7 Steps to Take Before Successfully
Setting Boundaries in Your Marriage
Many wives never need to set biblical boundaries in their marriage because they are living in healthy marriages. Yet many wives are living in an unhealthy marriage – and in order for a spouse to stay healthy within an unhealthy marriage, biblical boundaries are essential. But setting boundaries and following through with the boundaries can be difficult.
It took many years for me to be fully convinced that as a Christian wife I had a right to set boundaries; yet, I couldn’t do it and didn’t understand why.
Today, I do.
There are precursors to boundaries – things that you need to be able to do before you will have the courage and ability to set boundaries.
Here they are:
- Change yourself. If you are still trying to force your husband to change, you won’t be able to focus on figuring out what is going on with you. It is easier to hope that your husband will do what you want him to do than to make difficult choices for yourself that involve taking risks. Changing yourself means that you analyze your own actions instead of nagging your husband to change his.
- Identify responsibility. Be clear about who is responsible for what in your marriage. Boundaries are all about taking responsibility for your stuff and letting go of the responsibility your husband has for his. One of the steps involved in setting a boundary is to identify responsibility. Start by identifying your own.
- Nurture yourself. If you don’t value yourself enough to nurture yourself, then you won’t believe that you have a right to set boundaries. Boundaries are all about taking care of you. They protect you by limiting what you allow into your life. You can’t set a boundary and worry about taking care of your husband – which means you can’t worry about how he reacts, feels, and responds.
- Guard with love. If you are unable to separate your feelings, choices, moods, needs, beliefs, and perceptions from your husband’s, you will not be able to stop reacting to his feelings, choices, moods, needs, beliefs, and perceptions. You are married to him and in unity with Christ in marriage, but you are a responsible for guarding your own heart from participating in unhealthy behaviors. You don’t cause him to do what he does. You can’t fix the things he does wrong. You can’t control what he does. You can only control what you do.
- Speak your truth in love. Speaking your truth involves taking risks, especially if you haven’t done it before. If you aren’t able or willing to speak the truth in love about the issue you are concerned about, then you won’t be able to communicate your boundaries. Be honest about your feelings.
- Reach clarity. If you aren’t clear about what you are willing and not willing to do, you aren’t ready to set a boundary. When clarity comes, you know with conviction what is and isn’t right for you. Getting clarity is a process that takes time. You can’t force it. It comes when you clearly understand what is going on and know what you need.
- Face your fears. It is scary to set boundaries, especially if your husband reacts negatively to them. Since you must be ready to follow through with consequences, you will need to have faced your fears before you set your boundary. In hindsight, this is where I got stuck. My husband reacted punitively to my boundaries and his punishment was something that I was fearful of. Until I was ready to face that with strength and courage, I couldn’t take that risk. When I finally did, it was worth it.
Action Step: Review these 7 steps. Identify the ones you need to work on. Pick one and get started.
Get my book “10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages.” It gives you practical tools based on biblical truths to master these and other precursors to boundaries.
Karla Downing, the founder of ChangeMyRelationship.com, offers Christian marriage help and Christian relationship help as a speaker, author, counselor, and Bible study teacher. Karla grew up in a dysfunctional family and then found herself struggling with Christian codependency in her own difficult marriage. Through her personal struggles, she discovered biblical and practical principles, which she now teaches to others. She also trains counselors, pastors, women’s ministry leaders, church leaders, small-group leaders, non-profit ministry leaders, and individuals to minister to Christians in difficult relationships. Karla’s passion is to see individuals, marriages, and families set free from the chains of dysfunction, misunderstanding, and emotional pain through a correct understanding of what the Bible teaches about relationships.
Karla Downing is the author of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association 2004 Silver Medallion Award winner, 10 Lifesaving Principles for Women in Difficult Marriages. Her second book, When Love Hurts: 10 Principles to Transform Difficult Relationships, applies the same principles to all family members. Her third book, The Truth in the Mirror: A Guide to Healthy Self-Image, offers a unique and life-changing approach to looking at self-image.
She holds a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from Hope International University. Karla also holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Communicative Disorders from California State University, Fullerton. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a licensed Speech Language Pathologist. Karla was also the director of Friends in Recovery, a Christ-based, Twelve-Step recovery program.
Karla lives in Southern California. She has been married for over thirty years and has three adult daughters.