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 . . .
To some extent, our society is afflicted by a Hollywood distortion about relationships. Don’t get me wrong—I (Dr. Townsend) am not anti-Hollywood. I am a movie person, and my sons are in school studying film. But we need to free ourselves of a distortion embedded in the DNA of the movie culture: passion trumps everything. That is, if you deeply connect on a romantically passionate level, you have entered relational Nirvana, and your love conquers all. This is the stuff of lots of great entertainment, but it is not how real relationships actually go to the next level.
For example …
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 …
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.”
The world around us is good and bad. The people around us are good and bad. We are good and bad.
Our natural tendency is to try to resolve the problem of good and evil by keeping the good and the bad separated. We want, by nature, to experience the good me, the good other, and the good world as “all good.” To do this, we see the bad me, the bad other, and the bad world as “all bad.”
This creates a split in our experience of ourselves, others, and the world around us—a split that is not based on reality and cannot stand the test of time and real life.
Whenever I (Dr. Townsend) talk about a wife setting boundaries in marriage, someone asks about the biblical idea of submission. What follows is not a full treatise on submission, but some general issues you should keep in mind.
First, both husbands and wives are supposed to practice submission, not just wives. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (see Ephesians 5:21). Submission is always the free choice of one party to another. Wives choose to submit to their husbands, and husbands choose to submit to their wives. . . .