Focus on the Family

Building Hedges Around Your Marriage

by Erin Prater

Hedges. You probably don't spend much time thinking about them. Bills? Yes. Work? Yes. The kids? Yes. But not hedges. What comes to mind when you think of one, anyway? A hedge fund? A hedgehog? An oddly-shaped row of bushes awkwardly leveled-off at the top, prickly and just about as appealing as a bad haircut?

While a hedge might not be what your property needs, it is what your marriage needs. When we talk about building a hedge in your marriage, we're actually talking about constructing a mutually protective investment that will allow your marriage to flourish like never before.

The series of articles that follows will explore the concept of "hedging" your marriage — what it means, why you should do it, and how to go about it.


What Is a Hedge?

What's a hedge? And why would you want one in your marriage?

by Erin Prater

Merriam-Webster provides numerous definitions for "hedge." About half do a perfect job of defining a hedge's role in marriage. The other half make great antonyms. Let's take a look at them.

Definitions

any barrier or boundary
Here we learn that the word "hedge" can really be used to define an ugly, green yard trimming; Fido's invisible electric fence; or a marriage-protecting set of boundaries agreed upon by a husband or wife.

to … restrict; to prevent or hinder free movement; to obstruct
Not the most fun or pleasant of definitions, is it? You might think, If building marital hedges gives my wife ammo to whine about me shooting pool with the boys on Friday night, I want nothing to do with it. Though banishing pool night is not a definition, limiting yourself out of love, or compromising, can actually be extremely freeing and mutually satisfying. More on this later.

a row of bushes or small trees planted close together, esp. when forming a fence or boundary ...
So evidently ugly, evergreen-like bushes aren't the only options for forming a physical hedge! Of actual importance: Constructing a hedge entails planting multiple, protective shrubs of choice close together. If each action taken by you, your spouse or the two of you represents a shrub, planting a few scattered ones once in a blue moon don't form much of a protective barrier. You'll keep legally blind squirrels out, but not much else.

to protect with qualifications that allow for unstated contingencies or for withdrawal from commitment
This definition reminds me of a recent commercial: A husband answers the door and is greeted by a host of new appliances and a delivery man asking for his John Hancock. Bewildered, he looks back at his wife, eyes beseeching her for an answer. She smugly produces a small tape recorder and presses play. The man hears his own voice saying, "Honey, you can do anything you want if I get new golf clubs."

This definition is actually used in the financial and corporate worlds. But a marital hedge isn't meant for selfish manipulation. Though defined by mutually agreed upon, steadfast boundaries, it flourishes in mercy and wilts in legalism. Building a hedge around your marriage will help protect you from the painful attacks Satan throws your way, but you'll still be subject to the loving tests and disciplines of a caring God. It's not a cure-all, and in no way gives you permission to back out of your "I Dos."

the act or means of preventing complete loss of a bet, an argument, an investment, or the like
This may be the most telling of all definitions. Boundaries in marriage, tempered with grace and forgiveness, prevent the loss of the second greatest investment you'll ever make: marriage. The first? Surrendering your life to Christ.

To make hedge-building worth your work, you must first view your marriage as a precious, valuable investment. Does your marriage seem like a bet, tentative at best? Or does it seem like an argument, a constant, perpetual argument? Pray for eyes to see your marriage for what it really is: a sacred promise, a safe hiding place, a vehicle for personal and mutual growth and a gorgeous allegory for Christ and His bride.


How to Build and Maintain a Hedge

These simple steps can make a world of difference in your marriage.

by Erin Prater

Do You Need a Hedge?

Here are a few simple indicators that your marriage may require hedging:

You may be newlyweds, parents to elementary-aged children or celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary. You may have a large wedding ring and spend lots of time together. You may consider yours a "strong, Christian marriage." Regardless, your marriage needs hedging!

Why? No one is immune to temptation–not married folks, not Christians, not even Jesus! (See Matthew 4.) Think about it. Do you truly expect your house to be robbed or to burn down when you install a security system and sprinklers? Do you truly expect to have an auto accident when you purchase car insurance? You make these investments because you want to protect a valuable asset.

Resolve to Hedge

Your marriage has cost you both a lot: money, "freedom," half the bed and a partial timeshare of the TV remote. But whether you realize it now or not, you've reaped more benefits than you've sown. Come to the conclusion that your marriage is valuable, that it needs hedging and that you're doing both of you a favor by building and maintaining that hedge. Realize that your attempts to build a strong, God-honoring marriage are pleasing to Him. He will bless you for it!

Draw Your Lines and Stay Far Away from Them

Remember life before marriage? If you were raised in a typical church setting, it's likely that a youth pastor encouraged you to set and maintain your sexual boundaries. You knew premarital sex was wrong, but some of you might have gotten just as close to the line as you could without crossing it. Sometimes it's easy to want to push boundary lines in marriage, too. Obviously, having a sex outside of marriage is wrong. Even activities we might have allowed before marriage, such as kissing and cuddling, are clearly wrong when done outside of marriage. But have you deemed some areas, such as emotional affairs, gambling or porn, "grey" and let them slide? Remember, the goal is not to settle for the "thou shalt nots." Clearly state and agree on the obvious "no-nos," then move on to areas society might consider fuzzy, such as spending time with the opposite sex or reading romance novels. Pray for hearts that desire to honor God and your spouse. Protect your marriage from outside, inside, even "minor" threats.

Become Accountability Partners

The need for accountability doesn't end with marriage, rather, it greatens! During your single years your actions probably only affected you. Now, you have two (or more, if you have children) lives affected by your every action. Though additional accountability partners of the same sex can be blessings, your spouse should be your primary. This time, you may find it even harder to be honest. Your spouse has a vested interest in your shortcomings. You may fear hurting him or being knocked off a pedestal if you confess even something as small as a temptation.

They key? The only One who can safely be placed on a pedestal is God. View your spouse as a fellow sinner seated across the kitchen table. Neither of you is immune to temptation. Both of you are sinners sorely in need of grace and mercy from God — and from each other. Don't use this as an excuse to push boundaries; rather, use it as permission to be honest with each other and love each other extravagantly. If your honesty, or that of your spouse, is hard to swallow, run to God together. You'll be amazed at how He'll build intimacy in your marriage and cause your hedge to flourish.

Respect Your Hedge Individually; Build It Corporately

There will be decisions you'll make on your own that fortify your marriage, such as passing up that lotto ticket or closing out of that porn pop-up window. But, as with everything, two hands (or four, rather) are better than … well, one set. Share your temptations, victories and failures with each other while sharing your favorite snack or meal. Pray and cry together. Forgive and forget. Make time each week for a few transparent, vulnerable minutes for the two of you. Have regular date nights.

If your spouse is unwilling to build a marital hedge with you, know that any hedge you attempt to build yourself will be blessed by God. Tell your spouse about your desire to protect your marriage, the steps you're taking to do so and your shortcomings. Most of all, keep praying. Because your marriage is a portrait of His relationship with His church, you can be sure God desires it to be a beautiful one.


What Will You Gain From Building a Marital Hedge?

Building and protecting a strong relationship may sound a bit like getting a root canal. But is it really?

by Erin Prater

When I was a kid, I hated brushing my teeth. I had to be forced into it. Let's just say this: It's a good thing your first set of teeth are naturally replaceable.

These days, I love dental hygiene. I clip coupons for the latest toothpaste flavors. I floss regularly, and am carefully researching water picks before I "take the plunge." And when the timer goes off on my spinning toothbrush, I'm still brushing. Time flies when you're having fun!

I guess a love for dental hygiene (like coffee, sushi and many other things in life) is an acquired taste. Maybe I was burned (or numbed) one too many times by cavity fillings. Maybe the freedom to do whatever I wanted, including eating mounds of Twinkies and going to bed without brushing my teeth, wasn't so fun (or freeing) after all.

When it comes to building and hedging a strong, God-honoring marriage, some are ready, eager and willing to do whatever it takes. Others, though married, highly value their "freedom" and are more hesitant. In fact, building marital hedges may sound just about as fun as getting a cavity filled, undergoing a colonoscopy or trying on your "skinny jeans" after porking out at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

But it's Christ's desire that husbands love their wives "just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her," and that wives "submit to their husbands as to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:22-25). Verse 21 tells us to, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." And Galatians 5:13 says, "You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Clearly, we're free in Christ, but we must use that freedom to love others (especially our spouses) "as ourselves" (Galatians 5:14).

The rewards of hedging your marriage (though it may require a "sacrifice of freedom" in the eyes of the world) are great. What do you gain by building marital hedges?

Your own fenced-in playground to share with your best friend. Yes, you're pledging to steer clear of the seemingly-fun temptations of the world, but what you're gaining is so much more thrilling, long-lasting, pure and wonderful! You're building your own fenced-in, private playground where you and your spouse can rip off your masks, share your most intimate secrets, act like goofs and enjoy uninhibited sexual pleasure.

Unconditional love and forgiveness. Perhaps you've heard the saying, "If you want to become more like Jesus, get married." It's true: Marriage will require you to love and forgive unconditionally, even when your other half has hurt you deeply. Consequently, married love should mirror Christ's love for His church closer than any other earthly form of love. While it may occasionally hurt to give this kind of love and forgiveness to your spouse, think of how wonderful it is to be on the receiving end.

Freedom from "what-ifs" and wonderings. By setting healthy boundaries for your marriage and maintaining an open and honest relationship with your spouse, you have no need to wonder what your spouse has been up to or what he is hiding. Most importantly, you know your marriage is in God's hands.

So labor together. Go shopping for some nice-looking shrubs. Have a fight with the hose while planting them closely. Then stand back and admire what God has done. And if the grass starts to look greener on the other side, start watering your own hedge.


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