But what do you mean its ok to have boundaries in marriage?!
With eyebrows raises and mouths dropped open, that's what seemed to be painted on the faces of couples sitting around in a circle one evening of our marriage mentor group when I said it 'I think boundaries are needed in marriage. We've found they increase the health of our relationship and deepen our intimacy.'
The belief was not one I arrived at over night, in fact its take over three years of marriage to endorse. Boundaries in dating was a normal thing. Not just physical boundaries but emotional boundaries too. There was too much hype about boundaries and then the day we walked down the aisle, exchanging vows and rings, poof, I thought all the boundaries were supposed to just disappear. We went from having all these boundaries while we were dating and then took a hard right turn into marriage where I felt like I wasn't supposed to have any boundaries. But the idea and practice of no boundaries in marriage is not the healthiest and we began to discover that through our time in counseling.
When I first began to ponder the necessity of boundaries in marriage and whether they were good or bad. I felt like I was wading treacherous territory. In every other area of my, I had boundaries, they were a good thing.
One boundary I had set was not respond to work emails on the weekend to protect my time off with my husband, family and friends. Another was not answering my phone at the table whether at home or at a restaurant because, barring an emergency, the people around the table are more important than anything else at that moment. That boundary has helped to protect my priorities and communicate the value and importance of the person sitting across the table from me. In the emergency department where I work, when patients or family members get angry, I do not allow them to use colorful adjectives or call me explicit names. Communicating by that boundary says that it is not ok to speak to me that way.
As I considered boundaries in every other area of my life, I found that they all provided safety, promoted healthy relationships and delineated my priorities.
It seems counterintuitive but boundaries act to provide safety.
We don't question the need for warning signs on fireworks. We don't challenge the necessity of the concrete median that runs down the middle of the interstate. Boundaries aren't bad, boundaries are meant to protect, to ensure safety.
Boundaries are simple; boundaries say what is ok and what is not ok. When we approach boundaries in marriage with that simplistic mindset, we set our relationship up to grow and thrive.
Boundaries aren't a crazy list of 'don'ts.' They're usually small, seemingly insignificant, but their importance is huge.
Boundaries for us include not making fun of the idiosyncrasies of the others family. Another includes choosing to engage in serious conversations upon the other initiative rather than joking around, though the conversation may be uncomfortable.
A simple boundary I have set is that, until my husband has had his coffee and breakfast in the morning, I don't ask him to help with anything around the house, I don't ask him to take out the trash, I don't ask him to help unload the dishwasher, nothing. That boundary is one of respect for him, knowing that he likes to wake up slowly, have his coffee and breakfast and then he will be fully present and ready to start a new day with me.
On a more serious level, when we get into conflict and the tension starts to escalate, if one says 'I need to take sometime before I'm ready to continue having this conversation' the other person gives them space and respects what they've asked. That's a boundary that has served to prevent small disagreements from becoming big throw down fights where we say things we don't actually mean and things we regret.
We never ever joke about the others body, not when we're lounging around the house in sweatpants, not when we're hitting the beach in our swimsuits and definitely not during sex. This boundary has created freedom and safety, trusting that we will never hear a critical remark or joke from the other made about our bodies. This boundary has deepened the emotional and physical intimacy we are able to experience together through the freedom of vulnerability.
In relationships, boundaries don't inhibit growth, they foster it. Boundaries don't limit connection; they provide a safe framework for vulnerability.
Boundaries aren't bad. In marriage, boundaries are imperative to promote emotional and relational health. Boundaries provide a framework of safety by which we are able to know a deeper, richer and truer love.