Previously, I wrote about intentionally creating boundaries in your relationship. Each couple needs healthy personal boundaries as the couple gets to know each other. Then, when they decide to become a collective force – a unit, an item, a couple – they need to agree on which boundaries to place around their relationship – between themselves and the world. There is no shortage of hardships ready and waiting to afflict budding relationships; and, our spiritual enemy loves destroying families since the family unit was established by God.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, ESV)
When you think of boundaries, what comes to mind? Fences around your yard? Borders between states and countries? A stern look which indicates, “Do not come any closer”? It may be helpful to review Proverbs 25:17 in multiple translations:
Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you. (ESV)
Don’t visit your neighbors too often, or you will wear out your welcome. (NLT)
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house— too much of you, and they will hate you. (NIV)
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house; otherwise, he’ll get sick of you and hate you. (HCSB)
Years ago, my precious grandmother became overwhelmed with frustration. No one loved a good visit more than my granny; but, an acquaintance of hers began visiting her every day. She started dreading the sight of her friend’s car pulling into the parking lot. The daily drop-ins were starting to drive her crazy. Thankfully, God intervened and the (well-meaning but aggravating) lady stopped her frequent social calls. This real-life example makes Proverbs 25:17 come to life for me.
We must set boundaries in our lives, or some people will invade our personal space, minds, and peace. This is also quite true when it comes to romantic partnerships. I wonder how many divorces would be prevented if outside influences could not penetrate marriages.
So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:6, ESV)
No Man is an Island
We are influenced by the people and culture around us; we need people, and connections are important. Boundaries become necessary because we are created to live life with others, and in doing so we will occasionally step into private places.
As a child, I frequently stopped by my neighbor’s house. This may have been okay if she was a 10-year-old peer from school. But, my neighbor was my mother’s very busy friend who worked, kept her house clean, and took care of her husband. Nevertheless, she was gracious and seldom turned away a visit from me or anyone else; but, she was also human and became tired at times. It would have been perfectly legitimate for her to say, “Heather, maybe you can come by tomorrow afternoon. I need to get some cleaning done and spend some time with Mr. Dave.” It would have hurt my feelings for a minute, but I might have been less cavalier about the value of her time the next time. (Perhaps Proverbs 25:17 was about me too!)
Because none of us are islands unto ourselves, we need to prepare for our interactions with the people God allow into our lives (some to bring us joy and some to bring us patience). And, as a unit, you and your partner need to prepare your upcoming marriage for the people and situations you will face together.
What a Boundary Demands
A boundary does not demand behavior change from another person; rather, it establishes what you will do because of the other person’s behavior. Boundaries say, “If you _____, then I will ______.”
- “If you smoke around my children (since I have already asked you not to do so), I will take them home.”
- “If you continue to yell at me during this discussion, I will remove myself and not help you complete your project.”
Establish your personal boundaries first, and then discuss your collective boundaries as a couple.
- Boundaries look different when you are dating than when you are married. Avoid placing marital-type boundaries on a dating relationship, and vice versa. If you are still in the getting-to-know-you phase, listen to counsel from older and wiser people in your life. Hear your friends and weigh their thoughts and concerns. However, do not let their words pull you in separate directions and breed anxiety in your heart. Breaking up and getting back together because of others’ differing opinions is damaging to each party and the relationship. Remember, their advice is just that – advice – and is shaped by their past experiences and personal biases. And when they point you to Scripture, study the passage for yourself… in context.
- Some boundaries are breathable, and some are not. We hope your significant other’s family is a joy and becomes like close family to you. In many instances, your boundaries can resemble a chicken wire fence. It exists to keep dangerous animals from roaming into your yard and it provides a reminder of where your property ends and your neighbor’s property begins. These boundaries allow for lots of healthy visiting while still maintaining borders. However, the boundary around your bedroom is more like reinforced walls of steel. It is built for only two inhabitants. Discuss which areas of your current relationship (and future marriage) need lesser security and which areas require more security.
- Consider when you will tell others about your boundaries. If there is no one approaching your boundaries, it is not necessary to express them; but you should be prepared for the day when someone unknowingly crosses them. Will you immediately discuss your boundaries with the violator? Will you lay low and observe to see if it happens again before having a conversation? How will you confront that person? Which of you will do the talking? (Note: when discussing boundaries with family, the blood-related spouse should do most – if not all – of the talking.) As a couple, what will you do when someone violates your boundaries?
- Avoid using boundaries as an excuse to keep people at arm’s length. When you struggle with your partner’s friends, you may be tempted to set up boundaries which sabotage those friendships. If you feel awkward or unwanted around his or her family, you might set up walls around your relationship rather than a chicken wire fence. When you have been hurt, it is easy to place walls around your heart, call them boundaries, and use them to keep from getting hurt again (this also means that such walls will prevent relationships and love from flowing in as well). Boundaries are meant to protect, but not to barricade you and your partner from needed connections with others.
- Can they come into your bedroom? And do you want them taking you into theirs? Some people grow up in an open family where everything is discussed candidly… everything. Others (like me) grew up in a need-to-know type family where you were told what you needed to know and not much more. It may happen that a child of an open family marries the child of a need-to-know family – and family of origin dynamics will cause conflict here if unaddressed. Before the wedding, talk about how much (if anything) you are willing to share and discuss with family and friends about your sexual relationship. Make sure to respect your partner’s feelings in this conversation. (In general, it is best to go with the more conservative position of the two so that personal or couple’s boundaries are not violated.) Additionally, talk about how much you are willing to hear from other people who want to share the details of their intimacies.
Different phases of life will necessitate new boundaries; so, you can create and enforce them as they become needed (or even replace them). Children, career changes, new neighborhoods, church modifications… as life changes, boundaries will need to change with those changes. So, for right now focus mainly on the protections you need for the remainder of your courtship and for your first year of marriage. Discuss other phases of life but solidify safeguards for the next one-to-two years and then reevaluate.
Ready To Talk?
What do you think about setting up boundaries in your personal life and then also in your relationship? Do you see the need or value? Which of your friends endured relationship drama because they did not establish boundaries? We hope you and your spouse-to-be will have a great conversation and agree on which boundaries you want, when to implement them, and how to enforce them.
To close, here is a quote from the book, Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life:
Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where i end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with. We must own our own thoughts and clarify distorted thinking. – Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend
This week, will you and your significant other discuss which boundaries you will place between your relationship and the rest of the world?