Marriage Deserves Our Respect

Kathryn Lopez
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Posted: Dec 09, 2011 5:30 PM

"What are you doing? You know I have a boyfriend."

Whether he's innocent or guilty, Cain's story is a cautionary tale for everyone with a ring on his finger and time on his hands. Cain has admitted to having what appears to have been at least an emotionally intimate relationship with (another) woman who was not his wife, which his spouse was not aware of. Alarm bells should go off, here.

Nancy and David French write honestly in their book "Home and Away" about the strains on a marriage when husband and wife are apart. David recounts of his time serving in Afghanistan: "Men were coming home on leave to find their wives gone from their houses. Other men were getting the modern equivalent of the 'Dear John' letter via Facebook message or email. Some guys discovered wives or girlfriends were pregnant, and still others were finding that their bank accounts had been looted by the very people they most trusted with their financial affairs."

Before he left, Nancy and David made rules, in a painfully honest conversation about human frailty. No drinking during the year of separation. Nancy would not "have phone conversations with men, or meaningful email exchanges about politics or any other subject." Nor would she be on Facebook where "the ghosts of boyfriends past" could contact her. When Nancy innocently started emailing with a man associated with a radio show about faith, she told David about it, and he asked her to end the relationship. David knew, with his "stomach clenching," that "the most intimate conversations a person has are about life and faith." And that "spiritual and emotional intimacy frequently leads to physical intimacy."

Separations don't only come in the form of military deployments, of course. Business and politics frequently ask for such sacrifices. Washington, D.C. is a city where married men and women, often with spouses states away, frequently find themselves attending receptions teeming with people interested in them in one way or another.

One congressional wife emphasizes: "Receptions are a danger zone. Members need to quickly learn that attending receptions is optional and there are very few they actually need to attend. ... Married members should avoid alcohol use in public and (also avoid) private conversations with single women. Do not give out or request private contact info. Staff can handle legitimate requests. Talk about the wife and kids to any and all women!"

What a difference little cautions make. I know married men who won't have lunch alone with women who are not their wives, who won't close the office door during the most professional of conversations. It's about not just temptation, but appearances. It's a policy with added benefits, too: "It helps to insulate me against a false accusation by a woman," Mark DeMoss, author of "The Little Red Book of Wisdom," has told me.

Is all this overkill? Or perhaps an extreme but justified backlash to a culture whose mores have gone chaotic, a society that could use a little order, and some higher expectations and standards?

In his book "Men and Marriage," George Gilder writes: "Unless very securely married, virtually any man will sleep with any attractive young woman. ... In Washington, the liberated princess can sleep with senators." Though some of the "liberated princesses" have become politicians and powerful players themselves in the more than two decades since Gilder wrote that, the Cain story reminds us that our fallen nature remains, with decades of cultural confusion confounding the chaos.

A good marriage is an economic, educational and psychological blessing for children -- for men and women, too, and for a culture. We are disappointed when the glimmer comes off the Cain. While we may not have the same story to tell, we like that non-disgraced Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, have been married for 42 years. We seem to value marriage, so let's put our money where our mouth is -- let's have some rules. And show the kids how to do it.