But what do you mean it's okay to have boundaries in marriage?
With eyebrows raised and mouths dropped open, the expressions on the face of couples in our marriage mentor group as I said, "I think marriage needs boundaries," revealed that this thought isn't a standard.
Limits increase the health of our relationship and deepen our intimacy. I didn't arrive at this idea overnight. In fact, it took over three years of marriage to endorse. Boundaries in dating is a routine occurrence. Not just physical limitations but emotional boundaries too. The day I walked down the aisle, exchanging vows and rings, poof, I thought all the boundaries were supposed just to disappear. We went from having all these boundaries while we were dating and then took a hard right turn into a marriage where I felt like I wasn’t supposed to have any boundaries. But a married relationship without limits is not the healthiest, which we discovered during our time in counseling.
When I began to ponder the necessity of boundaries in marriage, I felt like I was wading treacherous territory. In every other area of my life that I had boundaries, they were a good thing.
I did not respond to work emails on the weekend to protect my time off with my husband, family, and friends. I chose not to answer my phone at the table whether at home or t a restaurant because, barring an emergency, the people around the table are more important than anything else. That boundary protected my priorities and communicated the value and importance of other people. In the emergency department where I work, when patients or family members are angry, I do not allow them to use colorful adjectives or call me explicit names. Communicating that boundary says that it is not okay 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 ensure security. 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 wrong; they are meant to protect.
Boundaries are simple and reveal what is okay and what is not. 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 what not to do. 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 involves choosing to engage in serious conversations when one of us initiates it rather than joking around, even if the conversation is uncomfortable.
A simplistic 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 and have his coffee and breakfast. 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 tension begins to escalate, if one says ‘I need to take some time 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 elevated fights where we speak words we don’t mean and things we regret.
We never 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 unquestionably not during sex. This boundary has created freedom and safety, trusting that we will never hear a critical remark or joke from the other about our bodies. This boundary has deepened the emotional and physical intimacy we 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 and provide a frame of safety by which we can know a deeper, richer and truer love.