May 1, 2014

Two Hours a Week to Affair Proof Your Marriage

Gary Thomas — 
photo by rodneylibraries, Creative Commons.

photo by rodneylibraries, Creative Commons.


Just two hours a week. 

That’s all it takes to affair-proof and divorce-proof your marriage.

After years of reading, writing, and speaking on marriage, and a few less years doing some pastoral counseling, I’ve identified two things that, when they are in place, can almost guarantee that your spouse won’t have an affair and that you won’t get a divorce.  But you need to do both.

I didn’t come up with these; I’m just recognizing them. You’ve heard of both of them, there’s nothing new here, but consider these two elements as the “canary in the mine.” You remember that old mines used to hold a canary in a cage in case poisonous gas began to leak into the mine. With such tiny lungs, the canary would die first, so the miners knew to get out of there. If your marriage has both elements that we’re about to mention, the “air” in your mine is relatively fresh and healthy and your marriage is probably fairly stable. If one or both of them die, the air is getting poisoned, and you need to take caution. Your marriage is now much more vulnerable to disintegration.

The first element is prayer.  Couples who pray together more days than not—say, 4 or 5 days out of seven—almost never get divorced. Much has been said about how Christians get divorced as often as non-Christians, but that’s not true of praying Christians. Husbands, most of us men have no idea how the rest of marriage will flow from this if we will simply take the lead and pray with and over our wives. I have not been nearly as faithful as I should have been in my marriage in this area, and am regularly convicted that this should be a non-negotiable, because I’ve seen its power in the lives of so many couples. The prayer times don’t need to be long—even five minutes at the beginning or the end of the day will suffice. It is very difficult to stay bitter and resentful or dishonest when praying together regularly. This act all but forces you to maintain a certain level of intimacy, and men, it moves most women in ways we will never understand.

Second, couples who have sexual relations two to three times a week, and who pray together regularly, almost never experience affairs. Wives, many of you have heard me talk about oxytocin and sex—Helen Fisher, the guru of neurochemical sexual research, has recently pointed out how the bonding factor of sexuality is more pronounced in men than it is in women.  That’s why some of you women may not understand the power of regular sexual relations, just as your husband may not understand the power of prayer. You already have elevated levels of oxytocin, but your husband needs that re-bonding release of oxytocin on a regular basis. For young husbands, 2 to 3 days a week might seem Spartan—I’m giving general, not particular, advice here.

The reason these two areas work as “canaries in the mine” is that sustaining regular prayer and regular sexual intimacy requires taking care of the marriage in its entirety. If we’re not talking to our wives, men, they don’t find it very easy to take off their clothes in our presence.  But you know that. And it becomes increasingly difficult to pray with someone if we’re even thinking about cheating on them. There’s just something about being in God’s presence with someone that goes far beyond words—God gives you His heart for that person in a way that can’t be naturally explained.

If either element is lacking (I’m not talking about marriages where a physical ailment makes sexual intimacy impossible), the marriage is taking a regular hit and you’re far more vulnerable to an affair or a divorce. Too many couples over-estimate their willingness to put up with sub-par marriages. They “get by,” slowly becoming spiritually or sexually isolated from each other, not realizing that temptation is patient. It will wait until we’ve reached our breaking point and present itself with a spectacularly captivating enticement just when we feel weakest. Spiritual intimacy and sexual intimacy, enjoyed on a regular basis, makes both parties much less susceptible to an overwhelming temptation.

I have yet to meet or talk with a couple where both of these elements are present that is in serious trouble. If one area is lacking the mere act of making it right—having to talk things out, listen, repent, change—repairs other areas of the marriage as well. Why can’t you pray together? Why don’t you want to enjoy each other? Those very questions lead to so many other issues. In the same way, however, neglecting either area is tantamount to ignoring other relational cancers that are slowly attacking the relationship.

For various reasons, you may not like either medicine, but when you know a medicine is so effective that its cure rate is virtually 100%, or at least in the high nineties, who are we to argue? Maybe, just maybe, God designed married couples to regularly pray and regularly have sex. As the creator of our souls and our bodies, He just might know what he’s talking about.


(I’m sure that with all the people reading this, someone will find someone who did both and still had an affair or got a divorce. I realize “divorce proof” is a bit strong. But come on, guys, you know the spirit behind this. In over 95%–if not 99%—of the cases, this will prove true)

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17 responses to Two Hours a Week to Affair Proof Your Marriage

  1. How can I explain to my 33 year old husband that sex 2-3 times a week is a minimum for a healthy young couple in the early years of our marriage? He has said rather bluntly over and over that he will absolutely never have sex three times in a week, not even once. That I’m messed up and sex obsessed for thinking sex 3-4 times a week is healthy and what we should be doing.

    We have been married 4 years and have sex once every 3-4 months. We waited until marriage for sex, but like another commenter described their husband, we was very sexually “friendly” before marriage, every time we were alone together, that it was very hard to resist having sex. But on our honeymoon, he pretty much ignored me the entire time. Sex three times in 15 days, and very little non sexual time together. And it just went downhill from there. From once a week at best in the first 6 months, to once a month in the following year, to not even once every few months ever since.

    And the whole prayer thing is something I spent the first few months of our marriage trying to gently suggest but he just isn’t interested. Yet he still strongly proclaims he is a serious, genuine christian.

  2. Hi Gary, My husband and I are in the post-affair state in our happily married life of 39 yrs. His affair began overseas on a mission trip as the evangelist. His counselling a “poor” unhappy married woman about her situation turned quickly to “them” and via email they created quite a romantic affair with the full blown fantasizing included. After 6 years of constant email communication, pictures, dependency, letters and bi-yearly trips to this woman’s home church they committed physical adultery. My husband will be the first to tell you that he was happily married, had sex 5 – 6 times a week, and loved and prayed with his wife every night. So I guess we are the exception to the 2 hours a week formula for an affair proof marriage. Men are tempted in ways that women are not. My husband led a disconnected life and didn’t even realize it. He became self sufficient and no longer realized his power source was the Great Judge of th universe. No one including me was any the wiser. Satan moved in and took control of this lustful, sinful relationship, taking my husband farther than he ever thought possible. We thank God that He brought it to light after only one “sexual” encounter but that is still not without consequence. I have chosen the path of forgiveness but we are taking many steps to guarantee that this sort of thing cannot possibly ever happen again. “Boundaries,” “Sacred Marriage,” “Too Close to the Flame,” “Hedges,” “Dangerous Calling” and a wonderful godly Christian Counselor who is leading us to a closer walk with Jesus are some of the resources we are using. I remain a faithful wife to an unfaithful Bible believing, praying husband who lost sight of his need for protection, and accountability in the midst of doing God’s work.

  3. There’s gotta be an exception to this when going through pregnancy and then the care of a newborn. Even after physical healing and sex has resumed, sex 2-3 times a week (in those first few months until baby is sleeping longer) is a lofty goal with a tired wife. We have 5 children, we homeschool, and they are ages: 7, 5.5, almost 4, 2, and 7 weeks old. Articles like this do not help paint reality. My husband has a high sex drive, which I love, but during these temporary seasons of pregnancy and newborns, articles like this fuel his mindset that I’m not meeting his needs. I love sex with my husband and I also want to have sex multiple times a week. But exhaustion is a real thing and I am only one person trying to meet the needs of 6 people as best I can. And when there isn’t any “praying together” happening or any other physical touch than when sex is wanted, I am left to get myself in a mindset to be ramped up for sex….and that’s not going to happen often when I’m tired. We are hopefully starting counseling very soon, as there are other deeper issues we need to overcome as well.

  4. Even when we pray my wife responds with what I call, “Linda’s principle of instant and automatic opposition.” I have to keep any prayers real short and simple.

  5. My spouse isnt that exciting in bed since were married. My husband is also hesitant to pray together, uncomfortable if i may say. Hes a quiet person, pleghmatic. But apart from those, hes a great husband, always willing to help, and kind hearted.

  6. Firstly, I am really grateful for your book and for the extra guidance you give via articles such as this one. I am struggling however with your broad sweeping requirement for intercourse as essential in the prevention of marriage breakdown. Yes, you do give a disclaimer that if due to health issues you cannot have intercourse 2-3 times a week but I would be very interested to hear from a christian woman how she views the marital embrace whilst going through menopause (which can last for years). I still love my husband dearly and yes, we do pray every night together. We have 8 children but I have never found intercourse to be the “bells and whistles” everyone speaks about. Yes, at times it was pleasurable but more often than not it was uncomfortable at best, painful at worst. Since entering menopause it is the latter and causes distress to both my husband and I. To say (as you say in your book) that I am not willing to give my whole self to my husband is not really fair. It is not a medical or health problem, so I can’t get off the hook but I am distressed to think that there is no acknowledgement anywhere in your writing that intercourse can, for some people, be disappointing. There must be many couples who have a loving, God-centred relationship which does not have intercourse as a big part of it (2-3 times a week). I would be very interested to hear from older, faithfilled women as to how they view the situation. Once again, thank you for all the positives you have achieved. I would recommend your book to all contemplating marriage and to those already on the journey. God Bless.

  7. Great article! Great advice.. What if a couple Isnt married but wld like to get off to good start in their relationship, would you suggest same advice?

    • Praying together as a couple would be beneficial before marriage and set a good habit for after you say “I do.” Sex two to three times a week, or any sex at all, not so much, since God ordains that sex happens between married people.

  8. How can I send this post to a friend personally who is not on FB n has a situation just like chris in his marriage?

  9. We’ve read Sacred Marriage and continue to be challenged by it. I just showed my husband this post and he now declares you his favorite author!
    (I told him he’d like the specific practical suggestions 😉

  10. None of this matters if your spouse insists on being her own judge about what’s right and what’s wrong, and decides that while prayer is OK, conversation is unsafe (for her only, of course … because I so enjoy the way she lashes out at me) so she won’t participate, and physical intimacy is only reasonable to pursue as an after-effect of conversational safety. In other words, she sees physical intimacy as an product of a good relationship, but denies (among other truths) that it can also help create a good relationship. Don’t even try to get within a mile of talking about talking love and physical love working together.

    Oh, and why is conversation unsafe for her? Because when she acts like everything she does is correct, she is not congratulated. And when we try to discuss important-but-difficult issues, she gets upset and lashes out at the messenger without ever even discussing whether the message is valid.

    Vent, vent, vent. I’ve had it – I don’t know why I try to talk to her as a peer, because it seems like she turns every discussion into “you versus me.” I don’t want to give up – I want to believe that God will come to us and save the day as He has for others. She has most of our kids disliking me, and a lot of her friends believing that she must be the one in the right (since it’s “you versus me,” we can’t both be right or wrong … right?) because she’s so kind to them. A lot of my friends ask me why I bother to persist in hoping that she’ll play fair with me. I don’t have a good answer for them. Do you?

    • Chris, no “answer” that fits in a comment box,unfortunately. When things get stuck like this, you’re best bet is usually an “intensive” counseling session–that is, not once a week counseling, but an entire day (or several days) to work through the issues. More counselors are adopting this approach. When things seem as sour as you present here, I doubt one hour of counseling will do anything but make both of you feel more frustrated as you air your grievances. So I’d urge you to look at one of the weekend intensives. You can still get over this–just, probably, not by yourselves, and not with outside help.

    • Chris,

      I would recommend Emotionally Focused Therapy or EFT. I have felt very similarly frustrated with my wife in the past, but after two counseling sessions with an EFT based therapist, it’s like I have a new wife. Hang in there, you will be glad you did!

    • Dear Chris, I hope things have improved for you. My heart breaks for you because I am going through the same. My husband will neither listen nor talk nor have sex. It’s so hard.

  11. My husband and I lead marriage seminars and we talk about prayer between the couples. It always brings some embarrassment because most Christian couples don’t pray together. We try to frame it in a way that doesn’t prompt guilt but offers it as a whole new avenue of intimacy for them to explore.

    We really blow them away when we talk about prayer for our sexual relationship. That pops the lid off the discussion. “What would I even say!!??” one young husband said to us with an amazed look on his face. So we talk through that, too. Again, we say, “Just try it and see how fantastic it is.”

    There is always more to experience in marriage. That’s what makes it so exciting.