Linda: My friend Joe told me that when he was a boy, he grew up with three golden Labrador Retrievers that everyone in the family adored. His mom did most of the cooking. She was a good cook and spent a lot of time preparing tasty meals for the family. When everything was ready to go on the table, she called out to Joe, his two brothers and their dad. It annoyed her that she would have to call out to them multiple times before they would all arrive at the table.
One evening after calling them to the table three times with no response, Joe’s mom dumped the entire dinner on the kitchen floor for the dogs to eat, and then she left the house. Joe told me that this behavior got the family’s attention in a way that her verbal requests never had. They all got the message from her firm boundary setting. Joe told me, “Whenever my mother called us to dinner following this dramatic incident, everyone scrambled to show up at the table right away.”
When we have spoken of our needs and made specific requests about behaviors we want to see, boundaries we want honored, and they are ignored, it hurts us. When our verbal attempts are not getting the job done, another approach is called for. To think creatively and then find a behavior that can assist in the process of making or points is required.
When we lower our expectations of our partner, they will act accordingly. When we settle for unfair arrangements such as housekeeping childcare falling primarily on us and not being distributed more equitably, or a financial disadvantage with the way money is spent or saved, or one partner having much more influence indecision making to name a few, we are challenged to become more proactive about setting boundaries and speaking up in our own behalf by saying,” No, this is not working for me.”
What boundary setting is NOT:
- It’s not a threat or ultimatum to leave the partnership.
- It’s not a mixed message as in “I’m done with this” and yet we continue to live with it.
- It is not an attempt to control our partner or to change them.
- It is not get back, revenge or vindictiveness.
What boundary setting IS:
- It is an announcement of what is true in our inner experience, as in “This what I feel. This is what I think. This is what I cannot do. This is what I can do.”
- It is knowing ourselves well enough to know hat we can give with a pure heart and no resentment and what we cannot give.
- It is an outgrowth of our self-respect that allows us to find the courage to speak up.
- It is an honoring of the self and feeling of self worth that we deserve to have what we truly desire.
There is a place for tolerance, acceptance and flexibility in a partnership, but it can become too much of a good thing. We are all responsible for knowing ourselves well enough to know where the lines are to take a stand for our priorities beliefs and values. If we press over the lines of what is important to us, tolerant of behaviors from our partner that violate our well-being, we are sure to see our marriage suffer. It is only when we are willing to take a firm stand that we protect both the partnership and ourselves.