Marriage is a beautiful thing. Two people have come together, found love, and agreed to spend their lives together. Wedded bliss is often joked about in society. Still, the truth is that you and your partner can enjoy a healthy, committed, lifelong relationship. One of the keys to a successful marriage is knowing how to set appropriate boundaries in marriage. While boundary-setting is not an especially sexy topic, it’s critically important to the health and success of your marriage.
What Are Boundaries in Marriage?
Boundaries are rules and limits that we set in our relationships. You might consider them lines that are not to be crossed in a relationship. Common boundaries in marriage include time, space, and privacy, as well as things like social boundaries and the boundaries of your sexual relationship. A contemporary scenario is a couple who works from home together. For a relationship like this, you must set and respect specific boundaries around your time and, possibly, your physical space. Another plausible scenario is that your spouse has a friend of the opposite sex. In that case, you’ll need to find a way to set firm boundaries in marriage for the sake of your comfort while simultaneously respecting your partner’s need for independence.
Boundaries in marriage are not just for the couple’s benefit but also for the individuals in it. A boundary is a form of self-care that also acts to care for your relationship. When you set boundaries in marriage, you express the limits of what you are willing to tolerate. Being devoted to your spouse is generally seen as a positive trait, but showing dedication even in the face of mistreatment or disrespect is not healthy for you as a person or for your marriage.
Identifying Boundaries in Marriage
It’s easy to assume that everyone shares the same boundaries, but that’s just not the case. What one person might consider normal, friendly behavior could seem like philandering or stepping out to someone else. One person’s expectations around privacy, sex, or communications could be outrageously inappropriate to someone else. This is another reason that strong communication and mutual respect are keys to a successful marriage. When setting boundaries, it is also easy to let negative emotions drive the process of boundary-setting. Jealousy and selfishness can cause someone to set inappropriate boundaries or violate their partner’s boundaries.
The first step to identifying healthy boundaries in marriage is to be independently happy. To thrive in a relationship, you must have a clear sense of self and an identity that is not defined by your relationship. In other words: before you can be happy with someone else, you have to be satisfied with yourself. The idea of a super-deep, romantic relationship where two people become all-consumed by one another might be a popular stereotype, but it is not an especially healthy dynamic. While being a giving and supportive partner is good, being codependent is bad. Having a healthy sense of self is crucial when identifying boundaries in marriage.
To set appropriate boundaries in marriage, think about the why of the boundaries. If you want to have your own bank account on the side, think about why you want it and if those reasons are sensible. It is reasonable to have a side account to buy hobby supplies or save for a girl’s night out. It is not reasonable to have a side account to set up a meth lab or support your sideman. Once you’ve defined the rationale behind the boundaries in marriage, you should share it appropriately. You will need to take the time to communicate effectively with your partner about your wants and needs. Identifying your needs, examining the rationale behind them, and sharing that information with your partner in an appropriate way is the best way to set healthy boundaries in your relationship.
Healthy boundaries are one of the most important keys to a successful marriage. Establishing boundaries in marriage helps keep your relationship well by setting mutually agreed-upon lines that define certain aspects of your relationship. As bland as that might sound, failure to set boundaries in marriage often leads to conflict. Imagine that your partner shared a profoundly intimate personal detail with his parents; that situation is likely to lead to conflict and confrontation. Setting a boundary ahead of time can help define expectations and set clear limits that both partners are comfortable with. The three most important boundaries in marriage are those surrounding communication, money, and privacy.
Even outside the context of boundaries, communication is one of the keys to a successful marriage. So why would you want to set up boundaries around communication? First, setting communication boundaries protects you and your marriage. Suppose it is an agreed-upon boundary that nobody shouts at anybody in the house. When tempers flare, you will take five minutes apart in separate rooms. In that case, you can keep your conversations calm and civil and maintain an open communication channel without disagreements spiraling into shouting matches. Second, setting communication boundaries in marriage can open lines of communication with your partner. Men tend to like direct communication, and clear boundaries about how to communicate will facilitate that. If your husband understands that yelling or being taciturn is hurtful to you, he will have solid guidelines to drive his communications. Ironically, establishing good barriers around communication allows you to have more constructive conversations.
What are good boundaries to set around communication? The fundamental idea that you should look to when establishing any boundaries in marriage, but especially boundaries around communication, is respect. After communication, respect is one of the most important keys to a successful marriage. Your conversations must reflect your care for your partner. You should always try to build your partner up instead of tearing them down. Remember, communication is a two-way street. Not only do you have to clearly express your own needs, but you also have to be able to engage in active listening so that your relationship will grow.
Talking about money can be difficult even in the most robust relationships. Once you and your partner have firm and appropriate boundaries around communication, you’ll find it easier to talk about complex issues like money. It is critical that your boundaries in marriage include specific, well-defined, and mutually understood agreements on how money flows. To set effective boundaries around money, you should keep your money in specific accounts. For example, a couple might have one mutual bank account to pay for bills and expenses. Each partner also has a separate account to spend as they see fit. That way, both members of the couple can see where shared money is going and how much things cost, but they can also feel free to spend their funds on hobbies, interests, luxuries, or whatever tickles their fancy. When setting up your mutual bank account, you should have an honest discussion about what the money is for and not for. For example, helping a family member by sending money should only be done from the joint account if both partners agree. And as romantic as those luxury-car Christmas ads where the husband surprises the wife with an $85,000 SUV might be, it would be extraordinarily irresponsible for one partner to finance a massive purchase without including the other in the plans. If this behavior occurred in real life, it could be considered an example of poor boundaries in marriage. Establishing concrete and mutually agreeable boundaries helps both partners feel financially secure and safe. It also enables the couple to pursue mutual and solo interests without worrying about financial conflicts.
Even in marriage, people need some privacy. While some people might argue that one of the keys to a successful marriage is complete transparency all the time, the truth is that a truly thriving marriage allows each partner some degree of privacy. Privacy can mean different things to different people. Extraverted partners may not see any issue with sharing every thought, but more introverted partners might like to keep some of their thoughts or ideas to themselves. It’s essential to respect that different people have different privacy needs. Some people might like to take private time in the bathroom to prepare for the day or close it out, others might want to spend time alone in the den or putz around in the garage. Regardless of the specifics, it is appropriate and valid to set privacy boundaries in marriage.
What about social media and digital device privacy? We’ve all heard the stories of people reconnecting with old flames through Facebook or known that couple who abruptly switched to a shared social media account after something happened. Among the keys to a successful marriage, trust is as important as communication. While it might seem appropriate to see your partner’s text messages or scroll through their Facebook messages, an inability to trust your partner is not usually a good sign in a marriage. But privacy is not just about trust. It is also about respect. If you want your messages to be private, you’d want your spouse to respect that privacy. You must give your spouse the same level of privacy that you would like from them. Healthy privacy boundaries in marriage benefit you and your spouse.
Other Important Boundaries in Marriage
Communication, money, and privacy are three keys to a successful marriage. Some of the most essential boundaries in marriage surround sex. Setting boundaries around sex doesn’t mean getting out the calendar and signing a contract for fifteen minutes of sex on alternating Thursdays. On the contrary, a clear expression of boundaries can be sexually liberating because it provides both partners with a concrete set of limits. If you’ve established that you’re open to being blindfolded during sex or that you find specific language to be a turn-off, it will help you and your partner have better sex. Knowing his boundaries around sex can help keep things fun without risking misunderstandings. Talking about your sexual boundaries in marriage must also include finding a way to manage differences in libido and make other compromises. Sometimes, partners have mismatched sex drives: one partner wants to have sex daily, but the other might find once or twice a week satisfactory. Having an open discussion where you communicate your needs will help remove tension from your sex life and keep it fun and satisfying for everybody involved.
Social boundaries in marriage are also important. Maybe your husband has a platonic lady friend. Or perhaps you have a valuable friendship with a man who is not your husband. The only way to successfully navigate this kind of situation is with clear boundaries. These might include limitations like meeting once a month, only meeting in public, never jointly consuming alcohol, or including spouses and partners in the relationship. Conversely, the boundary could be that the friendship stays outside of the marital relationship altogether and that the spouses or partners are expected to provide some space to accommodate friendships. It’s healthy to have outside relationships, so as odd as it might seem, encouraging your partner to keep their friendships is likely to lead to a happier marriage.
Sticking to Boundaries
Setting boundaries is one thing, but how can we set boundaries in marriage and stick to them? As with almost anything else in a marriage, the answer boils down to communication and respect. You and your partner must effectively share your boundaries and have the mutual respect necessary to abide by them.
Perhaps you’ve asked your husband not to go out drinking with his one colleague on Fridays. It always ends poorly, with him coming home late in an Uber and a weekend spent finding the car and nursing a hangover. You’ve expressed the rationale behind your boundary and explained that it would mean a lot to you if he did not continue to participate in that behavior. What do you do if he violates the boundary and ends up back at the bar for a few more beers? How do you deal with a spouse who does not respect boundaries in marriage? Once again, we return to communication. Be direct, clear, and non-accusatory: “I’m not comfortable with how you act when you go drinking with Danny. I’m worried about your health, and it cuts into our time together on the weekend.”
Next, establish a consequence. Consequences should be meaningful, realistic, and based on reality. You might say something like, “Next time, I am not helping you find your car, and I’ll be spending the weekend at my parents’ house until you’re sober.” Leaving for the weekend and not helping him out of his jam is a realistic consequence of this boundary violation. You are not threatening divorce or making a scene, and you are keeping you and your spouse safe and free.
Finally, follow through. Do not make empty promises. If you said you were going to go to your parents’ house for the weekend and not help him next time he decides to go binge-drinking, you absolutely must follow through with that consequence. Following through establishes that you are serious about the boundaries. If your spouse continues to violate boundaries, seek professional help for your relationship. Boundaries in marriage are highly important, and if one party refuses to abide by mutually agreeable limits, then the marriage is probably doomed.
Healthy Boundaries, Healthy Marriage
Building healthy boundaries in marriage requires strong communication and mutual respect. It also requires you to be in touch with reality. While it’s reasonable to ask your partner not to go get trashed every Friday, it’s not as reasonable to ask them not to have any friends outside of the marriage. Maintaining reasonable and realistic expectations will help you set appropriate boundaries that work for you and your partner.
On the topic of reasonable expectations, it’s important to accept that your partner is human and will have off-days, bad moods, and emotions. They are not always going to conform perfectly to established boundaries. They might get snappy after a long and unpleasant commute or spend a few dollars on something that wasn’t in the budget. Unless the infraction crosses a serious boundary such as problem drinking, drug use, infidelity, or stealing, learning forgiveness is one of the keys to a successful marriage.
Finally, setting healthy boundaries with your partner is a great way to consciously prioritize your marriage. It is easy to take marriage for granted and to just assume that your partner will know what you want and expect. But no marriage can survive without hard work. A marriage is a lot like a vintage farmhouse: it can be beautiful and enduring, but it will eventually crumble into ruins without constant maintenance and thoughtful upkeep. When you take the time to consciously think about and evaluate your boundaries in a marriage, you’re securing the foundation of that beautiful old house to help it last through the ages. Defining and discussing specific boundaries in marriage is one of the keys to a successful marriage and will help your relationship grow and thrive as the years go on, and sticking to them, even in times of turmoil, will ultimately make your marriage stronger.