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….
When you’ve been let down by someone who matters a great deal to you, moving beyond boundaries is not easy work — but it is important. One thing you can do in this regard is to figure out if the problem that was previously an obstacle is truly being transformed. In other words, is this person really changing? Is the big problem being solved the right way?
Here’s an example. I (Dr. Townsend) worked with a couple in which the husband, Bill, was a nice guy but irresponsible. He was one of those likeable people who loves to hang out with others and is a lot of fun. But Bill’s performance in life did not match up to his personality . . .
In one family I (Dr. Townsend) know, seven-year-old Taylor was going through a titanic power struggle with his mother. Sometimes, she wondered if setting boundaries with kids was actually possible. Taylor fought any “do” or “don’t” she said. Finally, his mom went to his bedroom to talk to him. As she opened the door, a cup perched on the top of the door tipped over, covering her from head to toe with milk.
Any parent would have blown up at her child. Instead, Taylor’s mom said, her face dripping with milk, “Son, this is really serious. I’m going to have to take some time to figure out what will be happening to you. I’ll let you know.” . . .
What is your normal reaction when conflict occurs in a new relationship? Are you comfortable addressing the issue? Or, do you stuff the issue out of fear or a desire preserve the peace? Honesty is the best policy for two important reasons:
1. Being honest helps resolve the hurt or the conflict.
2. When you are honest, how the other person responds tells you whether a satisfactory relationship is possible.
If you are hurt in some way, bring it up. Don’t harbor bitter feelings. Or …
Amy 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 …
The extent to which other people are concerned about their impact on you is the extent to which you can trust them. You trust them because you know it’s not just you looking after yourself; they are looking after you too.
For example, I (Dr. Townsend) was working with Steve and Lisa on learning this, so that they could connect on a deeper level. She had a tendency to criticize him in public. It wasn’t mean or harsh. It was more like he was always the idiot in her stories: how he dented the car, got the flight info wrong, let their daughter wrap him around her finger, and so on. He brought it up in our session. Here is how the conversation between the three of us went: …
A woman complained to me (Dr. Cloud) about a coworker who would always interrupt her while she was trying to get her job done. She acted as if her tendency to be behind in her work was her coworker’s fault.
“Why do you talk to her?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” she replied.
“When she comes in and interrupts, why do you get into a conversation with her?” …
George sat in my (Dr. Cloud’s) office, despondent. His wife, Janet, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, George seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Janet had had enough.
“I love her so much,” George said to me. “Doesn’t she see that?”
“I believe that you love her,” I said. “But in reality, I don’t think that she sees your love. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children …
Usually the quiet one in her group, Debbie spoke up. The topic of discussion was “conflict resolution,” and she couldn’t be silent another second. “I know how to present facts and arguments about my opinion in a caring way. But my husband will walk out on me if I start disagreeing! Now what do I do?”
Debbie’s problem is shared by many. She genuinely believes in boundaries, but she is terrified of their consequences.
Is it possible that others will become angry at our boundaries and attack or withdraw from us? Absolutely….
I (Dr. Cloud) was once meeting with a couple who had given up hope in their relationship. I knew that they were at the end of themselves. From their perspective, divorce was the next option. At the same time, I knew that their problems were curable. I felt that we first needed to put this couple’s hopelessness on the table, so I asked, “Do either of you have any hope for this marriage?”
“No, we don’t,” they both finally admitted.
Then I said something that threw them: “Good! Now we can get to work.”