By Karla Downing
When you need to set boundaries in your marriage, there is a right time and way to do this. Setting boundaries wisely and creatively will bless your marriage.
Time to Set Boundaries
My husband was going through another stressful time where everything felt overwhelming to him. He was under pressure from work and extended family problems. He was sick and exhausted. And he was dealing with problems in our immediate family.
When he gets overwhelmed, he gets short, impatient, and harsh. He can even be mean.
I hate this. I want this problem to be a part of our past, not our present. He was like this all the time in the early years of our marriage. But he has learned how not to be this way, except when he gets too tired and stressed.
I tried to talk to him numerous times to get him to realize he was acting out again. It didn’t work. When he is acting out, he doesn’t think he is. In this state of denial, his irritations and feelings seem justified.
The Need to Set Boundaries
This time, his acting out not only affected me, it also affected my daughter. She was staying with us for a while and she was also getting the brunt of his mood.
When he acts out in this old pattern, I try to understand. I give him grace for where he is at because he works hard for our family. I also recognize that all of us react negatively at some point to stress.
When people are overwhelmed, they do not use their best reasoning skills. Much of what they do comes from a place of urgency and reactivity. I have learned it isn’t the time to have a long conversation about what is going on.
Why You Need to Set Boundaries
But there is a point where I have to value myself. I matter too and I have a voice that deserves to be heard. If I don’t recognize this, I will let things deteriorate to a crisis point in our marriage. I can’t let things get as bad as they used to be.
It is my responsibility to protect myself. I can do that in a number of ways. I can stomp my foot and say, “That’s enough. Knock it off.” I can tell him he is abusive and label all the things he is doing wrong. I can speak my boundary by saying, “I will not live like this.” I can also wait for the right time that will get his attention gently.
That time came.
Setting Boundaries Wisely and Creatively
My husband was going on a hunting trip and wanted me to meet the man with whom he was going and the man’s wife. He wanted the four of us to go out to dinner. I was planning to go.
Then I paid attention to how I was feeling. I hated the idea of going. I didn’t want to pretend everything was great. I didn’t want to listen to him talk nicely to them when he wasn’t doing that with us at home.
I knew it wasn’t good for me because I would get even more upset being there than not going, so I said, “I am not willing to go to dinner. I can’t sit there and listen to you be nice to them when you haven’t been nice to us lately.”
He angrily said, “Fine. I didn’t want you to go anyway.”
But the next day, he was nicer to me and my daughter.
The boundary I set got his attention without me stomping my foot, telling him that he had to stop or lecturing him.
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time to set a boundary by stating what you will or won’t do. There is. It is just using wisdom to figure out the most wise and creative way to do what you need to do.
Wife Step: What are you tolerating that needs a boundary? Think of several creative ways you can set a boundary with that situation. Which one is the right fit when you take all things into consideration?
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 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.