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How to Establish Clear Boundaries in Marriage

How to Establish Clear Boundaries in Marriage

“Boundaries.” The word leaves icicles in the hearts of lovers. After all, we grew up on, “Happily Ever After,” where Prince Charming and Cinderella just know intuitively what the other person needs and their relationship is perfect. Sorry to disappoint you, marriage isn’t like that. Here's the simple truth: All healthy relationships have healthy boundaries. As harsh as the word sounds, boundaries aren't restricting or limiting. They provide the freedom to express your needs and values while also honoring the needs and values of your partner. Boundaries are necessary especially if you want a “Happily Ever After.” They’re needed as much as love and respect. If boundaries weren’t necessary God wouldn’t have established them at the very beginning of creation. When he spoke the world into life, he told the stars where to go and gave the ocean its parameters. He even gave boundaries to Adam and Eve. He told them to be fruitful and multiply all the while subduing the earth. In order to have a thriving relationship, we need to follow God’s example for emotional, mental, and physical boundaries in marriage as well.

What Are Boundaries?

So, what are boundaries in marriage? Personal boundaries are what define who you are. They’re like the property lines around a home. This is my property and that is not my property. This is me—what I value, believe, need, or feel—and that is not me.

They are a reflection of principles, rules, and guidelines that you’ve set for yourself as well as God’s. Boundaries are a line or limit which partners set to protect their marriage and to protect themselves from manipulation and exploitation. These boundaries enable you to draw a line between you and your spouse and allocate ownership and responsibility between you two. Boundaries must be in place to protect the marriage and position the marriage to be as strong as possible.

Boundary experts Henry Cloud and John Townsend explain why boundaries are so important: “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and where someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Dr. David Hawkins, a marriage expert says, “These relationship boundaries determine what things are and are not our responsibility. Failing to understand this principle—what is and what is not our responsibility, and living accordingly—is a critical mistake many couples make.” In his article, Paper Fences: The Boundaries We Fail to Set in Marriage, he explains boundaries help you to: 

• Know what you think

• Be able to say yes to good things and no to bad things

• Know how to make healthy decisions

• Know how our thoughts are different from others' points of view

They also show you how to take responsibility for your actions (not the actions of others), know how to set limits on others’ intrusions into our lives, and how to respect and honor others’ abilities to say yes and no.

The lack of boundaries can lead to unhealthy issues in marriage like codependency. Amanda Idleman writes, “Codependency is when one partner sacrifices all for or ends up being defined by their relationship. The term codependency is defined as “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction.” We are not, for example, responsible for other people. Nowhere are we commanded to have ‘other-control,’ although we spend a lot of time and energy trying to get it.”

What Does the Bible Say About Boundaries in Marriage?

God himself is the original author of boundaries. He gave us an entire book full of instructions for our lives, and when we don’t follow the instructions, our choices have consequences. As followers of Christ, our goal is to become like Him. let’s consider this verse: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” Proverbs 25:28

Many Christians wonder, “What if my spouse does [such and such bad thing] as a result of me setting a boundary? Isn’t that selfish? Jesus wouldn’t do that, would He?”

Wrong. Jesus would take a stand and he did, many times.

He often withdrew from the crowds in order to have solitude with God in prayer. Jesus cleared the temple with a whip because he refused to have his father’s house exploited. He taught us in Matthew 5:37 to, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ be ‘No’.”

In Luke 16:13, he taught that we are to put God before anything else, “No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

In John 5:44, he taught us to please God and not people. “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?”

Jesus taught us to take care of ourselves too. He ate healthy foods, got the sleep he needed, took time to relax, and did a lot of walking (Matt 26:18, Matthew 20; Mark 1:16, Mark 3:23, Mark 4:38; Luke 7:36; John 10:40, John 12:2).

Becoming more Christ-like means understanding our limits, growing in our strengths, and establishing boundaries that keep us healthy within our marriage.

How to Create Clear Boundaries in Marriage

Boundaries are unique for every individual and marriage. The best way to create healthy boundaries is to sit down with your spouse and discuss your values, express your needs, and agree upon boundaries that will uphold these needs. Communication is a vital tool in this step. Once you've identified your specific boundaries, use clear language when discussing them with your partner:

“During conflicts, I need a space to process like a 30-minute walk.”

“Yelling is not acceptable during arguments.” 

"I need a half-hour to myself when I get home from work to decompress and better help with the kids."

Other examples include learning to understand each other’s differences with respect and love. Boundaries can be set in every area together: parenting, finances, sex, spiritual practices, hobbies, and vocation/careers.

Once you and your spouse have discussed what each of you needs in terms of boundaries—the "musts" and "must nots" your relationship needs to be successful—the next step is to be clear about what the consequences are if and when boundaries aren't respected. For example, if your spouse has agreed to not yell during a conflict and he does, the consequence is each of you taking a 30-minute break before coming back to the issue. Whatever the conflict may be, it’s important to follow through on the consequences. By not following through shows your spouse that you don't respect your own boundaries—and if you don't respect your boundaries, why should they?

Creating a healthy, thriving marriage takes work. Understand that you may slip up along the way, especially if you and your spouse are new to setting healthy boundaries. Take responsibility when you make a mistake, offer genuine apologies, and always circle back to clear, respectful communication and forgiveness. Sometimes, it can be difficult to set boundaries, and seeking professional help from a biblical counselor is a great way to strengthen your relationship!

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/trinculo_photo

Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.