“I’d like to stay and do a little more work on our relationship,” Tanya said recently, nearing the end of a three-day Marriage Intensive. Her words hit a raw chord with Rod, her husband of 20 years.
“Are you kidding?” he said in disbelief. “We’ve been here for three days and I want to get home.”
“We came all this way to work on our marriage,” Tanya continued, showing her sadness and hurt. “I’d like to work on intimacy in our marriage. I assumed we would stay until this afternoon.”
Rod quickly became agitated as he clearly had other plans.
“No!” he said. “I’m putting my foot down on this one. I’ve been learning about boundaries and I’m not budging on this. Forget it. I’m done.”
“Why is that?” I asked Rod. “What are you so intent on getting out of here?”
“Because,” he said, abruptly. “I’m tired, we’ve worked hard and I don’t see the need for doing further work.”
“But I do,” Tanya said. “I’d really like to stay and continue our work. Would you please do that for me?”
“Nope,” he said. “Not going to stay. I want to leave. I came, did some work and now I want to leave. Period.”
Rod looked over at me, obviously seeking support.
“This is the way to set boundaries,” Rod asked. “Right?”
“Well, not exactly,” I said. “There are a number of guidelines I suggest when setting a boundary; and I’m not sure you’ve followed these steps. Let’s go over them.”
I proceeded to offer some suggestions for handling a sticky situation such as the one Rod faced with his wife.
1. It is best to establish a boundary ahead of time.
Rarely is it effective to set a boundary in the heat of the moment, though of course those situations invariably arise. As much as possible, anticipate situations and make agreements ahead of time, avoiding painful confrontations.
2. Collaborate, if possible.
Again, there will be times when a boundary must be set regarding something that is intolerable to you, and this will arise out of a problematic, tense situation. However, seek to co-labor (collaborate) on a problem as much as possible. Avoid situations where ultimatums must be given.
Seldom are problems solved when angry. Anger and agitation are mindsets non-conducive to problem-solving. Scripture is clear that we are to be peacemakers, seeking reconciliation whenever possible. The Apostle Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who dies for them and was raised again. So, from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” (II Corinthians 5:14-16)
4. In a collaborative mentality, seek solutions that are mutually beneficial.
Most problems have win-win possibilities if you seek them. If we remain calm, clear and collaborative, finding a creative solution is much more likely.
In this situation, Rod was able to settle down, talk about his desire to leave and yet be sensitive to his wife’s needs. She heard his concerns and they compromised on an agreeable solution.
5. If a win-win solution is not immediately possible, take a time out to reflect and consider.
Don’t push for an outcome if either person is too much agitated. Don’t make a decision out of spite or ‘to make a point.’ Don’t be vengeful. Remember that you have a relationship at stake. Impulsive decisions are rarely beneficial decisions. Step back, pray and make decisions from cooler perspectives.
6. Set a firm boundary if that is what is needed.
There will be times when it is absolutely necessary to draw a line in the sand. When you believe your respect is being violated or you are being asked to do something that is intolerable, say ‘no.’ Consider the consequences of such action and then make the appropriate decision.
Consider the boundaries in your marriage. Are you clear about what is important to you and have you clarified those boundaries/values to your mate? Do you know what he/she expects and do they know what you expect? If you have established boundaries, have you also established clear consequences for the violation of those boundaries?