about things. Eventually co-workers can feel closer to each other than to their own marriage partner. When you hear someone say, “You are just so easy to talk to” or “I can tell you things I can’t talk about with my spouse,” be on guard!  They have just given you the signal that they let the fences down and you are headed for trouble.

3. Depth of sharing

It is one thing to talk about how the Bears beat the Vikings last weekend. But when you talk about how you long to run away and join the Vikings, you have crossed an important line!  Not that you should not like the Vikings but you have started to talk about things from your heart. You have started talk about your desires and dreams.  Or you have started to confess the failures of your life or of your marriage (and what causes you to want to join the Vikings).  There are many jobs that require a person to hear and share important personal issues in order to do the job. Guidance counselors, youth leaders, mental health providers, teachers and tutors, coaches and personal trainers, lawyers, accountants and PASTORS. In order to help people who require our help, they must share things they might not share with anyone else, even their spouse. This breaks down a very important fence that keeps people from feeling more intimate with that professional than with their partner in marriage. We cannot refuse to let them share because that is what we must do to help them with their issues, but we must put other fences into place to replace the one that was taken down to help.

4. Unlimited accessibility

There are only a handful of people who can contact me at any time of the night or day. Even members of my family know that there had better be a pretty good reason to call in the middle of the night or they should wait until at least daybreak!  There are people who I have given permission to contact me at anytime. They are my most intimate family members. Why is that important? Limiting accessibility is a fence to intimacy that must be kept in place or you will drift into problems. It is no problem when co-workers call you at work on your work number and share information needed for work. It could be a major problem if that same co-worker starts calling you at home after working hours for things that are not work related. It would be wise to put the fence back in place and enforce that “personal time” is different from “work time” and needs to be separated. Please understand, I am a pastor and my job is helping people. It is not easy for me to say to someone calling with a personal need while I am home in the evening, “Call me at the office tomorrow morning and we will talk.” But, I have also helped them in a different way because I have helped keep their heart and mind inside the fence.

5. Sexual images

Everyone knows that sexual harassment has been outlawed in the work place. But, I still run into people who enjoy telling jokes with sexual overtones that force visual images.  Once you start laughing with people who poke fun with sexual names, ideas or concepts (even negative or demeaning sounding ones), you have opened yourself to letting your mind consider images of people around you.  This is dangerous in the extreme!  We used to have an expression of revulsion, “That is worse than kissing your sister”.  Off color jokes and vocabulary that contain innuendos and sexual inference, should repulse us just as badly as thinking of “your sister” as someone to kiss!

I’m going to make a strong statement but I think I can back it up. I believe anyone who enjoys sexual jokes is already looking (shopping around) for someone to have an adulterous sexual experience. There have been a few that seemed to be working up to it but were still at the “playing mind games” stage of infidelity, but they were already walking down the dangerous path. You cannot “start and stop” your mind from playing those images once you start thinking of your coworkers and friends in that way. It is an all or nothing kind of thinking. I want you to put back the fence and refuse to allow any thought or word that contains a sexual image into your conversation or thought patterns.

A word about pornography

I just talked about mental images so this is connected to the discussion of infidelity at this point.  Society believes that viewing pornography is a “victimless crime”.  They say there is no one hurt by such images therefore there is no reason to consider it a sin. But, there are victims. Let me list them for you. YOU are the first victim. Your brain puts out very high concentrations of hormones that surge into your system when you view sexual images. The idea of you being a victim of your own bad choices comes from the fact that you become a “drug addict” without having to go out and purchase narcotics. You tune your physical system to demand that same hormone high over and over again. Different people become addicted at different rates but I will warn everyone that no one gets a “pass” on this one. There is no “safe” level of pornography use for anyone!

It is a direct violation of the command by Jesus to keep from thinking sexual thoughts about people other than our spouse and it puts us in danger of God’s judgment upon such sin and rebellion. Therefore, you have made yourself a victim on a second level.

The other victims include your spouse and family members. When you substitute visual images other than the person you are married to into your head, you rob your spouse from being the most important person in your heart! You have placed someone else into your mind’s eye. That will eventually cause you very large problems in your relationship.  BEWARE!  The thought that other members of your family will become victims is very simple. Once you begin to think (view in your head) people around you as sexual objects you will treat everyone differently. Your mental images change your feelings, they change your attitudes, and they change your automatic responses. You become a different person over time. The simple fact that we abuse the people who are closest to us and those abusers are very often people who started down that path by viewing pornography. Their minds walked the path before they took a single step in the direction of infidelity.

What do you do to keep the fences in place?

If you are in a profession that requires you to share very personal, private thoughts and feelings of your clients, put several different fences back in place to protect everyone.  When I did counseling in the pastor’s office, there was always another person outside the door of my office noting the time that we started our session and the time it was over. They were never told that they could not interrupt with only a knock on the door.  That made everyone aware that nothing was being done that could not be confirmed by witnesses.  Doctors and nurses must always have a “second set” of eyes and ears in place when they take care of patients. What that means is: when one fence must come down, put at least one back to replace it. If you are working with people for many hours each day, make sure you keep the conversation professional.  As a pastor, I did not counsel my church staff.  Why? Because they were working with me every day on a professional level. To suddenly break down a fence that allowed sharing of very personal information would put our professional relationship in peril.  Keep personal and professional contacts separated. Set very specific and rigid time limits if you are dealing with very personal issues. Never drive for long periods of time with someone that might not understand the importance of keeping those fences in place. There are professional people who understand, but you would never take a young person from the youth group on a long ride to a convention without another adult riding along. Keep good, solid, healthy fences in place.

There is one more lesson in this series.  It discusses what you do if there has been infidelity in your marriage.

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