Thursday, February 18, 2010

Keep your hands to yourself (Spouse)

When I first got married, there was one question that was weighing heavily on my mind. How can I "become one flesh" with someone and still be fully myself? Well, this question is answered easily with one word; "BOUNDARIES." It was hard to imagine to me that I would need boundaries with my spouse but every relationship in our life needs boundaries to be fully healthy and intimate at the same time. This is always a hard issue to talk about because some people really are convinced that it is healthy to lose oneself in their partner. That is not my opinion. I am fully convinced that it is possible and even healthy to be completely intimate with your partner and still have an individuality that is incredibly strong as well.

The two areas that Cloud & Townsend write about that really provoked me to thought are the areas of "feelings" and "desires." Both of these are incredibly tied up in marriage and individuality so they are good ones to discuss. In marriage, feelings run high. We fight because we have feelings, we love because we have feelings, we are sexually intimate because we have feelings, we even set up the way we parent our children and even care for our pets based on our feelings. Everything in marriage is loaded with feelings. Feeling love, however, is not a sure fire way to stay married nor is it even close to the first thing of importance. In our marriage vows, it does not state "I promise to love you until I don't feel like it anymore" but "For better or worse....sickness and health"...and you know the rest.

That being said, marriage still is absolutely loaded with feelings. The most important thing that I found in my own marriage and in couples that I have worked with is the idea of completely owning your own feelings and never presuming to understand or KNOW the feelings of your spouse without them sharing with you. This is an area of boundaries because many couples jump to conclusions and do the mind reading game. Example....

Sydney and Sampson have been married for five years and they are in a pattern of fighting to the death over every single thing in their lives. They fight over who takes the trash out, who was supposed to pay the utility bill, and even who loves each other more. They are constantly fighting. Let's take a peek into a fight of theirs and try to keep boundaries in mind as you read.

Sydney: Sampson, did you call the bank today about that overdraft fee?

Sampson: I totally forgot, I will call them tomorrow.

Sydney: Okay but you said that you would call today?! Why is it that you never listen to me?

Sampson: I do listen, I really did just forget. You are always accusing me of things.

Sydney: It would be nice if you actually cared about what I say.

Sampson: I do care but it sure doesn't help when my wife doesn't trust me to do anything by myself. Maybe sometimes I just forgot because I have been hounded to death about it.

This argument would go on for hours and hours and eventually lead to one or both of them using the word "divorce" and claiming they were not sure they were supposed to ever be married.

A good sense of boundaries could absolutely cure their ills. Let me illustrate how. Sydney and Sampson both completely do not allow each other to have their own feelings. They presume to know each other's feelings about each other. This is a very unhealthy pattern to get into. Let us go back into Sydney and Sampon's living room and give them a healthy dose of boundaries and see what happens.

Sydney: Did you call the bank about that overdraft fee?

Sampson: No, I totally forgot. I will call them tomorrow.

Sydney: But you said that you would call them today?! It really hurts my feelings when I feel that you have not listened to me.

Sampson: I realize that it hurts your feelings but I want you to know that I really did listen to you. I honestly just forgot. It hurts my feelings sometimes when you assume that I haven't listened. I am human and sometimes I honestly forget.

Sydney: I am sorry, I didn't realize it hurts you for me to say those things. I would really appreciate if you could take care of that tomorrow. Do you need me to remind you.

Sampson: That would be great. I get caught up in work and some things slip my mind. I appreciate you believing me.

Now, this may sound undoable and I will agree that it takes an effort but having boundaries means owning your OWN feelings and never presuming to know someone else's. It cuts down fights by a large percentage.

Onto desires. We all come into a marriage with desires. Unfortunately many of these desires are not explicitly shared but simply expected. I will give an example of a married couple who never discussed their personal desires. We'll go ahead and use Syndney and Sampson because I like them.

Sydney and Sampson have been having a battle for quite a few years because when the day has been hectic and Sampson gets home and there is no dinner made, he gets very irritable and does not speak in sweet tones with Sydney. Sampson makes the larger percentage of the household income and often does not get home until 7-8 at night and finds it very frustrating when there isn't something to eat. He has always believed that when he got married, his wife would want to take care of him and would most of the time cook the meals. He has no problem cooking for his wife but when he has worked a full work day, he expects her to want to cook for him. Sydney grew up in a family where her mother worked hard for their family and it was a given that if everyone were busy that there would be a given standard of "fend for yourself." She cooks Sampon's meals 95% of the time but when she has had a hectic day does not feel it is unheard of to ask him to fix himself a sandwich. Unfortunately neither of them have voiced any of this.

These kinds of situations happen in marriage constantly because we come in with desires that we are not willing to share. It turns out that when love lives in a family, the person you are married to really does want to make you happy but it is not their responsibility to read your mind to know your desires and expectations. When desires and expectations are clearly communicated there is a way to come together in an agreement but not when everyone is floundering in their own ideals. Here is a conversation that could change EVERYTHING for Sydney and Sampson.

Sampson walks in the door and it is 7:00 pm and the house clearly does not smell like food and he sees no sign that his wife has prepared dinner. He is immediately irritable and unhappy but chooses to communicate with his wife instead of just being passive and grumpy.

Sampson: Hey honey, I was wondering why you didn't make any dinner tonight.

Sydney: I'm sorry honey, today has been very hectic and I have done so many things I have not found time or energy to prepare dinner.

Sampson: I want you to know that it makes me feel loved when you cook dinner for me. I understand if things are hectic but could we find a way to combat days like those.

Sydney: I had no idea that this was such a big issue for you. I have always just assumed on days like these that you would fix a sandwich or something.

Sampson: Okay, well if you are having a hectic day maybe we could order out or maybe we could have something in the house that is a quick fix so that we still have a meal those nights. Would you be willing to call me during the day and let me know so I can pick something up on my way home?

Sydney: Sure, I can agree to that. Let me call and order a pizza now. I will make sure and call you next time. I want you to know I love you and want you to feel loved by me.

Sampson: Thanks, I do now.

Again, I realize this can be a very sticky situation but when each person clearly outlines their desires and expectations it is much easier to come up with a middle ground. I realize that not every couple treats each other in a loving way but I am coming from the perspective of a couple who do and want to work things out. I also believe that even if one person treats the other with boundaries, things WILL change.

I would love to hear about times that you have had to have boundaries in your marriage. What has worked for you?

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