Remember when you met your spouse and started dating? You enjoyed each other and wanted to be together all of the time. The more you were together you discovered each other's boundaries (what you could count on) and the trust grew as love deepened. As Dan put it, "Annette was really fun to be with, and she expected to be treated like a lady. Not only did she expect it, she acted like a lady. She talked like a lady, dressed like a lady, walked like a lady and treated me like a gentleman. Wow, she was easy to be with. I was happy and proud to have her with me wherever I went." This experience must have been mutual because they have been married a long time.
Boundaries In Marriage
Boundaries in marriage are a merging of the couple's personal boundaries. They become a statement of the foundation upon which marriage is built. At first, there are a basic few, with others evolving over time. For instance, when two people determine they are kind, gentle, and respectful then the characteristic of their marriage and home reflect those attributes. That is how they treat each other and all who enter their home, including their children.
Marriage is the establishment of a new family unit that joins two different backgrounds and life experiences. As time progresses, the couple acknowledges individual differences and begins to develop what is acceptable behavior and activities for their marriage (joint boundaries). This is a challenge because each believes that his or her life experience is what is normal, be it good or bad. The successful merging comes through a joint commitment to make the marriage work.
Marriage boundaries include who and what takes priority within the marriage. When spouses know they are the first priority for their mate there is a loyalty, unity, and strength built. Each knows she is desired by the other with no room for jealousy. This is often complicated by family of origin expectations and habits. Each family has it's holiday rituals, trips, weekend meals, and ways to treat each other that are different and bring discomfort to the new in-law. Because it is comfortable and desirable, it is assumed that the spouse will immediately be comfortable and want to be involved as much as he/she. This is generally not true because the family member slips into the position in the family that is normal. The spouse is often ignored or expected to "just fit in."
Remember, you got married to be together, to establish your own family unit, and to develop your own traditions.
How Do You Do It?
1. Discuss and develop a joint set of principles and values of honesty, loyalty, integrity, service, etc.
2. Agree that your first loyalty is to your marriage (each other). Share news, excitement, desires with your mate, and make a promise to keep each other number one in your life.
3. Make a list of boundaries that will enhance your marriage. This has to do with how friends, family of origin, sports, Internet, gaming, church, work, and children fit in your life. Some of these are important and deserve attention, but they must not be more important than your mate. When your spouse is well attended to, he/she will want you to be able to enjoy that part of your life and being with you.
4. Review this list regularly as life changes. For instance, job change, each new child, schooling needs, health changes, aging parents, and your own aging each bring new stresses and needs. You must face these changes together and decide what takes priority.
Family of Origin Challenges
Some families of origin seem to demand loyalty to them over everyone else. This often is shown by constant criticism of the in-laws and the expectation of extra time at family events. When this happens, the natural child is torn. Family allegiance was stressed all their life. Family allegiance is a true principle; however, it is a building and strengthening force and invites others into it's influence. Having a close knit family is a wonderful safety net, but recognizing when a child marries, the first allegiance belongs with the spouse. As this develops, the new family unit gains strength from the family of origin.
If your family is the demanding one and your mate is being demeaned or criticized, it is up to you to set the boundary. Yes, this is hard to do and may bring about some tension from your family, but it must be done. Here is a suggested dialog:
Mother and Dad, is my mate, and I love him/her with all my heart. I expect to be treated with respect. You may not agree with us, and that is okay; however, I do expect to be treated with respect."
This must be a constant expectation and may need to be repeated more than once. This also requires that you speak to your family respectfully concerning your spouse. If you are not respectful about your spouse you cannot expect others to be the same.
This type of stance also applies to family gatherings. Sometimes, at a family event the needs of your family (your spouse and children) must take precedence. You kindly, gently, and respectfully let your family know that you are unable to be there. These decisions must be made as a couple.
The boundaries you set as a couple define who you are and what your children will rely on. They also define your family unit in relation to all others and what is desirable about it. Setting these boundaries is vital to creating a happy, successful marriage.