“We’ve gone to three different Marriage Counselors over the past two years and nothing seems to stick,” Jean complained during a counseling session. “I doubt that anything is going to work. I wonder if I really want to be with him.”

Jean, a twenty-seven year old woman, appeared exhausted and stressed over her two-year relationship with James. 

“Maybe it’s my expectations,” she continued, as James, a generally gentle, quiet man, listened. “He seems to listen to me, but then nothing changes. If I ask for too much he simply pushes back and says he’s not going to do what I’m asking for.” 

“How about that?” I asked James. 

“I suppose it’s true,” he said calmly. “Jean wants me to change something, and I don’t want to change it. I’ve told her that she knew these things about me when she met me, and why would she want them different now?” 

“Let me see if I get this?” I said. “You have been dating Jean for two years and have made it clear who you are and what you believe?” 

“That’s right,” he replied. 

“And since she knows you, she should either accept you the way you are, or leave the relationship?” 

“Well,” he stammered. “It’s not quite like that. I don’t want her to leave the relationship. I just don’t want to have to change things about myself that I like.” 

“What is she asking you to change?” 

“You’d really have to ask her,” he said. “I don’t really pay too much attention to the issues anymore. I don’t think they are my issues.” 

“See what I mean,” Jean said firmly. “Isn’t a relationship about mutual change that benefits each other?”

“That is certainly how I function in my marriage,” I shared with both of them. “If my wife is bothered about something, it becomes our problem, not just hers or mine.” 

“No matter what it is?” James said, clearly frustrated. 

“I don’t want to speak in extremes, James,” I said. “But yes. If Christie is bothered about the amount of money I spent on something, it becomes our issue. If I’m bothered about the amount of time she spends in Seattle at meetings, that too becomes our issue. What bothers either of us becomes something we must talk about and work out.” 

“I’m not sure I believe in that,” James said, now clearly becoming defensive. “I’m not about to make any issue Jean has become one of my issues.” 

“So, let’s step back from this just a bit,” I suggested. “How is your style working for you?” 

“Jean doesn’t like it, of course, but it’s working for me.” 

At this point Jean jumped in, clearly agitated. 

“I want to be in a relationship where any concerns I have, no matter how small or large, are able to be brought to my mate. This could be a deal-breaker for us.” 

At this point I shared some information about boundaries. I shared how it is important to have boundaries that ensure and protect individuality. This is at one end of the spectrum. At the other end it is also important to allow ourselves to be influenced by anything our mate says to us. We maintain individuality in the sense of preferences and points of view, but cultivate interdependence in allowing ourselves to be influenced and develop concern for our mate’s point of view and needs. 

Here are some additional points to keep in mind when it comes to sharing issues with our mate: 

First, cultivate clear but flexible boundaries. There are times in a relationship where we need to take a firm stand on an issue. We never, for example, want to tolerate physical violence in a relationship. We want our mate to know exactly where we stand on that and other issues. However, we must also be flexible and open to be influenced. 

Second, any issue of our mate becomes our issue. If one person is not happy in a relationship, it is worth considering how we might effectively respond. Often this means changing in an effort to collaborate with them. We carefully choose when an issue is our mate’s and when it becomes ours. 

Third, be open to be influenced. Relating is often about letting our mate influence us. Relating can be a constant process of getting to know our mate and understanding them. As we understand and love them, change becomes easier. We choose our battles carefully. 

Fourth, ask your mate to be influenced. Scripture strongly suggests that relationships are built upon mutual love and respect. “Nevertheless, let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). While this passage refers to marriage, the implication can be true for all relationships. Boundaries are helpful, but they must never to become so rigid as to make our mate feel voiceless with us. 

Finally, let go of pride. Take great care not to be so rigid in your point of view that you win the battle and lose the war. You can be right or have a healthy relationship. Take pride in being humble and giving in on key issues in a relationship. 

mrcShare your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage. Please feel free to call for a free, twenty-minute consultation.

Publication date: January 7, 2013