August 17th, 2020
As a couples counsellor specializing in premarital counselling, I love talking about relationship resources and tools.
In previous weeks in this relationship series of videos, I spoke about communication, conflict resolution, keeping the intimacy alive, the 5 love languages, and what boundaries are. Please feel free to check those videos out if you haven’t already. In upcoming weeks, I will be covering adult attachment, how to manage inevitable struggles in your relationship, and personality differences.
So let’s dive into boundaries in marriage. This was such a big topic, that covered boundaries over to videos. Check out the one I did last week on what boundaries are. For today, I’ll talk about boundaries in marriage. A common issue I see is lack of boundaries with in-laws.
Click here to see the vlog:
Henry Cloud and John Townsend literally wrote the book on Boundaries. It’s called, “Boundaries: When to say Yes; How to say No to take Control of your Life.” This vlog draws from the two chapters on family and couples.
When a couple gets married, they leave or loosen their allegiance to their family of origin, and cleave or forge a new allegiance to their spouse. If this doesn’t happen, that is when conflicts and boundary problems can take place. It doesn’t mean to ignore the extended family, it just means a change in the dynamic of the family.
If the couple has a decision to make, for example, they need to discuss it together and decide for themselves what is the best course of action. They can certainly seek guidance and advise from any of their parents or extended family, but the ultimate decision still lies in the couple themselves. They are the unit and the team facing life together.
So that is boundaries in relation to in-laws. What about when there is a boundary issue between the spouses themselves? I often talk to my couples about having me time and we time. Sometimes boundaries are blurred within a couple when one person loses sight of who they are as a person within the relationship. It’s important as the marriage progresses that each person continues to have their own interests and own friends. It’s helpful to spend some time separately so that they can miss each other and long for each other. That maintains a sense of balance and harmony in the relationship. You have to know where one person ends and the other person begins.
What if one partner is doing something that violates your values and boundaries? It could be an affair, a gambling addiction, spending issues, a drinking problem, or abuse. You do not have control over what the other person does. You only have control over your feelings and your actions. In order to exercise boundaries in these kinds of examples, it is important to respond with clear consequences of that person’s behaviour.
On page 164, Cloud and Townsend give the example of a spouse who is yelling. If the partner is NOT exercising boundaries, they could simply say, “Stop yelling at me. You must be nicer.” This is an attempt to control or change the other person’s behaviour. If using appropriate boundaries, the partner would leave the choice of change to the spouse who is yelling. So if the partner IS exercising boundaries, they could say, “You can continue to yell if you choose to. But I will choose not to be in your presence when you act that way.” If it’s really bad, it might mean giving some time and space by going to a friend or family’s house for a period of time.
Cloud and Townsend outline 9 steps towards personal change in a marriage:
1/ Inventory the symptom – own and recognize the problem. What is really going on, and take action to solve it
2/ Identify the specific boundary problem – identify what the specific boundary issue is. Are you comfortable saying no to your partner?
3/ Find the origins of the conflict – name the original issues. Was there a similar boundary problem between you and one of your parents?
4/ Take in the good – utilize a strong support system who will encourage healthy boundaries in your marriage. This could be solid couple friends, pastor, support group or therapist
5/ Practice – practice setting boundaries with close friends or family members so that you can build up your ability to say no in your marriage
6/ Say no to the bad – put limits in your marriage. You never, ever, have to put up with any form of abuse, whether it is financial, emotional, spiritual, verbal, sexual, or physical abuse.
7/ Forgive – it is important to forgive to demonstrate healthy boundaries. “Unforgiving people allow other people to control them. Setting people who have hurt you free from an old debt is to stop wanting something from them; it sets you free as well” (p.172). Forgive each other’s mistakes in order to free yourself and let go.
8/ Become proactive – figure out what your limits are and your bottom lines, and communicate those clearly
9/ Learn to love in freedom and responsibility – love comes out of the freedom of choice and taking responsibility for yourself.
Having these healthy boundaries with your partner makes it clear where your fence is, what you are willing to put up with or not, and can ultimately lead to deeper intimacy with each other.
So in summary, know where you draw the line and make that clear to your partner, including what the consequences would be if the spouse’s negative behaviour continues. With in-laws, make it clear that your allegiance is with your partner, and be sure to stay on the same team.
Hope this was helpful. In the next video I’ll be covering boundaries in marriage based on the book, ‘Boundaries in Marriage’ by Cloud and Townsend.
Let me know if there are any other relationship videos that might be useful to you.