August 25th, 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, what boundaries are, and personal boundaries in relationships, and boundaries with in-laws. 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.
Click here to see my vlog video:
So let’s dive into boundaries in marriage. This vlog is based on Cloud and Townsend’s book, “Boundaries in Marriage: Understanding the Choices that Make or Break Loving Relationships.” Last week was based on the original book, “Boundaries.” I enjoyed it so much, that I ended up buying their book that is specifically on marriage. Here is what I got from it based on the first two parts of the book, “Understanding Boundaries”, and “Building Boundaries in Marriage.”
Cloud and Townsend write that major boundary conflicts in a marriage are when “one person crosses the lines of responsibility and respect with another” (p.8). Cloud and Townsend describe three aspects of marriage the “Triangle of Boundaries” (p.24). These include Freedom, Responsibility, and Love. Although unconditional love is at the heart of marriage, it is not enough. Marriage also needs freedom and responsibility. Freedom in marriage is having the ability to disagree, to say no, to respond, and to love. Responsibility involves taking ownership for one’s own issues and to do what is best for the union.
In marriage, you have to figure out where you end and where your partner begins. When I work with my couples, I encourage them to be intentional about having “me” time and “we” time. Don’t lose sight of your own personal interests and activities, but aim at a good balance of sharing time with shared interests too.
It is important to focus on your own issues before you criticize or pick on your partner’s issues. Taking the plank out of your own eye and taking ownership for yourself helps the other person then take ownership for themselves. Build that empathy for the other person by understanding your role in any issues that you face as a couple. You can ask questions like, “Tell me what I did to hurt you” (p.67) or “What do you see me doing that hurts or bothers you?” (p.69). Create an environment where both parties can have the freedom to choose, and thus to grow.
Be open, honest, and vulnerable with each other. Be emotionally present, and “say no to your tendency to avoid relationships” (p.73). If you tend to hide away and withdraw, take a stand against that tendency if you want to achieve authentic closeness in your marriage. If your partner tends to nag on you, take a stand and gently and lovingly let them know that does not help. Tell them what you want instead. Be clear. Make your boundaries known. Let go and forgive each other. Accept differences without judgement. Respect each other’s no’s. Take responsibility for your own feelings.
My favourite part of this book so far (I still have to read Parts 3 and 4) is page 86, where Cloud and Townsend talk about “Twoness”. A “complete” person is a mature person who is able to “give love and receive love, be independent and self-sufficient, live out values honestly, be responsible, have self-confidence, deal with problems and failures, live out their talent, and have a life” (p.86). Marriage is complete when two people come together who are already complete on their own. Marriage is strained when two people come together who are in some way incomplete on their own. Jerry Maguire, then, had it wrong. You should never search out or depend on another person to “complete” you. Before entering a union, it is ideal to already be mature and complete on your own. “Marriage is not meant to be the place where one gets completed as a person” (p.86). Rather, it is a place for complete individuals to come together to enrich each others’ lives and build a “we” that is better than either person on their own. They can complement each other by bringing in their different perspectives, personalities, talents, skills, experiences and gifts to the partnership.
Marriage takes work and involves cultivating six core marriage values. Take a stand against anything that would stand against these values. Be sure to magnify these six values in your marriage:
1/ Love of God – this may not apply to you if you are not religious, but if you believe in a higher power, then putting Him first above all else brings all other priorities in line. It helps to have God as the north star to guide and lead, and form the foundation for the relationship. Everything else flows out of that love for God as you trust in Him and have faith in Him.
2/ Love of Your Spouse – Cloud and Townsend talk about “agape” love, which is the kind of love that is concerned for the welfare of the partner (p.117). We are to love each other like we love ourselves. This means showing empathy for our partner, thinking of how to make their life better, being committed to them through thick and thin, continuing to work hard to express love even after decades have passed, and wanting the best for them even at times when they don’t see what that is. Sometimes a partner who has an addiction issue, for example, may not see what is good for them at the time.
3/ Honesty – It is important to always be honest with each other about everything, including how you feel, disappointments, desires, likes, dislikes, hurts, anger, sex, sins, failures, needs, and vulnerabilities (p.125-126). It may not always be easy, but it’s necessary to experience trust and true intimacy in the relationship. Use your discernment and grace to know when the best timing would be and what the best way to phrase things might be.
4/ Faithfulness – Being faithful in marriage does not only mean being physically faithful, but it means being emotionally faithful too. Be cautious of people or things that can draw your attention away from your partner, like a work crush, hobby, or addiction. Being a faithful spouse means being “one who can be trusted, depended upon, and believed in, and one in whom you can rest” (p.130).
5/ Compassion and Forgiveness – We all make mistakes. When we do, take ownership of them and apologize for them. When your partner messes up, show them grace and forgive them. Be tender of heart with each other.
6/ Holiness – A holy marriage is not just one based on religion. It is one based on:
-“confession and ownership of the problems in each individual
-a relentless drive toward growth and development
-a giving up of everything that gets in the way of love
-a surrendering of everything that gets in the way of truth
-a purity of heart where nothing toxic is allowed to grow” (p. 140)
Strive for this for yourself as a person, and your marital partnership will grow and become stronger. Deep passion flows from this sense of purity, honesty, faithfulness and trustworthiness.
So in summary, know where you draw the line, let your partner know what that line is, and give them the freedom to choose their behaviour knowing the consequences of their actions. Take responsibility for your own stuff and let your partner take responsibility for their own stuff. Work on being your own complete and whole you. Your relationship will be stronger and more fulfilled as a result. Exercise the six core marriage values – love God, love your spouse, be honest, be faithful, show compassion and forgiveness, and strive towards holiness.
Hope this was helpful. In the next video I’ll be covering adult attachment – building that sense of security with your partner.
Let me know if there are any other relationship videos that might be useful to you.