How to Guarantee that People Will Want to Be Close to You

boundariesmarriage17_300Amy and Randall had been married for eight years, and they loved each other. However, when he was angry or upset, Randall became moody and would withdraw from Amy and the kids, except for occasional outbursts of anger. When his manufacturing business was struggling, he would sit silently through dinner. Once, during this period, the children were arguing at the dinner table. Out of the blue, Randall said, “Amy, can’t you keep these children in line? I can’t even have a moment’s peace in my own home!” And with that, he stormed out of the kitchen into his home office, turned on the computer, and stayed there until the kids went to bed.

Amy was hurt and confused. But she had a pattern of “handling” Randall’s moods. She would try to cheer him up by being positive, encouraging, and compliant. “He has a hard job,” Amy would think. “Nurturance is what he needs.” And for the next few hours, and sometimes days, she would center the family’s existence around Dad’s mood. Everyone would walk on eggshells around him. No one was to complain or be negative about any subject, for fear of setting him off again. And Amy would constantly try to draw him out, affirm him, and make him happy. All her emotional energy went into helping Randall feel better.

Amy and Randall’s struggle illustrates the importance of the first law of boundaries: “The Law of Sowing and Reaping.” Simply put, this principle means that our actions have consequences. When we do loving, responsible things, people draw close to us. When we are unloving or irresponsible, people withdraw from us by emotionally shutting down, or avoiding us, or eventually leaving the relationship.

In their marriage, Randall was sowing anger, selfishness, and withdrawal of love. These hurt Amy’s feelings and disrupted the family. Yet Randall was not paying any consequences for what he was sowing. He could have his tantrum, get over it, and go about his business as if nothing had happened. Amy, however, had a problem. She was bearing the entire burden of his moodiness. She stopped what she was doing to take on the project of changing her moody husband into a happy man. Randall was “playing,” and Amy was “paying.” And because of this, he was not changing his ways. Randall had no incentive to change, as Amy, not he, was dealing with his problem.

What consequence should Randall have been experiencing? Amy could have said to him, “Honey, I know you’re under stress, and I want to support any way I can. But your withdrawal and rage hurt me and the children. They are unacceptable. I want you to talk more respectfully to us when you’re in a bad mood. The next time you yell at us like that, we’ll need some emotional distance from you for a while. We may leave the house and go to a movie or see some friends.” Then Randall would have to deal with the result of his actions: loneliness and isolation.

When you sow mistreatment of people, you should reap people’s not wanting to be around you. It is to be hoped that the pain of this loneliness would help Randall take steps to deal with his feelings. Sowing and reaping has to do with how spouses affect and impact each other’s heart. Amy and Randall had a problem in relational sowing and reaping. He was being hurtful and difficult, yet Amy took the consequences of his behavior for him.

In their relationship, the one who has the problem isn’t facing the effects of the problem. And things don’t change in a marriage until the spouse who is taking responsibility for a problem that is not hers decides to say or do something about it. This can range from mentioning how her spouse’s behavior hurts her feelings, all the way to setting a limit on the behavior. This helps place both the sowing and the reaping with the same person and begins to solve the boundary violation.

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Comments

  1. Sandy says

    This has been my life 100% for the last 22+ years. Complicated by the fact that I was the one that wanted children and my husband did not, so the weight of added guilt has been even heavier. I am exhausted from walking on eggshells.

  2. DJ says

    I understand the point that Randall is the one who is supposed to be reaping the negative results from his unloving behavior, but it seems like the suggested example used in this story (isolation) was putting him in the same situation he used to escape his responsibility. Randall would just go to his office and be by himself. He obviously wasn’t valuing his family’s company in the first place. Doesn’t seem like he’s going to be feeling anything motivating if he’s just put there again.
    It would be helpful to hear a couple of different examples of appropriate responses for this scenario.

    • Anna says

      This scenario describes my life. In my experience, I think the difference is that Amy would speak up. If she didn’t speak up, he is isolated, but not alone. He knows that his family is out there just waiting for him. But if she spoke up and left, she would convey that she is not condoning or tolerating his behavior. Instead of her waiting for him to stop being angry; he would have to wait for her to come home. I think “Who waits” is important. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s just how I’ve felt when I was in Amy’s position. Speaking up was more for me than it was for my husband.

    • Ann says

      That’s exactly what I was thinking DJ. It says he will experience “loneliness” but it sounds like he wants “aloneness” and Amy leaving with the kids is EXACTLY what he wants. I’ve been like Amy at times and then I started leaving (like it suggested) only to find that when I came back the anger and rage would start in again and I’d be back to square one. It has lasted so long that I would be out so very late at night (midnight) waiting for the other person to calm down and I would be the one suffering and nothing ever got resolved. I think this way to respond is fine for certain types of people but others it’s unrealistic because some just want to be antagonistic and it just won’t work.

    • Michael says

      As someone for whom withdrawl and isolation are part of my pattern, I am sure that the other partner threatening to withdraw is far from helpful. What I have needed, and still need is to be gently confronted with my issue.

      There are several things I have found helpful. Firstly, when I am withdrawn is NOT the time to confront me. At that time, I am lost in my own childhood fears (terrors) and that is all I can hear. So, it is best to wait to some other time to raise the subject and to make time to talk about it.

      Secondly, hearing the other person’s pain is really important. Tears and other non-aggressive expressions of hurt and vulnerability get through to me. Anger, tends to drive me away. If I see that my actions are hurting others, I am motivated to look at a painful subject.

      Thirdly, I am learning that the roots of my withdrawing and isolating are very deep-seated. It is not simply to do with current circumstances, but is a child-like reaction, based on childhood experiences. So, for me to face up to these issues takes time, and is extremely painful for me. Consequently, I need a safe, loving environment in which to do so. So, there is a balance between confronting and reassuring.

      Fourthly, I need time to face up to my problems. They are not going away overnight. They have been with me all my life, and are all I know. To learn something different and new which operates in total contrast to my upbringing is very, very difficult.

      Fifthly, I have been learning about trigger-feelings – those feelings that happen at the moment BEFORE I start to withdraw. I never used to even notice them, but now I am starting to understand that I need to recognise and voice them. When I get them out in the open, they lose their power, at least to a degree.

      Finally, I need God’s help. No one but God really understands what drives me into fear and isolation. Only the other day, I found myself isolating, and what dragged me out of it was choosing to surrender to God (again) rather than continuing to live in my fear-palace. No one else could have reached me in that place.

      These are some of the lessons I am learning for myself. We are all unique, and we all have different experiences and challenges. Only God knows the depths of our hearts, and there are places that only he can go. So, the very best recommendation I can give is prayer; prayer that invites the presence of God into the situation.

  3. Fran says

    So how would a spouse deal with this behavior if the person goes further than his or her office/room? The scenario is that one spouse gets upset over something about life or the kids, or a perceived offense. He or she refuses to discuss the issue at all, shuts down and will not fully explain the reason they are upset, and leaves the house themselves – sometimes for a day, or even up to a three-day weekend. Let’s say that this happens at times with no clue given as to where their spouse has gone. The other, very confused, spouse is left to worry and fret over the health and safety of their loved one and to feel guilt and demeaned “about something”. When the spouse who left returns, (and often still brooding about the issue), the one who was abandoned feels as if they have to walk on glass, or the “offended” spouse will leave again. Ideas appreciated.

    • Lori Kibodeaux says

      I am also interested in solutions to this situation since I deal with this on a regular basis as well.

      • Sandy Brooks says

        Fran and Lori,

        This sounds like a variation of the silent treatment that was dosed out regularly in my home growing up. The question is the person who is leaving is getting something out of this when they get back. How do you react when they finally arrive home? Walking on eggshells? Doing your best to sweep the problem under the rug and placate the one who stormed out? If so, you’re feeding your own problem. Broken down in simplest terms, they get upset, throw a tantrum, leave and then when they come home they get rewarded because everyone kisses up to them and tries to act extra nice so that there’s not another “incident.” They are a master manipulator and are throwing emotional tantrums to control the behavior of those around them. Do you find yourself editing your behavior before you even say or do something because of how you think this person will react? Then beware, you’ve put yourself as responsible for how that person feels/behaves and you’ll be stuck in this cycle. It may sound extreme, but I’d not be home or not let the person come home who stormed out. If they expect to come home and get the royal suck-up treatment and instead find the house empty and you carrying on with your life it’s the same as a two-year old who is throwing a tantrum in their time-out spot. Just go about your business until they’re ready to acknowledge what’s going on and talk it out. But don’t deal with a temper tantrum. If you want to get really extreme, I’d suggest the next time they leave like that and are gone more than a couple hour cool-off period then perhaps changing the locks and telling them that you’re willing to give their house key back when they are willing to rationally discuss whatever the problem is that caused them to abandon the family (or go to counseling). If you want to be kind about it, you should pick a time when there is no problem, say that you don’t understand what causes this behavior where they can’t discuss a problem and leave for days, but that you’ve had enough of it, and you would like them to promise to rationally discuss a problem. (I’d think twice about pre-warning them of the consequences, just tell them that you don’t intend to allow this behavior to continue – and if pressed what you might do about it, just say you haven’t decided yet, but it doesn’t matter, because it shouldn’t happen in the first place.) And, whatever consequences you set, you have to set in stone in your own heart. If you cave, it’ll only get worse. (Just remember what happens when you let a two-year old out of time out because they’re screaming loud enough!)

    • Maggie says

      That is what I faced and praise God He taught me to finally see it for what it is – dealing with a narcissistic husband. I read some great books on this which, along with learning to set boundaries, helped me to see when I, and others in his life, were repeatedly abandoned it was as punishment for standing up for simply having feelings and my own rights as a human (not even as a wife). It was very difficult, and as many books, Christian and secular will state, the only way to stop the narcissism is to threaten to leave. Well when they do that it’s not really an issue if that will change them… So, after mine left, again, almost one year ago, with no warning, no words, no contact besides the day he came to get his stuff, I’m feeling free of the guilt, the pressure, the concerns swirling around it all and his erratic behavior. I know God hates divorce but He also does not want me treated in this manner. I fought for it before but m not going to take on a one sided losing battle. It takes two to tango and I’m tired of being the only one willing to admit there’s a dance floor.

    • Amy says

      Regarding Fran’s comments. I had this happen in my first marriage. He was cheating on me and I had no idea. This was a Christian man, good husband and fabulous father until this happened. I later learned he was staging the arguments to have an excuse to leave. He would get a phone call or a text and then create a circumstance to leave. Check his cell phone records. Notice if his appearance seems to be kept up a little better than it has been in the past. IF you think all is good on the fidelity front, then consider that there needs to be a consequence for his tantrum. His issue isn’t that he was mistreated, it is that he wants to control people. Demonstrate that people aren’t going to be around him when he is being controlling. He needs to see that you see right through his manipulation. Since there is no real issue, when he comes home, say hello when he comes into the room where you are, but no one should enthusiastically greet him Including the kids) and you should go on about your business. No one should offer to discuss what is bothering him. When he repeatedly sees he is not getting any mileage out of his antics, he will stop. And you might consider taking the kids to see a counselor who deals with manipulators (not a wimpy counselor who tells you to try to see things the manipulators way) so the kids can understand why you would say not to pay much attention to dad when he comes back home. They might need to hear it from someone who can help them understand that you are trying to help your husband.

    • Robert says

      Here is my take on this. IF the spouse that leaves goes somewhere that is provable and a situation that helps them sort things out then maybe, temporarily that is ok. However the reality is the spouse that leaves is using this fit of unrighteous anger to justify going away from home and doing something they shouldn’t be doing. This could be drinking, drugs, sex, or just selfishness. THIS is a pattern because it works and the spouse that is leaving is getting what they want, whatever that may be.

  4. Lucy says

    This affects entire family systems not just marriage (husband/wife) relationships. A “Randall” could be a parent, sister, or brother. The dynamic just spins around disrupting the family until it is addressed firmly and consistently.

  5. grantt@ci.billings.mt.us says

    Coming from Randall’s side and being the one using anger I think it is very important for the spouse to set a strong boundary and use her voice. I have not liked the boundaries set by my spouse, but it is the only way I have seen how hurtful I have been. I don’t know if Randall deals in reality or not, but I for one hid most of my thoughts & feelings, good or bad and it is only now (after 30 years of marriage) that I’m starting to take responsibility for my actions and it is a battle not to do what comes natural. And that is thinking of myself as a victim. We are not victims and it is a choice to not take out our negative self talk on those who can’t help us, it is up to us.

  6. Amy says

    I face this problem in my own home. My husband yells, swears, basically has a tantrum. He wants things done his way. I will tell him not to yell at me. If I don’t remove myself quickly, it may continue with his tantrums and my vocal insistence that he knock it off. He if fond of stating things like “end of discussion” which is then followed by him ignoring me, shunning me, watching movies extra loud and ignoring me, etc. If I don’t remove myself then he has control of the situation. He knows I wish for interaction, and like someone noted earlier, he knows I am there waiting for him. When I leave, I get to do what I want and there is a relief of pressure…no eggshells. However when I get home, I have to watch myself to make sure I address him very matter of factly, not sweetly or apologetically. I find that he behaves much more appropriately if my tone is firm. As though it acknowledges the bad behavior was his, not mine. Kind of a, “are you ready to come out of time out yet?”.
    The problem with leaving is that you have to have somewhere to to go/be. And if it occurs frequently, perhaps a counselor is going to say it’s a sign you need to separate and then work on the marriage. In my case, the incidents began decreasing in frequency beginning with the first time that I left. They continue to decrease. He will usually throw out a barb of some sort, such as my leaving is just an excuse for me to go do something I wanted to do anyway. I will usually issue a one sentence correction of “No, I am leaving because I don’t deserve to be treated like this” and I don’t dignify any further comments. I will also volunteer that we do NOT discuss his inappropriate behavior. He will justify, manipulate, and twist everything to point out that anything he does is in reaction to being mistreated by me. Prior to me setting boundaries on his behavior, we went to counselors. That was no help as he would want to impress the counselor with his knowledge and he would get any at me if I said anything that might compromise the counselors impression of him. And you know that never remained at the session. He is a proud man who never apologizes and can justify anything he does. So for me, action must speak as words really cannot.

  7. John says

    Well stated, as expected, but alternatively, it’s possible that Randall has an un-diagnosed psychiatric disorder and is in need of a psych evaluation. Do either of Randall’s parents exhibit similar behavior? Jesus heals, but sometimes uses physicians.

  8. Chrissy says

    This all sounds really great, but what about those of us who may have a significant other who is bipolar or has some other mental illness? Are there any suggestions for those of us who have a mentally ill spouse/significant other these behaviors?

  9. Linda says

    We have found that prayer ministry has really helped. One such as Elijah House. This helps to track current “bad fruit” to the root, generally in the first few years of life. Then there’s a process of forgiveness & repentance (for the root issues). Even if one spouse goes for ministry the dynamics of the relationship can begin to change. The way we respond to a tantrum throwing spouse also comes from an unhealed place in our hearts. There are reasons we ‘chose’ a spouse with those issues. As you look back it will often mimic in some way our family of origin. So deep in our hearts we ‘expect /anticipate’ being treated that way because it’s familiar. Jesus certainly does heal but we often need tools. Our terminology is that we need our hearts healed, – counseling tends to deal with behaviour modification. This is fine for what it is, but often doesn’t actually help much if someone ‘snaps’ in an instant. You can talk all you like in the peaceful time about strategies, but if there are still all these triggers in the heart, then they’re useless in the moment.

  10. Brandie says

    Sounds like Randall won. Now he doesn’t need to hide in his office to be alone, he has the whole house. And what if the mom can’t afford to bring her kids anywhere?

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