MO AND PHINDI | Must-have boundaries that nourish and help strenthen marriage
They protect a couple against codependency, immaturity, jealousy and insecurity
If someone steps on your foot, depending on how hard they stomp on it, you’ll either ignore, whisper or scream. If they do it over and over again, you’ll tell them they’re hurting you and they need to stop doing that before they hurt you again. You may even tell them what you’re going to do to avoid being stepped on, or if they don’t stop, what further action or what consequence they will face. At that point you’ve set the “don’t step on my foot” boundary.
Notice that your actions aren’t aimed at changing them, but rather at protecting your foot, as well as your relationship. The other person will ultimately have to decide whether or not they’re going to alter their behaviour, but at least you’ve warned them and have taken important steps to protect yourself.
In a relational sense, boundaries are the acceptable limits a couple sets in place in order to set them apart from others and ultimately, to protect themselves and their relationship. Boundaries are an element of self-care; they ensure that a person’s autonomy and personal wellbeing can be maintained. They give partners a sense of self and provide a healthy separation between a couple and other people. Boundaries indicate where you end and where I begin, as well as where our relationship ends and when your partner would be crossing the line.
Boundaries enable a person to embody their self-worth and know what is necessary to respect and protect their own desires, needs and beliefs.
Without boundaries, the couple easily becomes enmeshed or interacts in ways that create unhealthy dynamics where partners lose themselves in marriage. Ultimately, boundaries help couples to avoid issues like codependency, unrestraint, immaturity, clinginess, unhealthy jealousy and insecurity.
Let’s take a look at what some of those boundaries might be, and how to develop them in your own marriage.
Abuse and conflict resolution
This may seem obvious. But we have counselled several couples where this boundary line has been crossed one time too many in relationships. Abuse exists in many forms. Two of the most reported are physical and emotional. Men predominantly tend to physically abuse their partners, while women generally abuse men emotionally.
Every couple will disagree at some point and might even argue at times. It is good to talk through a disagreement than to hold it inside and let it fester.
However, it is never okay to speak in a nasty tone, use harsh language, or scream and shout at each other. This is being verbally abusive, and words can hurt very deeply.
Another boundary that may seem very obvious, yet many relationships are fraught with extra-marital affairs. And in this column, we write a lot about cheating due to the many questions we get from our readers.
Exclusivity is one of the pillars of marriage. Immediately when a third-party is introduced in the form of a romantic fling, like a glass smashed against a brick wall, trust is shuttered and the relationship is violated. When you’re not open with your spouse about the importance of this boundary, you open your relationship up for possible disappointment.
Withholding sex unreasonably or manipulatively
Sex is an important part of marriage, and it is an amazing way to connect to your spouse. Even so, some spouses use sex as a bargaining chip or punishment in their marriages, and this is extremely detrimental to the relationship. It is also wrong!
A sexless marriage where a husband and the wife live like a brother and sister is extremely dangerous for the relationship – if such a lifestyle is not by mutual consent. And withholding sex, except for health reasons or by temporary mutual consent, can force the sexually starved partner to look elsewhere to satisfy their sexual needs. This could violate even the set and mutually agreed upon boundary of exclusivity.
Ignoring your spouse
Some spouses do this to punish their partners when they don’t get their way. Others ignore their spouse simply as a means to avoid talking about hard issues, and therefore give silent treatment. Whatever the motivation, we shouldn’t avoid our spouse and emotionally shut them out of our life. When we do this, we break down the intimacy and leave ourselves and our spouse open to forming unhealthy habits, and the temptation to seek connection outside the marriage.
Speaking negatively about your spouse
If we have a problem with one another, we need to address the problem directly. Nothing good will come from us going to our friends and family about a problem that we really need to take up with our spouse.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have people in our life that we can talk to about our marriage. We just need to be careful with how we talk about our spouse and what we say about them to other people, especially family members. We must understand that it is extremely hard for our flesh and blood to forget the negative things we have told them about our partner. They don’t need to know the details of every disagreement we have with our spouse.
Allowing other people to speak negatively about your spouse
As a couple, we should be the first to protect each other’s reputations. Never allow family members, friends, or anyone for that matter to speak negatively about your spouse – even if your spouse is on the wrong. If you witness this, you can put a stop to it by kindly saying, “Please don’t talk about my husband/wife that way”. It’s utter disrespect, not just against your spouse, but again yourself to allow anyone to speak of your partner disrespectfully in your presence.
You may also agree to other boundaries like not keeping secrets from one another; not making fun of one another’s personalities or features your partner cannot change about themselves; and not violating your values and love languages.
Boundaries are one of the most foundational aspects of marriage. They are invisible agreements, yet they may have very tangible effects when broken.
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