As I talk about boundaries, most of what I say can be applied to any and all relationships. However, some relationships require special notes. Marriage is one of those special ones.
Marriage seems to raise more “shoulds” than any other relationship out there.
Whether we want to recreate our parents’ marriage or avoid it, we have a lot of “hard wired” expectations from our upbringing, and these inevitably appear once we get married.
The problem, of course, is that “shoulds” are terrible for boundaries. Heck, they’re terrible for life! I’ve heard over and over the story about how disappointed a woman is when her spouse doesn’t do X for her, yet when I suggest that she simply ask for X, she says that it then wouldn’t count! Wait, what? That’s crazy making behavior, y’all! (To be fair, this behavior isn’t limited to women. I just hear from more women than men!)
So how can we set boundaries in our marriage? What kind of boundaries are even appropriate? Isn’t marriage about sharing everything?
Yes and no. Think about health. Your personal health, and the steps you take to ensure your personal health, are a matter of concern and importance to your spouse. S/he has an emotional and financial investment in you being healthy for as long as possible. But it isn’t his or her responsibility.
Marriage is about personal investment in each other, not about personal responsibility for one another.
So while it does matter to you if your spouse chooses not to work out or chooses to gain weight, it is not your responsibility. That is where the boundary lies. This is the primary reason that a spouse is a terrible accountability partner: s/he has a personal investment in your results. So if you’re trying to lose weight and ask your spouse to avoid buying ice cream, but then he sees an empty carton of Ben & Jerry’s in the trash can, there’s going to be some resentment when he asks you if you’re sticking to your diet!
We set boundaries all the time, but as with friendship boundaries, there are times when we need to adjust the boundaries within our marriages. Failure to adjust boundaries with changing situations is a big cause of conflict between spouses. So what do we do?
The initial steps are similar to how we adjust boundaries in a friendship.
1. Notice how you feel. If you have any red flag emotions, make the decision to adjust your boundaries.
2. Identify the specific boundary violation that is a problem. Be extremely specific.
3. Decide what outcome you desire.
But at this point, instead of just changing the boundaries, you’ll want to think about how to get the outcome you desire. Sometimes you need a change instead of a new boundary.
4. Decide if you need to set a new boundary or have a bigger conversation about making changes in the relationship.
5. Sit down face to face and either negotiate a new boundary or talk about what you need and want.
For more information about communication in marriage, I recommend you download my “Husband Training” workbook! And yes, I know there really is no such thing as husband training: the workbook is all about communication, boundaries, and powerful requests within marriage.