Misunderstanding what boundaries are in your marriage

Emil Harker

Emil Harker, Licensed marriage therapist, and expert on all things relational is joining us on Skype today!

The whistle is blown and the ball is given to the other team. This is an example of a boundary violation. Relational boundaries are not only hard to understand, but they are also really hard to explain. Yet in spite of this difficulty people have come up with a variety of ways of interpreting what boundaries are and who’s role it is to make sure the rules are kept. Pop psychology and life coaches and good-hearted people seem to be misunderstanding what relationship boundaries are and how they work. For example, a common misperception is, it is the other people's responsibility to follow your rules or preferences, and if they don’t the pressure is on them to change their behavior. That’s not a boundary that’s a monarchy.

As a marriage therapist, I’ve been dealing with boundaries a lot, and it is very common for couples to come in with different ideas of what boundaries are. In some cases, boundaries are used to communicate an individual's personal preference for how they like things. Some use it as a tool for control. Boundaries are important to understand, as appropriate boundaries strengthen marriage and inappropriate marriages divide. Boundaries in sports or geography and relationships define the parameters of the rules of the game. The large outlines on a basketball court are the boundaries of the court. The rule is that you can’t step on the boundaries if you have the ball in play. If a person steps out of bounds in basketball while they have the ball in play, that person loses possession of the ball to the other team. That's the rule.

In marriage, we don’t have painted boundaries as they do in basketball, but the boundaries are just as real. Some people confuse boundaries with preferences. A boundary is a rule that explains those behaviors that are not going to be accepted in your marriage. For example: Pornography, drinking, lying, drugs, infidelity, are examples of rules of what you don’t want in your marriage. The rules are the expression of the boundaries. No one is perfect, and that isn’t the point, everyone is going to make mistakes. The question is, “Is the person putting more effort in defending and protecting the boundaries or are they looking for ways to work around the boundaries. Here is the kicker. The person setting the boundaries lovingly invites the other person into their life and explains the rules or boundaries. If the person does not live in harmony with the boundaries, the person who sets the boundaries can re-define the level of closeness they want to invest in the relationship. The person who set the boundaries does not beg, plead, complain, punish, or force the other person to obey the rules of the boundaries. They lovingly invite and then if the person is unable or unwilling it is the person who created the boundaries to decide what they are going to do. On the other hand, if you do not want to or think it is reasonable to follow the rules or the boundaries of the other person, then lovingly don’t. Then the other person can decide if they want to keep the rules they have created or keep you. It is their choice, not yours.

For more information visit EmilHarker.com.