The Essential Need for Boundaries & Proactivity in Marriage
If anyone tells you that doing the work of marriage is easy, you would be wise to reconsider the proposition. The reality is that establishing a strong and healthy marriage takes work, and lots of it over the course of time. This is not to imply that you should be scared or intimidated by the notion of marriage. On the other hand, it indicates couples can benefit greatly from being well acquainted with the principles enabling husbands and wives to effectively work together in creating a relationship where each person feels loved, cherished, and valued. This article sets forth two of these essential principles. Essential Principle One: Establishing Clear Boundaries Boundaries are the fortifications protecting your marriage from whatever would derail it from having any semblance of health and longevity. There are different types of boundaries, some of which relate to how you communicate with your spouse, while others relate to the people, processes, or situations you will or will not allow into your marriage. Discussing and establishing clear boundaries in these areas as a couple is a wonderful way to strengthen, protect, and help bring about healing in your relationship. Below are examples that may help you and your spouse proceed with boundary setting. Communication Boundary (Example): Couples often don’t realize that how they speak to one another has a major influence on the overall quality of their emotional connection. Setting the boundary of having conversations when both individuals are being respectful and considerate, versus critical and contemptuous, positions husband and wives to know when to proceed with or pause their discussion. Spouses abiding by this boundary ultimately guard against normalizing unhealthy communication dynamics (i.e., yelling, criticism, contempt) that would create or foment presenting marital tensions, and instead join together in promoting a process of mutual respect. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 (NASB) Situational Boundary (Example): It’s not uncommon for couples I work with to identify being utterly tired and overscheduled. They are perpetually busy as a result of working long hours, church involvements, and taking their children to multiple activities throughout the week. Therefore, it isn’t surprising when they report experiencing a very real emotional and physical distance in their marriage. A clear restructuring of their priorities is needed, and the boundaries they begin to establish (i.e., reducing the number of family related activities overall, establishing dedicated time for themselves as a couple, setting needed time boundaries at work) will serve a critical role in helping them to reprioritize their marriage, connect as a couple, and experience a needed rest and quality time as a family unit. Engaging in this type of restructuring and boundary setting isn’t particularly easy. However, when accomplished, it allows married couples to recognize the importance of valuing and preserving their time together, and consider whether they are applying their time, energy, and resources to what is most meaningful to them. “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth; cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.” Proverbs 23:4-5 (NASB) Essential Principle Two: Proactivity & Responsiveness Another principle essential to building a strong and healthy marriage relates to spousal proactivity and responsiveness. Proactivity has everything to do with not taking your spouse for granted, and paying close attention to what they’ve expressed helps them to feel loved, cherished, and valued. I’ve found it’s not uncommon for husbands and wives to have some awareness of what helps the other person to feel loved, yet lack the discipline necessary to consistently follow through with those expressed marital needs. This breakdown contributes to feelings of loneliness, hurt, and resentment in a relationship that can easily facilitate painful cycles of conflict and distancing between spouses. The couples that I’ve seen move away from such painful cycles, and establish patterns of connection and love, made the time necessary to address the personal and relational factors historically plaguing their relationship. In these cases, couples counseling helped them to openly and lovingly communicate their marital needs, thereby enabling a greater understanding of how they could best respond to and care for one another. Furthermore, these couples were willing to consistently humble themselves, and evaluate their own flaws, versus simply being critical of each other. This humility additionally informed their willingness to take certain (not necessarily easy) steps aimed at facilitating the desired love and connection between them. In the end, what sets certain couples apart from others is their heart (internal attitude, drive, and dedication) to love, respect, and remain humble in how they engage and care for one another. Those who choose to engage one another in this manner create a relational context conducive to communication, connection, trust, and a flourishing marriage overall. My hope and prayer is that those reading this article will take this reminder to heart, and consider the importance of boundaries, proactivity, and responsiveness to building a vibrant and lasting marital partnership. Eric Gomez is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in building families, strengthening marriages and addressing the personal, relational, and cultural harms of pornography. He received his graduate degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University and his undergraduate degree in Psychology from New Mexico State University.