Better Boundaries for Your Marriage

St. George Therapists Answer: Does My Marriage Need Boundaries?

A successful marriage is one in which both people feel loved, respected and fulfilled. But this is easier said than done. It is heartbreaking when matrimonial bliss fades and instead we start to feel resentful, angry, hurt, or numb. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that you chose the wrong partner. Frequently, the problem is that you and your partner need to set and hold better boundaries. Why? Because every person has a unique set of values and goals, and it is a rare couple indeed whose values and goals match up perfectly.

Most couples will need to make some compromises to keep their relationship in the zone of mutual care and respect, and setting appropriate boundaries is one important factor that makes this possible. In today’s blog we’ll define and give some examples of boundaries (and the lack of them), and then we’ll look at how to use boundaries to create a more satisfying relationship. See if you can relate to any of these examples from my work with couples. I have changed the clients’ names to protect their privacy.

What Are Healthy Boundaries In My Marriage?

Boundaries are limits we set to protect our safety and well-being, and they are based on our values and expectations. Boundaries also communicate what works for us and what doesn’t work for us. A common physical boundary is one’s personal space. One client of mine, “Debra,” complained that her partner, “Chris,” always sat too close to her at the breakfast counter where they ate, so that their arms would bump. She felt annoyed and disrespected, while Chris felt hurt that Debra didn’t want to be close. This is an example of both a physical and an emotional boundary. In this situation, what worked for Debra was space… and what worked for Chris was closeness – but they struggled to make sense of this difference.

A common sexual boundary problem is when partners have different sexual needs. My client “Mark” saw sex as a daily necessity regardless of whatever else was going on in his relationship, while his wife, “Shari” needed to feel a supportive emotional connection before she was open to sexual advances. What worked for Mark in this situation was frequent and consistent physical intimacy, but what worked for his partner was frequent, consistent emotional intimacy. Interestingly, they both could explore their needs being met more often if they realized the positive feedback loop that would be created if they could support each other’s needs.

Emotional And Financial Intimacy In Your Marriage

Finances are another area where tensions can arise when partners have different financial values and goals. One couple I saw were continually arguing about money, leading “Jake” to label “Ella” an “irresponsible airhead” and Ella to characterize Jake asa “controlling miser.” Needless to say, this couple had lost their mutual respect. What worked for Jake was thrift and moderation. What worked for Ella was flexibility and freedom. Could they find a shared value or agreement in this mix?

A similar problem developed for “Miguel” and “Suki,” but theirs had to do with intellectual boundaries. Suki would come home from classes bursting with enthusiasm about what she had learned that day, but Miguel was from a conservative background that prized traditional values, and so when Suki talked about things like alternate spirituality, animal rights and veganism, Miguel would just shut down and feel angry. Suki felt confused and hurt. What works for Suki’s lifestyle is the ability to learn and evolve. What works for Miguel is consistency and partnership. Is there room for both? Can they find a way to communicate what’s missing or what they fear?

All of the above are examples of what can happen when a married couple doesn’t have appropriate boundaries in place. So, how do you start setting boundaries with your partner? Start where you feel most hurt or annoyed with them. This is the red flag marking the area that needs improvement. But before you open a discussion with your partner about it, you must do some solo exploration.

How Do You Start Setting Boundaries With Your Partner?

It helps to define whether the boundary crossing is physical, emotional, financial, sexual, intellectual, or another category. That makes it easier to sit down with pen and paper and answer these questions:

  • What are my values in this area of my life?
  • What are my expectations for myself, how do I practice this value?
  • What are my expectations for the relationship, how do we practice this value
  • What are my goals for the future with this value?

Then look at how your partner’s action(s) seem out of alignment with one or more of these items, keeping in mind that your partner’s actions are based on his or her own valid viewpoint. Be curious, not judgmental. Once you have your list and a clearer understanding of your feelings and needs, set aside some uninterrupted time for a conversation.

How Do You Set Boundaries Politely?

The next step is to respectfully explore your partner’s point of view (values, expectations, and goals) for this issue, then honestly and gently share yours. The emphasis here is on exploration – not listing, labeling, blaming or shaming. The goal is mutual understanding and empathy, so stay calm and low-key. You want to make this easy for your partner to digest without getting defensive. Once empathy is achieved, the final step is to actually set the boundary, but this must be done with regard for both of you.

In a functional relationship, you might open the conversation by saying something like, “I know you love me and respect me. So I really need your help making sense of how I feel [e.g.: pressured to have sex… like our budget is so tight… as if you my education isn’t as important to you…]. Can you talk to me about that?” After you have explored how your partner is thinking and feeling, wanting and needing you can decide what you want to share with them about your values and needs. Working in this order can help check any assumptions you may have been making and reduce resentment before you speak.

How do you set a boundary with regard for both or you? Consider this script: “I respect how you feel about this, and I appreciate being able to understand you better. Could we make a change to the way we handle this in the future so that both of us feel better about it?” Then brainstorm ways this could be achieved. In some cases, it might be as simple as agreeing to disagree.

Why Do I Struggle To Set Boundaries? Therapy In St. George UT Can Help

With the above in mind, if you still struggle with setting boundaries, there may be deeper issues in play, such as low self-esteem, past trauma, or a lack of trust. Reaching out to a licensed mental health professional who can help you navigate this important issue. A happy marriage is worth working for! You may find that individual therapy will allow you to clear your history of trauma. Or perhaps couples counseling is what you need to build upon a shared vision and work on emotional intimacy in real-time.

Are you ready to consider counseling as your next step for more confidence, healing past trauma and releasing resentment? At Guided Wellness Counseling we support ambitious women who want to feel good about themselves, inside and outside of their relationships. They don’t want their happiness to rest on the shoulders of their partner… and they also see the intersection of their relationships and their day-to-day joy and fulfillment. You can start with a complimentary phone consultation to learn more about weekly counseling sessions and be matched with the best therapist for your unique needs and goals.

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