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217 pages
Jun 2005

Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It

by Jerry Jenkins

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Sue was not the prettiest and certainly not the sexiest woman John had ever seen. In fact, she didn’t hold a candle to his wife. But Sue worked for John. He spent a lot of time with her at the office. He could tell she admired him. He liked her, respected her, and thought she was bright, creative, and interesting. He liked being around her, liked her smile, enjoyed her wit. She was doe-eyed, had perfect teeth, and was married.

Was John romantically interested in her? The question would have offended him. They were both happily married. They didn’t even think about an attraction between them. John told his wife about Sue from the day she was hired. His wife was eager to meet Sue and her husband, and the couples genuinely liked each other. The couples didn’t socialize frequently because they lived too far from each other, but Sue kept John up-to-date on what was happening in her life, and John told his wife. Sue and John’s wife talked on the phone occasionally. John wasn’t starry-eyed about Sue, and John’s wife had no reason to believe Sue held anything but respect for John.

Which was true.

Was Sue worth losing a home and family over? Now there was a question even more insulting than the first. No woman was worth that. In fact, John used to tease his wife, “If I ever throw you over, kid, at least I won’t humiliate you by running off with a dog.”

It was a joke because it was the last thing on his mind. He was a Christian, active in church, a father of three with a comfortable and happy life. He wasn’t looking for anything more or different. He was challenged, motivated, and excited about his job and his career path. He was solid. John wasn’t even going through a midlife crisis.

So he didn’t worry when he first found himself missing Sue when she was out of town for a couple of days. He asked his secretary to be sure to let him know when she called because he had “business to discuss with her.” It was true. And when the business had been discussed, they talked a little more.

“We miss you around here, Sue.” The emphasis was on “we.”

“I miss you too,” she said. “All of you. I look forward to seeing you when I get back.”

“Me too.”

Nice. Friendly. Innocent.

And dangerous. But John didn’t know that then.

When Sue returned, her relationship with John changed in subtle ways. During a meeting or in a room full of people they could read each other’s eyes in an instant. They weren’t reading anything personal. They just knew what the other was thinking about the topic at hand. John could tell when Sue was being circumspect. Sue could tell when John was just being polite, when he didn’t really like a proposal but was kind in how he responded to it.

John began to find reasons to be around Sue. He also found reasons to touch her in a brotherly or even fatherly way—a squeeze of the hand, a touch on the shoulder, a hug of greeting or farewell. He would not have described this as sexual or even sensual. There was no more to it than any man’s enjoying physical contact with an attractive, young female.

John was waiting for a cab to the airport as Sue left the office for the day. “The airport’s on my way home,” she reminded him. “I’ll give you a ride.”

They talked business on the way. At the curb he looked into her eyes and thanked her warmly. “Any time,” she said. He held her gaze for a moment until the humor of her comment sank in. They both smiled. “You know what I mean,” she said.

She meant she would do anything helpful for such a good friend. But both also liked the intimate sound of words that could be taken two ways. In the ensuing weeks and months, John and Sue began slowly to depend upon each other emotionally. He told her things no one else in the office knew: his dreams, his plans, his private ambitions, his assessments of others. They went from telling each other what good friends they were to making their conversation more personal, more meaningful. He called her his “favorite friend.” She often told him he was “special.”

Theirs wasn’t a dual pity party, bad-mouthing their spouses or looking to the other for ingredients missing in their marriages. No, they were simply two people who hit it off, liked each other, became special to each other, and eventually became enamored with each other. Suddenly, or so it seemed, the inevitable happened.

They justified a few lunches and even a working dinner. When their bodies touched while in a cab or in a restaurant booth, neither pulled away. It was natural, familiar. Brotherly and sisterly. When he touched her arm while talking to her, he often left his hand there even after his point had been made.

At a convention out of town, even with six others from their office along, they found opportunities to be alone together. It wasn’t easy, and though their relationship had not escalated to the declaring stage yet, they both knew. There was no one either would rather be with. After a late dinner with everyone from their office, she called his room and said she couldn’t sleep.

“I’m not tired either,” he said, lying. He had collapsed into bed after the long day. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know. Just talk.”

“So talk.”

“You wanna go for a walk?”

They met in the lobby and strolled the deserted city streets. She thought her sweater would be enough, but the summer night grew chilly after midnight, and as they crossed a bridge over the river, he slipped his suit jacket over her shoulders. She smiled at him in the moonlight, and he put his arm around her. She slipped her hand around his waist. They walked silently for twenty minutes until they came to a dark spot between street lights.

John slowed to a stop, his emotions racing. Sue looked quizzically at him, but when he took her in his arms, they embraced so naturally, so perfectly that it seemed right. He could feel her heart pounding. “Dare I kiss you?” he whispered in her hair.

She held him tighter, as if stalling to decide. “Your call,” she said, mimicking his favorite expression to subordinates. It was all he needed to hear.

Theirs was one long, soft, meaningful kiss that spoke volumes. They stared into each other’s eyes for a slow moment, then headed back to the hotel, his hand gently on her arm. As the building came into sight, Sue stopped. “We have to talk.”

“I know.”

“What are you thinking, John?”

“The same thing you’re thinking.”

“Don’t be too sure.”

“I’m sure, Sue.”

“You first, boss.”

“This will never work, Sue. It didn’t happen. We go back to our respective rooms good friends who happen to like each other very much.”

Her eyes filled. “You know me too well.”

“I’m relieved, Sue. I certainly didn’t intend this, and I don’t want to mislead you.”

“The walk was my idea, but I didn’t have this in mind.”

“Nothing happened, Sue. Deal?” He stuck out his hand.

She shook it but held on. “Why do I want to kiss you again, John? I agree we have to end this, but it seems so incomplete.”

“I feel the same way. But we cannot. We must not.”

“I know,” she said, dropping his hand. She smiled bravely and headed into the elevator.

John stared at the ceiling until 4 in the morning, dredging up every negative detail of his marriage. In twelve years he and his wife had become known as a successful and happy couple. By the time he gave up trying to sleep, however, he had convinced himself that he had never loved her, that the marriage was a mistake, and that he felt something for Sue he had never felt for any other woman, including—and especially— his wife.

Jaw set and mind whirling, John strode to the window and gazed into the darkness. Was that Sue sitting on the low concrete wall in the courtyard below?

John freshened up and dressed quickly. He took the stairs to the ground floor and exited a side door. Sue started when she first saw him. Then she sat still and stared ahead, as if resigned that this meeting was somehow inevitable.

“Sue, are you all right?”

She nodded and dabbed at her face. “I just have to get over this.”

“Anything I can do?”

She shook her head. “It’s not going to be easy working with you.”

“It doesn’t have to be difficult, Sue. We just need to back up a few months. We’re friends, and we can enjoy that, can’t we?”

“You make that sound easy, John. I can’t.”

“Why not?”

She took a deep, quavery breath and fought for composure. She still hadn’t looked at him. “I’m in love with you, John. That’s why.”

He reached for her, and she came to him. They embraced and kissed, and he told her he loved her too. He led her back into the hotel the way he’d come, avoiding the lobby and the elevators. They trudged up the stairs to her room. He left there two hours later, in time to prepare for the day.

John and Sue shared a delicious, bleary-eyed secret for the rest of the convention. They spent most of every night together, and there was no more talk of how things would have to change when they traveled back home to reality.

John and Sue convinced themselves that their love was so perfect that God had to be in it. Neither was prepared for the vehement reactions from their spouses and extended families. The anger, the confusion, the accusations drove them closer to each other. Within six months both divorces were final, and John and Sue were married. A year later, while Sue was pregnant with her first child, John announced he had made a terrible mistake. He wanted his wife and family back, and he set upon such an impractical and obnoxious approach that he lost his job and his new wife. In the process he permanently alienated himself from his former wife as well.


John and Sue’s story is representative of several I’ve heard from friends, relatives, and acquaintances. It has become so common that I cringe when someone says, “Did you hear about so-and-so?” They may be informing me of a move or an award or a new job or a new baby, but my first dreaded thought is, Oh no, please, not them too. All too often my worst fears are confirmed. No one is immune. The strongest marriage you know of is in danger today if hedges are not in place.

I recently reminisced with several old friends. Every one of us knew personally of several painful marriage failures due to infidelity. Even more appalling, nearly all of us could point to incidents among our close relatives. Can anyone still doubt there is an epidemic of divorce, even within the church and, sadly, rampant even among so-called Christian leaders?

In a strange way, the problem is exacerbated in the Christian community because unfaithful spouses are generally not in danger—the way the secular community is—of contracting AIDS or herpes. The type of person I’m writing about is not characteristically promiscuous. John, in the above example, had never before slept with a woman other than his wife. Ironically, while the secular world is cleaning up its act due to fear of deadly disease, Christians blithely proceed, unaware they need hedges to protect them from surprise attacks in their areas of sexual weakness.

Try an informal survey on your own. Ask friends and relatives how many people they know who have fallen to sexual temptation. Perhaps you don’t need to ask. Maybe you know firsthand more such stories than you care to recount. If those people were vulnerable, who else might be? Who will be next about whom you say, “I never would have dreamed he would do such a thing”? You know these people. You have to wonder what made them fall. What made them vulnerable?


Just as it’s the little foxes that spoil the vine, so seemingly small indiscretions add up to major traps. John and Sue allowed themselves to admire, like, respect, and enjoy each other without giving a second thought to the progression of feelings, the danger of developing emotional feelings, or the lure of infatuation. They never reminded themselves of their wedding vows, because they had no intention of breaking them. Feelings and emotions sneaked up on them when they least expected it, and then it was too late.

Look at the account of David’s failure in 2 Samuel 11. Here was a man after God’s own heart. Have you ever wondered why he didn’t go to battle? Scripture doesn’t provide a lot of detail about this incident, but the question arises: Was David too old, too tired, too successful, or too something to lead his army? Or was there some subconscious, or not so subconscious, maneuvering to get himself into a position where he could get next to Uriah’s wife?

Why did he take a walk on his veranda that day? Was Bathsheba not aware that her bath was within sight of the king’s palace? An innocent walk and a bath in the open air could be considered nearly innocent indiscretions. Give Bathsheba the benefit of the doubt, but David should have turned away when he saw a naked woman. The fact that even a man after God’s own heart was unable to do that lends credence to the theory that we are to flee rather than to try to conquer lust.

Inviting the wife of your commanding officer over after seeing her bathe must be considered more than a small indiscretion. Despite my respect for a man of God, I have to suspect David’s motives. Could he simply have wanted to get better acquainted? There’s an understatement. He knew this woman. She was married to one of his high-ranking soldiers and lived in the neighborhood. Did David know when he invited her that he would sleep with her that night? Surely he wasn’t testing his resolve to remain pure before God. What Bathsheba knew or didn’t know we can scarcely guess. In that time, a summons from the king was disobeyed only under the threat of death. So from the time she received his invitation, her fate was sealed.

Safe to say, had it not been for the initial indiscretions, adultery may never have resulted. And look at what happened after that. Bathsheba became pregnant. David called Uriah home from battle in the hope that he would sleep with his wife and believe the child was his own. Uriah, a man of honor (how must that have made David feel?), refused to enjoy the comforts of his home and his wife while his men were in battle. Had Uriah slept with his wife, David would have fostered deceit. As it turned out, Uriah’s sense of duty drove David to have him killed. Scripture tells how David sent the Hittite back to war with his own death notice in his hand (2 Samuel 11:14-17).


How close have you come to being burned? Have you found yourself impressed with someone and then attracted to her? Maybe it seemed innocent and safe, but then you said or did things you never thought you would say or do. Maybe on a business trip you hung around with a colleague of the opposite sex, and upon reflection you know you wouldn’t have wanted your spouse to do the same thing. It could be that nothing improper was said or done, but simply investing the emotional energy and time was inappropriate. Maybe, looking back, you see you were living dangerously. When friends fall right and left, you recognize you were lucky that you weren’t ensnared.

Or maybe you did become emotionally or even physically involved and fell just short of committing adultery. Perhaps you live with guilt because you never confided that to anyone, including—and especially—your spouse.

If so many of your friends and acquaintances have fallen— people you never would have suspected—how will you avoid being a casualty?