Building Good Boundaries

Most of us believe that if we find the right person, our marriage will be a joy to maintain. The relationship will flow naturally, and each person will value the other too much to let the distance get too wide or the hurt go too deep. The natural conclusion to this idea is that, when the relationship is unfulfilling, abusive, stagnant, unstable, unsafe, and untrustworthy,  you must have married the wrong person, and you fix it by giving up or getting out.

There are several problems with this myth. It implies an all-or-nothing approach, causes despair about having a better marriage, and emphasizes the idea of finding rather than becoming the right person. Most importantly, it implies that there is little you can do to have the marriage of your dreams if you did not marry the “right” person, and that your only options are to try to cope, accommodate, adapt, or abandon.

Find a New Way to Function

Even if you feel “stuck” in a marriage that falls short of what you had hoped, the truth is that you do hold a lot of power to change the ambiance. You can’t make your spouse change, but you can influence him or her to treat you in a more loving way. You control the degree to which you share yourself, your world, your dreams and hopes with those you allow to have close, to be an influential part of your life. As a real consequence for their destructive behavior, you do not have to allow toxic people to be close or influential. You can add safety, trustworthiness, growth, respect, kindness, etc. and maintain those qualities (and modify toxicity) by putting boundaries in place that no longer enable or tolerate dysfunction in your home.

Let’s define boundaries. A boundary is the line you draw in the sand that defines what you will build your relationships upon vs. what you will not tolerate. Keep in mind that coping with, allowing, ignoring, complaining, and arguing about a behavior all amount to tolerating the behavior. Change starts with identifying what you value in a relationship—for example trust, safety, respect, kindness, wholesomeness, etc.—and working hard to maintain those values. The key to a good boundary is specific, consistent, measurable (and increasing with each infraction) consequences for when those lines are crossed. It basically states, “Here’s what’s required for you to be a part of my life, and here’s what I will do if you don’t honor it.” Notice it’s what “I” will do, not what “I’ll make you do.” Those consequences should clearly demonstrate the break in the relationship, that is, your spouse needs to feel the impact of losing your caring, affection, or love when he or she chooses to be destructive. Punishment is not the intent, but rather the natural consequence of poor behavior. With healthy boundaries, you suspend the relationship until they are willing to treat you nicely.

This may sound manipulative. In reality, it is a healthy assertiveness that protects your well-being and opens the door for the type of marriage you are longing for. It creates the space for you and your spouse to build something new and better. Let’s work to stop the destructive process!

4 Steps to Start Building Solid Boundaries

  1. Identify the ways you tolerate things staying just the way they are and ways to change those patterns. How are you enabling your partner to treat you poorly?
  2. Brainstorm what you value most in relationships. This paints a clear picture of what to add and what you need to eliminate.
  3. Identify specific behaviors you want to modify. For example, angry outbursts, contempt, drinking in the home, degrading talk, etc.
  4. Specify what you will do when that boundary is broken. How can you best demonstrate the consequences of a broken relationship to your spouse? How you answer this depends on your spouse’s personality and what it will take for him or her to “hear” it.

These steps are a process that should be worked through on a continual basis to maintain a growth-focused marriage. It may take some time to plan them out and to tweak them as you go along. But stick with it and you will start to see your relationship moving in a more positive direction and/or moving out of a dangerous one.

If you are struggling to build solid boundaries, we would love to help! Contact us here, or reach out to our Client Care Team at (206) 219-0145 for recommendations on personalized help.