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9 Healthy Boundaries in Marriage and How to Set Them

Marriage is a union of two people nurtured differently with varying beliefs and interests. As such, what may rock one partner's boat may be a complete put-off to the other. If each spouse does what pleases them with no regard for their partner's interests, their marriage may be met with perpetual conflict. Every marriage needs a set of clearly stipulated ground rules to thrive. Enter boundaries.

What Are Boundaries in Marriage?

In their book Boundaries in Marriage, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend refer to boundaries as the "property lines" that define and protect husbands and wives as individuals within the marriage. Boundaries can also be defined as the limits that spouses agree upon to protect their marriage and to ward off the temptation of exploiting and manipulating each other. In setting healthy boundaries, each spouse sets their expectations, and their partner pledges to respect them.

Every healthy relationship requires a set of do's and don'ts, and marriage is no exception. Can two walk together unless they are in agreement? (Amos 3:3). Couples must stipulate the limits of the conduct they expect from each other. Boundaries express each partner's core values and encapsulate what they need to feel loved, secure, and respected. Boundaries are not meant to be restrictive. On the contrary, they offer each spouse the freedom to state their needs and values while honoring those of their partner.

Why Are Boundaries Important?

Boundaries in marriage help form a healthy structure, thus warding off various traps. They also help spouses maintain their individuality while growing together as a couple. Boundaries also snuff out the temptation to manipulate each other because they allocate ownership and responsibility. They also help in conflict resolution and provide a sense of safety for the marriage. Boundaries are beneficial in a marriage as they help nurture respect, mutual care, and intimacy.

How to Set Boundaries in Marriage

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Self Evaluation

The first step is for each partner to evaluate themselves and come up with a set of things that make them feel content and happy in the relationship and another set of things that make them unhappy. This self-evaluation will bring each spouse's core needs to the forefront. The couple should not be alarmed if they notice a huge disparity between their needs because men's and women's needs are often very different.

Communication

The couple should set aside time to clearly communicate their core values, needs, and expectations. Let your partner know what makes you feel loved and respected in the relationship. Let them know what makes you tick on the one hand and what makes your skin crawl on the other. Be clear and honest, avoiding any gray areas.

Stipulate the Consequences

There should be consequences when boundaries are crossed. Each spouse will formulate what they feel are reasonable consequences. For example, you could warn your spouse that you will not engage in discussion with them if they start yelling at you. Or you could let them know that you will not allow them to use your credit card if they have been misappropriating money.

Compromise

Boundaries must be fair, respected, and agreed upon by both spouses. If you and your partner hit a snag in setting boundaries due to conflicting interests, you need to come to a mutual compromise. Boundaries are not meant to be rigid and immovable. Partners should allow room for negotiation in the quest for a middle ground. This communicates empathy and respect to your partner. For example, if one partner feels that they need to spend more time as a couple, they can agree to tag along as their partner enjoys their favorite hobby. They may not fancy the said hobby themselves, but they get to spend extra time together.

Adhere to the Boundaries

Both partners need to ensure they stick to the stipulated boundaries. If you spot your partner glossing over any of the boundaries, you need to remind them why the boundary is important to you and then go ahead and enforce the consequences.

Examples of Healthy Boundaries in Marriage

1. Physical and Emotional Abuse

Couples can agree that any form of violence, such as pushing, hitting, kicking, insulting, name-calling, shaming, and intimidating, will not be tolerated at any cost.

2. Faithfulness

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." (Ephesians 5:3).

Infidelity has devastating effects on a marriage. Couples can outline boundaries to protect their marriage from infidelity, whether emotional or sexual. They may, for instance, agree to be completely honest and open with each, harboring no secrets. They may also decide to notify each other whenever a friend of the opposite sex communicates/behaves inappropriately towards any of them.

3. Alone Time

Woman reading in a hammock

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Spouses who spend every waking moment together run the risk of being enmeshed. This is when someone is overly connected to their spouse and absorbed in meeting their needs at the peril of their own needs, desires, and goals. Spouses need time away from each other to recharge and nurture their interests. This helps them preserve their identity, making them better partners.

Couples can therefore agree on how much alone time each spouse needs. One partner may need more of it than the other.

4. Family and In-laws

You may need to agree on how much information you can share with your families and how often you should visit with them. You can also agree to spend certain holidays with one family and some with the other family.

5. Sharing with Others About Your Relationship

Couples can agree on the scope of information that can be shared with family and friends regarding their relationship. They can also agree to seek permission from each other before sharing sensitive issues with a trusted couple or friend.

6. Use of Technology

Though technology has numerous benefits, like helping spouses communicate more easily, it negatively affects marriages when used inappropriately. Smartphones can be a breeding ground for infidelity and various addictions. Couples can therefore stipulate boundaries around the use of gadgets and technology. They can, for instance, agree not to use phones in the bedroom, at the dinner table, and while spending time together.

7. Sexual Intimacy

Married couple embracing lovingly

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Partners should agree on what they feel comfortable with where sexual intimacy is concerned. Each partner can spell out the things acceptable to them and those that are not.

8. Communication

Effective communication is a critical pillar in a healthy marriage. Spouses can agree that communication should be prioritized and handled respectfully. They can also agree that no issues will be swept under the rug and that none of them may resort to silent treatment.

9. Finances

Money management is a leading source of conflict in marriage. Couples need to hold honest conversations about their finances and spending habits. They need to agree on whether to keep their finances separate or combined. They also need to stipulate which expenses each partner is responsible for and spell out their financial goals and plans.

Boundaries are essential in a marriage because they safeguard your marriage both from yourselves and outsiders. They ensure that each spouse's core needs and values are honored and met. Setting them, however, should not be a one-time event. They should be constantly evaluated and, where necessary, adjusted.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/PeopleImages

Crosswalk Writer Keren KanyagoKeren Kanyago is a freelance writer and blogger at Parenting Spring. As a wife and mom, she uses her blog to weigh in on pertinent issues around parenting, marriage, and the Christian Faith. She holds a degree in mass communication with a specialty in print media. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and/or shoot her an email at [email protected].

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