By Taz Decker
Creating healthy boundaries is crucial for developing a strong balanced relationship, and for our ability to give and receive love. In a relationship, boundaries are key to resolving conﬂicts and building a relationship that has been hampered by problems that have not been dealt with for years. Sadly, the idea of establishing boundaries has also been misunderstood and misused. Often the result is increased isolation instead of increased love. This is not what boundaries are meant to be about. They are not intended to end relationships but to repair and deepen the relationship. Boundaries can be used for the beneﬁt of any relationship, not to exclude others, an excuse for selﬁshness or self-righteousness, or as a means for ﬁxing, punishing, or controlling others. I would like to talk about how we can set up healthy loving boundaries in a way that makes the relationship to your spouse grow stronger and deeper. However, we must keep in mind that there is no special formula for establishing proper boundaries, but it can be simple. Here are some ideas that has worked for me.
Some people have the idea that setting boundaries is a means to end discomfort in their lives. Setting boundaries in your relationship is not meant to make life easier and more relaxed, but at making it healthier and a more profound relational connection. In other words, boundaries are not a quick escape from discomfort, but an increased focus on a meaningful relationship. Suﬀering is often a necessary part of growth, I have heard “there is no growth in comfort and no comfort in the growth”. It is an important component of the procedure that helps us develop character and become more tolerant and accepting of others. Through the struggle, if dealt with in the right way, can help us accept life on life’s terms. We will gain awareness around our limitations, give up control, learn to serve others, and learn to trust God, while becoming humbler. All this helps us become more whole, grow in our faith, and strengthen our relationships. Almost all the processes that strengthen and deepen our relationships will involve some form of pain and discomfort, but it’s all worth it.
Those who have a difficult time setting boundaries will be tempted to jump from agreeing easier softer way to extremely rigid boundaries. Instead of confronting the issue lovingly, they go from silence about it to an ultimatum. I have found its best to try and find balance. Often a spouse, family member, or friend will have endured a specific behavior for years and having had enough of the behavior give an ultimatum, change right now or else. And usually the consequence the is rather drastic. Unfortunately, such an approach usually backﬁres severely instead of bringing about the solution they desire, as it makes the two of you adversaries instead of partners in resolving a conﬂict. If you don’t give them a chance to understand the problem that you have with them but confront with threats right away, they will only sense your anger, not that you have a genuine interest in resolving the issue. How would you react, if an ultimatum was placed before you the ﬁrst time they talk about a weakness of yours? The purpose is not to shame them, but to help the relationship. Establishing appropriate boundaries is much more than just setting limits. It is a part of a spiritual and emotional growth process that shall bring you closer together – instead of driving you apart.
Consider the following elements when establishing boundaries in your marriage.
Love is the key ingredient of any relationship. Love always wins. When you love someone, everything you do is for them, and nothing you do or say comes from a vengeful or punishing perspective. Before you establish limits, help them understand that you desire the best for them. The limits you have set may be painful, but your love balances the pain and replaces the fear, that may be triggered by your limits, with the hope what you do is for the best of your relationship. Not all people respond openly to the love you show them. But be assured that your love reaches their soul even if they don’t show it.
Outside support. Everyone needs to have friends or a support person, particularly in times of relationship conﬂicts. If you don’t have supportive relationships to other people, chances are that you will set no boundaries at all or that you will set extremely harsh ones as a response to your lack of feeling loved. Either way, you will not get the best result everyone wants.
Ownership. In a relationship, no problem is only the fault of one partner. This may be hard to believe when you see yourself as the innocent victim of someone irresponsible. But whatever the problem is, you will discover that you have contributed to it as well – even if your share is only a small portion. Perhaps you have not spoken up when you should have. Perhaps you have told others about your problem but have never gone directly to the other person with it. Humbly take responsibility for what you have done or failed to do, apologize honestly, ask for forgiveness, and make a sincere effort to change. If you own your part of the problem, they will not feel judged and put down by you and will be more likely to accept your boundaries.
Invitation. The ﬁrst step in confronting should never be a limit, but always an invitation to change. Bring up the issue, clearly and speciﬁcally. Let them know how their actions aﬀect you and that you want them to change because you want to be closer to them. Maybe they did not realize they always had a critical tone that hurts your feelings. Your loving request gives them a chance to empathize with your feelings and to repent. Of course, a request to change will not always ﬁnd a positive response. But if you don’t even try, you miss a great chance to resolve an issue peacefully.
Warning. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when establishing boundaries is not giving appropriate warning. If you just set limits out of the blue, they will feel ambushed and rightfully become angry at you. A warning, on the other hand, gives them a choice. Something painful may happen in the future, but their behavior will help determine what happens. Knowing what consequences, the future may bring helps us take ownership of ourselves.
Patience. A warning, if not done patiently, is an ultimatum. Sometimes, you may have a diﬃcult time accepting irresponsible or controlling behavior. You want to see it changed and you want this sooner than later. You may not be so lucky. Only few people in the world can change immediately when they see their error. Try not to be critical if they fail or even resists the growth process. Be patient, they may need time to adjust to the new reality. However, that doesn’t mean you should be ignoring the lack of progress either. Silent suﬀering is not the same as patience but only an attempt to avoid conﬂict. Patience means providing the ingredients for growth while allowing them time to respond. This is how God deals with us, he allows you to grow at a slow pace, but he provides all the help you need.
Consequences. When all the above ingredients are in play and there still isn’t change, you may have to follow through with your consequences. Keep in mind however, that consequences have nothing to do with anger, revenge, or punishment. They are there to protect you and to help your loved ones deal with the reality of their actions. Be loving but be consistent too. Otherwise all you have done is nagging and letting your spouse have their way anyway.
Renegotiation: Boundaries don’t have to remain the same forever. They can be changed and even dropped altogether as your loved one matures over time. As you and your loved one grow, you will have less of a need to protect yourself and will be able to be closer to them. Renegotiate the rules that you have set in the past if you feel the need to, the fewer you need, the better it will be for your relationship.
Forgiveness: Finally, leave space in your relationship for forgiveness. If you don’t live in forgiveness, all you try to accomplish by setting boundaries can be severely hampered by blaming, judging, laying guilt trips on him, or being unable to let go of the past. Don’t give these attitudes a chance to grow – practice forgiveness day by day.
None of the above steps are easy. If they were, we would all do them automatically. As mentioned before, growth involves suﬀering. But this form of suﬀering gives us hope.