“Boundaries are basically about providing structure, and structure is essential in building anything that thrives.” — Henry Cloud
“Love thy Neighbor; yet don’t pull down your hedge.” — Benjamin Franklin
Recently I heard from the family member of a couple that was having difficulty setting one of the most important boundaries a couple can have. Joe and Jane (not their real names) had been married for several years and had two young children. They lived near Joe’s parents. Jane was not the choice Joe’s parents would have made for their son, and they made that clear to both Joe and Jane.
In particular they were not happy with the way Jane was raising their grandchildren. The grandparents even went so far as to threaten to have the children taken away if things didn’t change. They probably couldn’t follow through with their threat but it obviously made Joe and Jane very uncomfortable, to say the least. The matters were complicated because the grandparents had helped Joe and Jane purchase their house and so at least Joe felt an obligation to his parents.
Joe had a very difficult time establishing a very much needed boundary between his parents and his marriage.
Two kinds of boundaries are important in marriage. The first one is in the relationship between the husband and the wife. The second one is with the rest of the world.
Since marriages are made between two imperfect people, there will always be a need for internal boundaries, but they should be few and well understood.
Communication between husband and wife should be open, with no secrets. In-depth conversations that get to the feelings level and deal with important personal subjects should be carried on with no hesitation or criticism. This obviously takes trust and can be easily hindered when the truth is distorted.
If there are events from before marriage that may have an impact on the marriage, they should also be discussed. Discretion and perhaps assistance from a trusted counselor may be necessary if the potential impact is not clearly understood.
Respect and the desire to understand the spouse’s perspective are basic to marriage. As Stephen Covey has said, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” The concept of respect also applies to the physical realm. There should never be any kind of physical abuse within the marriage. If this does occur on a continuing basis the abused spouse should seek help from a trusted counselor.
There should be very few boundaries in marriage regarding sex. Sex is an important part of marriage, and it is a way to connect to our spouse that God made exclusively for marriage. Sex should be enjoyable by both the husband and the wife and should not be forced or objectionable to either. Sex should not be used as a bargaining chip or punishment in marriage.
1 Corinthians 7:5 says, “Abstaining from sex is permissible (in marriage) for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting – but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it.” (MSG)
Communication involving people outside the marriage always requires boundaries. Details about the relationship between the husband and wife should not be discussed with others, with the exception again of a trusted counselor.
Speaking negatively about your spouse to someone else, especially in the extended family, is never a good idea. The extended family usually gets a distorted and exaggerated view of the relationship between the husband and the wife, and this may be passed on to others. The husband and wife may have resolved the difficulty, but others are only aware of the problem and not the resolution. In the same manner others should not be allowed to speak negatively about our spouse.
As the opening quote notes, boundaries are necessary to provide structure to any relationship. God put boundaries in place but kept them to a minimum: Love God and love others as you love yourself. Implement this structure in your marriage and you will be successful.