To paraphrase Robert Frost, good boundaries make good marriages. But in order to establish good boundaries, you have to be prepared for them not to be popular. At least at first.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard a parent say to their misbehaving child, “If you do that one more time, we’re leaving.” I want to go over and tell them gently, “I’ve heard you say that five times and I don’t believe you, so why should your child?”
Not wanting to create a scene, I have never done this.
But this is the exact scenario you set in motion with your wife when you back down from enforcing a reasonable boundary because she doesn’t like it.
If asked, most of us would say that we aren’t overly fond of boundaries. But can you imagine the chaos if there weren’t any? Speed limits are boundaries. So are traffic signals. And, somehow, most of us manage just fine with them.
I hear you. Those are things set by faceless government entities and apply to all of us. The boundaries you set are with people you love and have to live with.
So, in addition to having Clarity about why you want to set a particular boundary and having a Plan for how to kindly and respectfully talk about that boundary, it’s important to be prepared for the Push Back you are more than likely to encounter when initiating the boundary.
So, I’d like you to take a moment and think about a boundary you have tried to set in your marriage. What happened that made it unsuccessful? PUSH BACK! Specifically, push back you weren’t prepared for.
But push back is a feature of boundary setting, not a flaw. It is predictable so you need to have a plan for addressing it if you want the boundary to hold. Asking your wife to buy in to your boundary is nice, but what if she isn’t on board?
This is why most boundaries fail. You leave it up to others to decide whether they want to go along with your boundary. When they don’t, frustration and resentment can take hold. You become reactive to the noncompliance and behave accordingly.
If your fight response kicks in, there might be harsh words and confrontation.
If your flight response is triggered, you fold like a cheap suit.
Either way, the boundary falls by the wayside and, with it, your wife’s respect.
The answer isn’t to get upset. It’s to get clear about who you want to be and how you want to live your life.
Then act accordingly. Without defensiveness or aggression. But with love, respect, and kindness.
When you claim yourself and enact boundaries that reflect how you expect to be treated, you become knowable. And respect follows.
The only person who is needed to enforce your boundaries is you. If you won’t, no one else will.
Previously Published on foundationscoachingnc.com and is republished on Medium.