Like many women I know, I am frequently pulled toward the people in my life. A friend has marriage trouble and needs to talk things out at a coffee shop. My mother-in-law struggles with her husband’s ill health. An online friend needs to chat about a situation in her workplace. A friend needs help cleaning up the basement where the water flooded her late husband’s memorabilia.
When I nurture someone I care about, I feel like I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. It fills a place in my heart that aches to be needed, to matter to someone. My relationships matter to me, and they tug on me even when I am with other people.
I need to guard my heart carefully to balance the connection with others in a way that doesn’t pull my heart away from my marriage.
Relationships That Pull
When we think about relationships that interfere with our marriages, it is easy to jump to infidelity—but that is hardly the only kind of relationship that pulls on us. Our female friends, social activities, organizations, extended family, and even people we know online can all interfere with our focus on our marriages. When you find yourself going to two funerals and three family birthday parties every month, when you regularly spend more time thinking about a friend’s marriage problems than your own, when you spend more of your waking weekend hours with your friends than with your husband, when the friend you’ve told can call you even if it’s the middle of the night and actually does so frequently, it’s a problem.
To be fair, being distracted by these things on occasion or for short periods of time is not a problem. My friend’s flooded basement was a short-term need.) The problem comes when these things interfere with your marriage and turn your focus away from God and away from your marriage.
During the difficult years in our marriage, relationships with other people were an excuse to avoid my marriage. “Oh, sorry, honey, she really needs to talk today.” “She needs to talk, and now is the only time she has available.” “Why are you complaining? I’m doing this for your mother?” These relationships were important, but I allowed them to interfere with my attention to my marriage.
Part of my marriage transformation was learning to address these relationship pulls intentionally in order to keep my heart turned toward home.
I spend a great deal of time online, and I’ve met a lot of people that way. Although most of these online friends are people I wouldn’t recognize if I ran into them at the mall, they are real people, and the friendships are real. (See this article for a great explanation of this.) Several years ago, I was spending a lot of time on AIM chatting with women I’d met through a health forum. I wasn’t paying much attention to my own family—and if anyone challenged me on it, my response was something like, “But she needs my advice.” One day, my daughter flat-out asked me why someone else was more important than my own children were. Ouch. This provoked some serious thinking in me.
Why was I putting more of myself into those relationships than I was into my marriage and into my own family?
A good friend has been involved in a one-sided emotional affair for a couple years. She would tell me all sorts of details about the conversations she had with this man. She could recite their conversations word for word. She would tell me nuances of his facial expressions. She began to refer to them as “we.” And when I would ask her about her husband, she was vague and would change the subject. I finally asked her, as bluntly and gently as I could, “Has it occurred to you that your relationship with X is interfering in your marriage?” After she got over the shock of me asking that, she turned red and said that she was pretty sure it was interfering in her marriage. And then she proceeded to tell me why it this was acceptable.
Why was she putting more of herself into that relationship than into her own marriage?
I spent a good deal of last year being concerned about my friend and her burgeoning emotional affair. We worked together, so we usually had at least one conversation a day where she would mention this man who wasn’t her husband. And I would be thinking about what I should say or do—all the way home. I would talk my husband’s ear off about the situation. On the drive to drop my daughter off at work, I would talk about it. And then, when my friend was on vacation for a week, I realized that my heart felt like it was settling back into place. I realized that I had let my heart—and my time and my mental energy—become more focused on her than on my home.
Why was I putting more of myself into her relationship than into my own home?
When another relationship is a higher priority than your marriage, your heart is not where it belongs.
Sometimes, I would look at these other relationships as a source of success and worth. I wasn’t doing so well in my marriage, but if I shifted my heart toward these other relationships, I could feel valuable and important and know that I mattered. I could feel I was succeeding rather than failing.
Even now, though, with our marriage solidly in place in my life, I need to be careful. My heart wants to help heal, and when someone I know is hurting, my heart is halfway there before I even think about it.
Staying in Focus
In order to keep my heart where it belongs, I pay attention to my words and thoughts. If I notice any of the following, I know I need to step up my intentionality:
- If I spend more than twenty minutes talking to someone else about another relationship in my life. (I would say this is especially an issue if the person you’re talking about is a man.)
- If something happens, and my first thought is to tell someone other than my husband about it.
- If I change dinner plans as a result of my time spend on another relationship.
- If I find myself dreaming about something going on in a friend’s life.
- If I feel I’ve failed if a friend doesn’t like or agree with what I say.
- If I spend more than thirty minutes researching something for someone else in my life.
- If I find that more of my prayer time is devoted to a friend than to my own marriage and family.
- If my husband thinks these other relationships are becoming too important to me. I may not like what he says, but he is the best judge of whether my marriage is getting what it needs from me.
These may not be signs of concern for everyone, but they are the things that tell me I’m about to take a step too far. So that is when I develop a habit of taking deep breaths before agreeing or offering to spend time with someone. It’s when I pay extra attention to the amount of time I am spending with others. I step up the amount of time and attention I am giving to my husband, to reconnect and be reminded how I am more important to him than I am to anyone else. I make an extra point of putting my marriage relationship before the other relationships in my life.
Do you know what the signs are in your life that tell you relationships are pulling on your heart? Do you know what you need to do in order to turn your heart toward home?
It is good to be the kind of person to whom other people matter—as long as you keep your heart turned toward your marriage and toward home.
The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. Proverbs 14:1
Turn Your Heart Toward Home
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