At first, it sounds like just another pop hit about a guy who can’t help himself. “It’s been a long night here, and a long night there/And these long long legs are damn near everywhere,” sings Andy Grammer in his new song, “Honey, I’m Good.” But as the addictive melody continues, Grammer makes some decisions that—surprisingly—shed light on how setting boundaries can strengthen relationships and help prevent infidelity.
Grammer’s situation sounds a lot like a typical Saturday night: You’re at a bar surrounded by beautiful people (in Grammer’s case, beautiful, leggy women). But, rather than taking things too far, Grammer puts the brakes on before he is even tempted to be unfaithful.
“(Hold up now)
You look good, I will not lie
But if you ask where I’m staying tonight
I gotta be like oh, baby, no, baby, you got me all wrong, baby
My baby’s already got all of my love
“So nah nah honey, I’m good
I could have another, but I probably should not
I got somebody at home
And if I stay I might not leave alone”
The fact that Grammer is not at all blind to the attractiveness of other women might fall short of our romantic ideal, but he explains to the Miami Herald that honesty about the temptation that surrounds him leads him to set boundaries that help him stay true to his wife.
“Well, you know I’m married now,” he tells the Miami Herald. “So when I go out on tour, well, there are always hot girls around. The song’s about staying honest and being like, ‘Yes, you are smoking hot, but I’m good. I got a lady at home who is incredible. It’s worth staying truthful.’”
Grammer’s acknowledgment that he is only human when it comes to committed love (and is therefore vulnerable to making mistakes) is a lesson for all married people. Instead of pretending he can overcome any temptation—thus risking the possibility that he can’t—he stops drinking before his self-control is too compromised to keep him from doing something he might regret.
Boundaries Protect Relationships
Setting up boundaries—the thing that Grammer is doing here—helps lay a foundation of trust in committed relationships. If you constantly feel worried that your partner might be cheating, it’s likely that one (or both) of you does not have a healthy sense of boundaries.
Zach Brittle, a certified Gottman couples therapist, explains that although boundaries sound like something restrictive, they actually make your relationship freer and allow for greater trust. Think about a child playing in the front yard, he says: In a yard without a fence, the child must always be told to be cautious whenever she nears the vicinity of the street, which is an ambiguous and undefinable space for the child to play in. But a child who plays in a fenced yard knows exactly how far is too far and can confidently move around all of the available space in the yard without the parent constantly worrying about the child’s proximity to the street.
To form a strong relationship, you and your partner should have a healthy sense of your identities as individuals. As you grow closer and more committed, you should build up a similar sense of identity as a couple, and this includes boundaries.
But what if you and your significant other would never, ever be tempted to cheat? Do you really need to lay out boundaries? Brittle says that creating boundaries is important for even the most trusting relationship. “Creating boundaries is a best practice that safeguards your relationship from more than just yourself,” he says. He explains that not setting boundaries could also invite others to attempt to trespass on the intimacy you have in your relationship.
A woman I admire once mentioned to me that she and her husband of seventeen years have an agreement: Neither of them is ever alone with a member of the opposite sex. It’s not that they don’t trust each other—quite the opposite, in fact. It’s just that their love is so precious that they’d rather stay far, far away from anything that could undermine it. By consciously choosing to protect their marriage, they remind themselves, each other, and everyone around them that faithfulness is worth protecting.
Brittle adds insight that is helpful if this approach sounds a bit extreme to you. “You are going to have friendships outside your marriage,” he says. “But what is most important is that you avoid intimacy with people you could be in a relationship with—people who replace your spouse.” This could mean you want to avoid after-hours alone time with your male coworker but not the 80-year-old senior citizen you visit at the nursing home.
Staying True Emotionally as Well as Physically
My husband and I don’t have quite such an ambitious or public rule, but we do consciously set emotional boundaries to keep our relationship strong. You see, having a physical affair isn’t the only way to cheat on your spouse. An emotional affair can be as hurtful and serious as a physical one.
According to Dr. Shirley Glass, the late psychologist dubbed the “godmother of infidelity research” by the New York Times, “One doesn’t have to have sex to be unfaithful. In fact, secret emotional attachments outside a marriage can be just as great a betrayal as extramarital sex.” Douglas Martin quotes Glass in the New York Times, explaining that the problem of emotional intimacy is that “the emotional intimacy with the friend gradually, almost invisibly, supplants that with the spouse.” If you find yourself sharing your deepest fears, hopes, and insecurities with someone other than your spouse, it’s time to stop, talk it through with your spouse, and establish stronger boundaries to keep your friendships from hurting your marriage.
“Most inappropriate relationships and affairs aren’t motivated by lust as much as the desire for empathy and understanding,” Brittle explained in a Verily article. “When a relationship at home is struggling, it’s easy to seek intimate connection at work. When that connection becomes a secret, that’s a red flag.”
In my relationship with my husband, we’ve established a good rule of thumb: If one of us feels uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even ashamed to reveal something, it’s a good indication that we might have crossed an emotional boundary and need to tell the other person about it. We don’t get angry at each other because of these revelations. On the contrary, sometimes the things we confess or ask about are really no big deal at all. My husband has been known to laugh (lovingly) at me about my overscrupulosity. But if I didn’t clear it with my husband, I wouldn’t be confident that he doesn’t mind if I grab coffee with a male friend—and vice versa. I know my husband trusts me and wouldn’t think for one second that I would be tempted to be unfaithful. But it makes him feel even more loved and respected knowing that I’ll make little sacrifices to avoid making him uncomfortable.
It sounds like Andy Grammer and I have a similar way of looking at things. What’s one more drink with friends compared to making his wife feel loved and respected?
Even if you’re the kind of person who would never, ever cheat, setting clear boundaries and talking through any questionable situation can only make your relationship stronger. It reinforces the message that your relationship is so important to you that you’re willing to make choices that avoid even a shadow of doubt or division. Staying “true” takes work, but—as I think Andy Grammer would agree—it’s totally worth the effort.