Have you ever heard of “fence laws”? This is a simple concept that you can apply to any important area of your life, but especially to marriage. This is how the government keeps things from getting out of control in society, how religions help people avoid sin, and how you can save and strengthen your marriage.
The concept is simple. If you want to keep from committing a crime, put up a fence between you and the crime.
If you walk by an orchard and the apples are just hanging there, it is too easy to just pick one – “It’s just one apple. They’ll never miss it.”
But if there is a fence around the orchard, there is a barrier to overcome. It’s no longer “just one apple”. Now there is climbing a fence and willfully, purposefully trespassing where it is obvious that the owner is trying to keep you out, where it is obvious that he does not consider it to be “just one apple”. The goal of the fence is not to protect the ground beyond the fence from your body moving a few inches toward the trees; it is to keep you from stealing fruit. If you obey the fence, you won’t steal the apples.
A great example of a fence law would be speed limits. The goal of speed limits is not to keep things slow. The goal is to keep people from killing and wounding each other. If you don’t speed, you probably won’t kill anybody.
In your marriage you can put up fence laws. In fact, all the advice in this chapter could be called “fence laws”, with the intended goal of ensuring a strong marriage and respecting your vows:
Do not argue, not because arguing is bad (it is, but that’s beside the point), but because arguing leads to disrespect and less love, which violates your vows.
Keep up the romance, not because romance is good (it is, but that’s beside the point), but because romance makes it easier to love and therefore strengthens your vows.
Come to an agreement on finances, not because agreeing is good (it is, but that’s beside the point), but because working as a team strengthens your vows.
Fence laws should be based on each partner’s core values and personality. What I mean by this is that if you have certain weaknesses, the fence laws you adopt should address those weaknesses. For instance, if reacting too fast in anger or frustration is your weakness, your fence law might be to always pause before responding, to give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts rather than to just fire up the attack mode.
One fence law that every couple should adopt is to never disrespect each other. Why is this so important? In most marriages that I have been dealing with as a counsellor, where couples are trying to repair relationships that have become strained or weakened, the single biggest problem that I see at the root of marriage failures is putting up with disrespect.
Take a moment to think about it. If you are disrespecting your partner, are you loving him? When you speak with disrespect, putting your partner down or patronizing her, does it make it easy for your spouse to love you?
If you get in the habit of speaking with respect to your partner, are you more likely or less likely to raise your voice in anger? If you get in the habit of speaking with respect to your spouse, is your partner more likely or less likely to try to work problems out with you in a mature manner?
I always say that no partner should ever be allowed to say a disrespectful word, under any circumstance. I have seen many seemingly minor verbal criticisms lead to bigger and horrible relationship problems. From my experience, almost all marriage problems can be traced to when one of the partners puts up with disrespect for the first time. In almost all cases, the first disrespectful comment opens up the door for more abuse. This matter must be dealt with as early as possible, even during courtship. No one should put up with any abuse, however minor.
All abuse must be seriously dealt with the first time.
“Always treat your partner with respect” is an incredibly important fence law, whose goal is to prevent divorce and strengthen your marriage.
What other fence laws do you need in place? Sometimes it helps to have an outside view. I have helped many couples to discover what the triggers are that lead to a breakdown in their marriages, and I have helped them build fence laws to prevent those triggers from happening again. Even better if you can get help before a breakdown happens, to keep your marriage strong and stay away from the ugly face of divorce.
This subject is so important because, once committed to forever, you don’t want forever to end. You don’t want to be known as somebody who cannot keep your commitments. You don’t want God to see you fail. And you don’t want to know you have failed. You don’t want to know that you let your partner down, yourself down, nor the children or the community, nor that you let God down.
The Marriage Code is the covenant you make with your spouse and God. It must not be broken. That’s why these and other strategies are so important. Do you think of any other fence law to help marriages?
Please leave comments below and let me know your thoughts. Or, just ask questions.