Having to sit with someone and finally get what’s been bothering us off our chest is never easy, especially when that person is our spouse. It’s funny because, in the back of our mind, we know darn right that all healthy relationships have boundaries. Boundaries keep the good in and the bad out. Yet, we agonize over what the best way is to establish boundaries in our marriage.
- “Should I be assertive? But I also don’t want to offend my husband.”
- “How will my wife react?”
- “How will my words be perceived?”
- “I shouldn’t say anything. Maybe I should just leave well enough alone!”
Boundaries are characterized by love, honor, and respect
As Greg Smalley and Robert Paul said in The DNA of Relationships for Couples, boundaries facilitate movement toward rather than away from relationships. Last week, we learned what boundaries are and what they are not. We also learned that when situations in our marriage warrant setting boundaries, we must follow through with getting them in place. After all, the risk of not creating them is unhealthy feelings. And no one wants that. We want safe and connected marriages.
6 healthy tips to establish boundaries in your marriage:
Ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish —
As Smalley and Paul said, the two most common answers to this question are 1). To protect me from people or circumstances, and 2). To take good care of myself within ongoing relationships in a way that strengthens and builds those relationships. If you choose No. 1, you tend to build walls and barriers between you and the other person. This is never good. Withdrawal and control or manipulation hurt both the relationship and a person’s sense of worth. Meanwhile, No. 2 speaks to a deeper question: what does it look like to take care of myself? This is the healthy approach you must take when setting your boundaries so that you can maintain an open heart.
Give yourself permission —
Many times, we do not verbalize our boundaries or express our feeling because we don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Do not fear the other person’s response. Do not feel guilty or fall into the trap of self-doubt. Everyone deserves to have boundaries, and our reaction to boundaries being crossed is completely healthy. Give yourself permission to express to your spouse what those boundaries are.
Learn to say “NO” —
As June Hunt said, the word “no” is the most basic boundary-setting word. Being clear about your “yes” and “no” is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, so there shouldn’t be any reason why we can’t do the same in a healthy marriage.
Be direct and specific —
If your spouse is yelling at you or being controlling to the point where it’s affecting your marriage and your sense of self, you should be specific about which actions you are referring to and why it bothers you. Be direct with where you stand, what your limits are, what you are requesting, and what the consequences could be. It’s important to be assertive, but not to the point of losing your cool, barking orders, or being manipulative.
Example: “Honey, I do not like the way you are raising your voice at me on the phone. It makes me feel like you don’t respect me, my feelings, or our marriage. This isn’t good for me, and if you cannot stop, I am going have to hang up.”
Don’t just set one boundary —
Boundaries are necessary beyond just immediate conflict or difficult conversation. Setting boundaries is important for everything from intimacy to how much time you spend together, what your preferred household spending habits are, and how you feel about public displays of affection.
Openly talk about each other’s boundaries —
Since you are in the mode of expressing and setting your own boundaries, be sure your spouse knows that you are open to whatever boundaries they may have for themselves. After all, marriage needs aren’t a one-way street, and neither are boundaries. Each spouse should define individual needs and share them. By doing so, you are increasing awareness of what is important for each of you.
What we are saying is that the idea of setting boundaries for yourself and your marriage may seem unhealthy. But when you finally do sit down to have that conversation you are actually promoting movement toward a healthier relationship. The key is to be specific and direct about your limits. Speak from your heart. Be open to back-and-forth dialogue.
Check back with us as we continue this conversation on boundaries in the coming weeks.
Our heart is devoted to caring about people and marriages!
Our heart is and always has been devoted to caring about people. We want to ensure you have the tools to express yourself with your spouse. Plus, we want to help other couples just like you. The best way we know how to do that is by spreading the word to more people and let them know that we are here. Join us on social media. IG – MikeandSusanDawsonCo. FB – MikeandSusanDawson
What do you think? What are a few boundaries — big or small — that you and your spouse have set? How did those conversations go? Send us a quick email and let us know. mike@MikeandSusanDawson.com.