When two people marry, two lives blur together to make a new one, two become one. The blurring of expectations and feelings can become an issue. Many times a spouse will automatically expect that the love in the marriage means that her spouse will always see things her way. She may feel unloved when her otherwise-loving mate says, "No, I'd rather not take a walk. I'm sleepy." Sometimes this happens during the "honeymoon period," when both parties tend to see eye-to-eye on everything. But when the reality of two different wills, needs, and perspectives comes in, the honeymoon is over. This is when the Law of Respect must be applied.
For example, a couple with whom my wife and I (Dr. Cloud) are close, Nick and Colleen, mentioned the same problem at dinner one night. Nick said, "Sometimes Colleen withdraws from me for no reason at all."
"There is a reason," Colleen replied. "When I try to say no to you and you try to control me, I withdraw." Nick said, "I don't try to control you when you say no." Colleen let it go and said, "I guess we have a difference of opinion."
The conversation drifted to other subjects. Later that evening, Nick invited me to a ball game a couple of weeks from then. I checked my schedule and said, "Sorry, I can't." Nick threw up his arms in mock exasperation and said, "Oh, come on, you can go! Just rearrange things a little. That's what friends do."
Colleen had been watching, and she yelled, "There it is! There it is! That's how he controls my no!" Nick looked surprised and said, "I do what?"
"She's right, Nick," I said. "I felt the pressure of not being able to say no." The light went on for Nick as he saw how his desire for good things sometimes crossed the line of respect.
When you apply the Law of Respect in your marriage, don't storm into the living room with a list of "how things are going to change around this house." Tell your spouse you want your boundaries respected, and ask him if he feels his are being respected also. Let him know that you value and desire him to be free to say no, even if you don't like the answer. Ask him some of the following questions:
- How might I be crossing your boundaries?
- Do you feel I respect your right to say no to me?
- Do I give you guilt messages, withdraw, or attack you when you set a limit?
- Will you let me know the next time I don't respect your freedom?
These humbling and uncomfortable questions show you are concerned for your spouse more than for your own convenience. They arise out of self-sacrifice, and they show your generosity of spirit and love. And they can bind your marriage together.
If your spouse is trustworthy, it is easier to ask these questions. If your spouse is untrustworthy, you may feel you are putting yourself in the hands of someone who might use your respect for him against you. However, even untrustworthy people need to have their legitimate needs and boundaries respected. This doesn't mean, though, allowing yourself to be harmed if the spouse is unsafe. Respect his boundaries and still set limits on his untrustworthiness.
An example of this balance is how a wife might approach her rageaholic husband. She should not dictate to him that he can't be angry; she should respect his freedom to protest what he does not like. At the same time, however, she might tell him, "Your raging way of being angry is not acceptable to me. If you don't find other ways of being angry with me, I will have to distance from you."
Respecting and valuing your mate's boundaries is the key to being close and loving. Your spouse experiences the gift of freedom from you and sees the love you are extending in giving this freedom. When you respect your spouse's boundaries, you are paving the way to having yours respected.
Learn how to help your marriage flourish by reading Boundaries in Marriage.