Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Marriage

Setting healthy boundaries in your marriage might seem like an uncomfortable topic to discuss, but setting expectations and limitations can help minimize arguments, affairs, and even potential divorce.

Setting Healthy Boundaries in Your Marriage

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I’m going to tell you a secret: I failed miserably at my first marriage. I married my first husband on my 20th birthday while living in the UK. At that age, I had the life experience of a fruit fly. I went into the union with absolutely no boundaries. I can’t recall a single time we talked openly or seriously about what we would and would not tolerate. Three short years into the marriage, we were falling apart. My ex-husband had a very lengthy affair with a co-worker. She was also married and had a child.

I’m now 15 years post divorce. I’m remarried to an amazing man and we have two beautiful children. At nearly 40 years old, I can tell you I’ve learned a lot about setting healthy marital boundaries and why they are so important. First, let’s take a quick look at what boundaries are and are not.

Boundaries are:

  • An imaginary line in the sand that you and your partner agree not to cross
  • A clear picture of what you will and will not tolerate
  • A definition of what you consider right and wrong
  • A  way of saying “no” in advance to something deemed inappropriate
  • A way of protecting yourself

Boundaries are not:

  • A way to manipulate your spouse
  • A way to “keep score”
  • An uneven balance of power between spouses

Sexual Boundaries

My mother had a saying. “The devil will do anything to get you into bed before you’re married and he’ll do everything to keep you out of bed once you’re married.” It’s true. As soon as you’re married it feels like there is something working against you, particularly with your sex life. Children, responsibilities, work can all get in the way of having a healthy sex life. You’ll have to prioritize date nights and intimacy.

I don’t believe in setting a bunch of boundaries when it comes to sex except to keep it loving, safe, secure and respectful.

What boundaries might look like:

  • We will keep our sex respectful and marriage bed pure
  • We will make intimacy a priority
  • We will be honest with each other about our sexual needs
  • We will not weaponize sex or use it to manipulate
  • We will not engage in sexual acts that degrade or shame our spouse

Relational Boundaries

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if parents, in-laws, and friends never involved themselves in your marriage? Yes, it would, but sadly whether intentionally or unintentionally, it still happens.

My husband and I, while both Christians, are different denominations. Early in our engagement, we had to decide whether to practice his Baptist faith or my Catholic faith. Of course, both sides of the family felt it was their place to tell us how we should worship and how we should raise our kids. The truth is, you will receive lots of unsolicited advice from family members and friends, but you decide how to deal with it as a couple. Don’t be afraid to shut it down, especially if it creates tension in your marriage.

Early in our marriage, my husband struggled with setting boundaries with his family. Honestly, I think everyone does. That’s because boundaries have the potential of disappointing others. Boundaries say “no.” For him, the breaking point came when we couldn’t make his sister’s wedding. I was 4 weeks post c-section and suffering from post partum psychosis. He just couldn’t leave me still healing from surgery, overwhelmed and suicidal. His family was disappointed, judgmental, and resentful. They were quick to tell us how we should have handled it (to their benefit, of course).

The situation got incredibly hurtful and toxic, but it was one of my husband’s proudest moments. Not only did he defend me, but he also shielded me from further mistreatment. He swore we would not return to see them until his family was willing to forgive and treat me better. I’m glad to say our family has healed from this, but sometimes you have to be courageous when it comes to protecting your marriage from anyone that might hurt it, even family.

What boundaries might look like:

  • We will defend our choices to others as a unified front
  • We will share holidays with both sides of the families
  • We will not allow toxic people to influence or divide us
  • We will protect and defend the reputation of our spouse to others, choosing to cover faults instead of exposing them
  • We will adopt traditions from both sides of the family
  • Our parents can not tell us what to do in our own home
  • We will make seeing extended family a priority
  • We will commit to peace with in-laws even when we disagree
  • We will not accept our family badmouthing our spouse

Fidelity

As I mentioned earlier, in my first marriage, I had no boundaries with my ex-husband. He was free to go to lunch with whomever he wanted, women included. My ex-husband’s friendship with a female co-worker didn’t alarm me, after all, she was happily married too. Over the years, I’ve seen so many marriages destroyed and families torn apart by infidelity. There is one truth I’ve seen in most cases: they were just friends, until they weren’t. Most good people don’t intend to have affairs. They befriended someone and it grew into feelings akin to fondness. Fondness developed into deeper romantic feelings. Once someone else is fulfilling the role of your spouse, it’s easy to justify your actions. Worse, your loyalty and love shifts to the outsider instead of your spouse.

That’s why in my second marriage my husband and I decided to set healthy boundaries when it came to the opposite sex. Transparency is our mantra. This means lots of accountability and absolutely no secrets. (By the way, if you are struggling from broken boundaries, I highly recommend Affair Recovery.)

What boundaries might look like:

  • We will disclose private messages, text messages and conversations with the opposite sex
  • We will not engage in one-on-one activities with the opposite sex
  • We will not travel alone with the opposite sex
  • We will give access to our phone, email and social media accounts
  • We will not keep secrets from each other
  • We will not engage in pornography

Fighting Fairly

Fighting is inevitable in marriage. No matter how much you may seemingly have in common, no two people are truly compatible. You have to agree to agree or agree to disagree. You will always have stark differences. Learning how to navigate fights before feelings are invested, will help you tremendously. It’s also important to note that how we cope with discord is different. The two most common defense mechanisms are fight or flight. We either become combative, defensive, and unreasonable or we avoid it or worse – physically leave the argument. Neither of those produce good results.

Create between you, rules for fighting fair. Consider it a rule book for how fights will be dealt with, particularly when emotions escalate.

What boundaries might look like:

  • We will never call each other names in the argument
  • We will never become physical
  • We will never mention divorce
  • If it becomes too intense, we will take a time out and revisit the topic later
  • We can leave the room, but not the house
  • We will never have heated arguments in front of the children
  • We will never argue in public
  • We will seek out a mediator, such as a pastor or counselor if we become stonewalled

 

There are lots of different topics with which you might place boundaries. Some of these could be financial, religious or job-related. Perhaps they include how to discipline children. They key to setting healthy boundaries in your marriage, is to set them through honest and open discussion. I suggest never asking your partner to do something you would be unwilling to follow yourself. For example, I asked my husband to disclose one-on-one conversations with the opposite sex. But I also hold myself to the same standard. If one of my male friends reaches out privately, I tell my husband and give him the opportunity to read the text messages, etc if he chooses. Healthy boundaries protect both the marriage as a whole and both individuals equally. What are some of the healthy boundaries in your marriage? I love to hear why and how you set them.

 

Looking for other topics on marriage? Read She Does Him Good

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