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Never go into my wife’s kitchen. Never criticize my wife’s driving. Never give my wife suggestions on how to cook.
Never rearrange my husband’s closet. Never have a conversation during a Redskin’s game. Never suggest that we read the directions.
Yes, these are some of the boundaries we set in our marriage. What is a boundary? In legal terms, a boundary is a natural or artificial separation or division between adjoining properties that shows their limits. You have probably heard the saying good fences make good neighbors. Boundaries are just as important in your marriage. Boundaries in marriage help both of you know your likes, dislikes, your wants, what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. Boundaries reflect you and how you want others to interact with you. They identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits.
Setting effective boundaries can be difficult. The first step in setting effective boundaries is to understand what makes a healthy boundary. Healthy boundaries are defined, communicated, timely, and respectful.
A boundary has to be defined and known. To some extent all boundaries are arbitrary. Where Prince Edward County ends and Buckingham County begins is just a line. But that line is defined. People don’t have to guess.
This boundary is also well communicated. There are signs posted. The boundaries are shown on maps. Just think of the problems that would be caused if boundaries were kept a secret. Surprise, you just built a house on your neighbor’s property. Your spouse may be very talented but I am guessing he or she can’t read your mind. You need to talk with your spouse about your boundaries. Many times, people come into counseling saying, for our entire marriage he/she has never done _______ (you fill in the blank). Before you get mad, make sure you both know and agree about your boundaries.
Closely tied to communicating a boundary is the idea of being timely. Imagine if you rented an apartment and you did not know the boundaries. You thought that use of the garage came with the apartment. But after living there for a year, you get a bill from the landlord for use of the garage. I would guess you would not be happy. It is the same concept in setting boundaries in a marriage. You need to identify the boundaries that will exist in your marriage and both of you need to talk about them early and often.
Healthy boundaries are also respectful. This means boundaries are set with the idea in mind that there are two unique people involved in the relationship. Each person has his or her own needs, weaknesses and personality in a relationship.
Jane and John came in to counseling; both strong Christians, very confused why their marriage was on the rocks. Jane was taught to always put other’s needs before her own. John, following in his father’s footsteps, was a strong, independent successful businessman who liked being in control. Jane loved John, always deferred to him and never voiced her thoughts. Jane did not see that she was not setting healthy boundaries and the effect was she was unsure of her own thoughts, unaware of her own feelings, insecure about her decisions. Looking at her lack of boundaries, Jane learned to calmly tell her husband about her feelings and thoughts.
John and Jane learned to set defined, communicated, timely, and respectful boundaries. They realized that to “become one flesh” doesn’t mean being identical twins with identical thoughts. They discovered that sharing differences, with respect, brought a new closeness to their marriage.
We should not be surprised that boundaries are an important topic; the Bible starts with God setting boundaries. Creation, in Genesis 1, starts with “the earth was formless and empty; darkness was over the face of the deep.” Then God created boundaries. God made boundaries between the land, water and heavens.
Setting healthy boundaries will help you understand each other better, make decisions within your marriage and help you feel that your point of view is respected. Healthy boundaries are part of the foundation for the two becoming as one.