When my husband and I first started dating, I would rant about my frustrations to him quite a lot. Probably because I subconsciously believed that a partner was meant to be an ever-reliable listening ear by default and feel what I was feeling! He didn’t put up with this behaviour for very long of course. I was soon told to deal with my own issues or at least to summarise what I needed to tell him – and only if I really needed to tell him! (He’s honest like that) But over the years leading towards marriage, we worked out a better rhythm between us. I learned to manage my own emotions better and he learned to be a better listener. In hindsight, I think it was all part of learning a very important lesson about drawing boundaries in a relationship.
This is how it might look like when I’m ranting to my husband … with intensity levels multiplied by 100.
The topic of boundaries in marriage (and between couples even before marriage) is such a huge one. Yet many of us are not fully aware of what it means. In fact it almost seems contradictory. “But aren’t we supposed to do everything together, and be everything for each other? Isn’t that the idea of a lifetime partner?” you might wonder. The truth is, these are very unrealistic expectations to have of someone.
Expecting your partner to be EVERYTHING places way too much pressure on a person – including yourself. Because, if you expect that of someone else, it probably means you also believe you need to be EVERYTHING for that person – even when you actually can’t.
While marriage is a commitment to love and cherish each other till death, we need to remember that we are still two individual beings who have simply chosen to continue our journeys beside each other. This means we may be on the same road, but our feelings, thoughts, and way of responding to whatever that road brings us can still be very different. We need to recognise this and know where to draw the line. All healthy relationships have boundaries.
But why are boundaries so important?
Oh so many reasons! But I’m going to borrow an excerpt from a momjunction article here because it summarises things quite simply. Boundaries help you and your spouse have a healthy relationship by:
- making you take responsibility for your actions instead of blaming it on your spouse.
- helping resolve conflicts and prevent you and your partner from being hurt.
- giving you the power to change things for good as you are in control of your actions.
- helping you strike a balance between yours and your spouse’s priorities.
These are just some, to name a few.
So what are boundaries in a marriage?
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Gary Gilles has a wonderful example of what boundaries are. In an article on mental help, he writes:
Imagine that you and your partner are facing each other. On the ground between you is a clearly marked line that stretches to the left and right as far as you can see in either direction. This line is like a property line: everything on your side of the line belongs to you; everything on the other side of the line belongs to your partner. Boundaries define ownership and responsibility.
He goes on to explain that in a romantic relationship the “things” that belong to you are not tangible. Instead, the boundary line helps define the emotional or mental space which is yours and which are your partners. When we are aware of these “spaces” and the boundary that outlines them, we are then able to understand each other better and give our relationship what it needs to thrive.
Gilles explains, another way of saying this is: boundaries distinguish what is your responsibility in the relationship from that of your partner’s.
Types of boundaries
Some examples of where boundaries can be drawn are related to:
Our physical bodies – If you don’t want to be touched in a certain place, or at a certain time because you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to say so – even to your spouse.
Our words – If you have said unkind things to your partner, you need to take responsibility for your own words and apologise – even if you didn’t intend to hurt them. Those are still your unkind words.
Our emotions – If you struggle to express yourself when you’re having a bad day, you still need to recognise that your partner cannot feel what you are feeling or read your mind. It is your responsibility to help them try to understand you better by calmly letting them know what you’re thinking or feeling. And as I learned, you cannot always expect them to be feeling exactly like how you feel in the moment. But you can always tell them how to help – whether its by being a listening ear, finding solutions (hey, some people actually want a solution!), or giving you some space to calm down.
Our time – Recognising that we need to respect each other’s time. This could mean not taking each other forgranted – like keeping your partner waiting while you take an extremely long time to get ready to go out together, or assuming that he / she has more free time than you do so they should do more housework. It could also mean respecting each other’s personal time. Time for personal hobbies, time with friends, etc.
Me hanging out late with my friends. Just kidding.
That last one – time – and personal space, is something that is really important to both my husband and I. For example, his Saturday morning bike rides are paramount, and I know he’ll cancel plans for family if he really has to, but I would never want to abuse that. So I try to schedule plans for both of us on other days or at other times. Likewise, he never questions why I’m out so late with my girlfriends because he recognises that this time is important to me. What I love about this is that our actions speak louder than words sometimes can. These simple gestures or adherence to the boundaries is like saying, “I value you, and I respect you, and I acknowledge that your interests are important just like you feel they are.” It’s one of the many ways we show each other love.
Can you think of other areas where establishing boundaries would help your relationship with your spouse? Leave a comment below. We’ll be expanding on this topic more in the next few articles!