Boundaries in MarriageBy Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
Marriage is first and foremost about love. It is bound together by the care, need, companionship, and values of two people, which can overcome hurt, immaturity, and selfishness to form something better than what each person alone can produce. Love is at the heart of marriage, as it is at the heart of God himself (1 John 4:16).
Yet, love is not enough. The marriage relationship needs other ingredients to grow and thrive. Those ingredients are freedom and responsibility.
When two people are free to disagree, they are free to love. When they are not free, they live in fear, and love dies: "Perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). And when two people together take responsibility to do what is best for the marriage, love can grow. When they do not, one takes on too much responsibility and resents it; the other does not take on enough and becomes self-centered or controlling. Freedom and responsibility problems in a marriage will cause love to struggle.
Today is the day to work on your own boundaries in marriage. As the Bible teaches, make the most of today, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16). What you take initiative to deal with today will affect the rest of your married life. And what you ignore or are afraid to address will do the same.
What’s a Boundary, Anyway?
In the simplest sense, a boundary is a property line. It denotes the beginning and end of something.
When boundaries are not established in the beginning of a marriage, or when they break down, marriages break down as well. Or such marriages don’t grow past the initial attraction and transform into real intimacy. They never reach the true "knowing" of each other and the ongoing ability to abide in love and to grow as individuals and as a couple-the long-term fulfillment that was God’s design. For this intimacy to develop and grow, there must be boundaries.
In relationships, ownership is also very important. If I know where the boundaries are in our relationship. I know who "owns" things such as feelings, attitudes, and behaviors as well. I know to whom they "belong." And if there is a problem with one of those, I know to whom the problem belongs as well. A relationship like marriage requires each partner to have a sense of ownership of himself or herself.
The first way in which clarifying boundaries helps us is to know where one person ends and the other begins. What is the problem, and where is it? Is it in you, or is it in me? Once we know the boundaries, we know who should be owning whichever problem we are wrestling with.
Responsibility also involves action. If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen because we take action. We need to change some attitudes, or behaviors, or reactions, or choices. We must actively participate in the resolution of whatever relational problem we might have, even if it is not our fault.
Each spouse must take responsibility for the following things:
But the good news of boundaries is that God’s plan of responsibility has not changed. We are not at the mercy of our spouse’s behavior or problems. Each spouse can act both to avoid being a victim of the other spouse’s problems and, better yet, to change the marriage relationship itself. The process always begins with taking responsibility for your own part in the problem .
We were not meant to be enslaved by each other; we were meant to love each other freely. God designed us to have freedom of choice as we responded to life, to other people, to God, and to ourselves. But when we turned from God, we lost our freedom. We became enslaved to sin, to self-centeredness, to other people, to guilt, and to a whole host of other dynamics .
Boundaries help us to realize our freedom once again. Listen to the way that Paul tells the Galatians to set boundaries against any type of control and become free: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1) .
You need protective boundaries that you can put up when evil is present and can let down when the danger is over .
There is a lot of misunderstanding about boundaries. Some people are against boundaries because they see them as selfish; other people actually use them to be selfish. Both are wrong. Boundaries are basically about self-control .
My client could not say to her husband, "You can’t speak to me that way." This demand is unenforceable. But she could say what she would or would not do if he spoke to her that way again. She could set a boundary "on herself." She could say, "If you speak to me that way, I will walk out of the room." This threat is totally enforceable because it has to do with her. She would be setting a boundary with the only person she could control: herself.
If someone trespasses your personal boundaries in some way, you can take control of yourself and not allow yourself to be controlled, or hurt, anymore. This is self-control .
The most basic boundary is language. Your words help define you. They tell the other person who you are, what you believe, what you want, and what you don’t. Here are some examples of words being used as boundaries:
No, I don’t want to do that.
No, I won’t participate in that.
Yes, I want to do that.
I like that.
I don’t like that.
Your words, or lack of them, define you to another person.
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