How to Respect Boundaries in Your Relationship

One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen in marriages has to do with understanding limits—respecting boundaries in your relationship.

Kenny Rogers said it best in his famously quoted song “The Gambler”: “You gotta know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away / And know when to run.” In other words, if you are going to be in a successful relationship, you don’t have the luxury of going all in with no boundaries. 

In my book Marriage Ain’t for Punks, I spend considerable time discussing the fact that your marriage license should never be confused with a license to say whatever is on your mind and in any way you choose to say it. Some confuse being honest and open with a complete erasing of boundaries and decency. When this is done, the results are always disastrous. 

Wendy and I were just married and moved into a home with a huge backyard adjoining other yards in the neighborhood, but our yard had an elaborate wooden playhouse in it. One morning, we awoke to hear children playing in our backyard, on our playhouse. It was customary for the neighborhood kids to come over and play since the previous tenants allowed it. While that may have been OK for them, we were the new neighbors and felt they should not assume it was allowed with us. Even though we didn’t disturb their playtime, they were still crossing a boundary—innocently but nevertheless intrusively.   

When you openly share with your mate that there are areas where you don’t feel comfortable or safe, it’s quite liberating. You are in essence giving them instructions on how to better love and care for you.

It’s the same in relationships. Just because you were able to do a certain thing or speak a certain way in a previous relationship, does not mean it’s OK in your marriage. We all have sensitivities we bring over from our previous relationships that make us vulnerable to hurt and pain. It’s called baggage. He may have been cheated on, so now he’s sensitive about his wife having friends of the opposite sex. She may have suffered verbal abuse, so now just raising his voice during an argument might easily be a negative trigger to her.

I’ve heard many married people exclaim, “We’re married; we shouldn’t have any boundaries!” While I understand the idea of such a statement, it’s how a punk thinks.  Punks don’t want the responsibility of having to temper language, pitch, tone or actions.  But the only way that two people in a committed marriage can have a peaceful existence is to value and respect each other’s personal preferences and sensitivities.

We are confronted with boundaries in many areas of life. In our careers, we must temper our words and actions for fear of losing that job. In churches, schools and even with our closest friends, there are limits to behavior—especially if we want to keep those relationships. This is even more pertinent in marriage.  

When I share this with couples, they often see boundaries as prohibitions. But I believe that’s the incorrect way to view them. When you openly share with your mate that there are areas where you don’t feel comfortable or safe, it’s quite liberating. You are in essence giving them instructions on how to better love and care for you. When a mate receives this information and honors it, the result is always a freedom to love more deeply. 

Pastor Cal’s latest book, Marriage Ain’t for Punks, is a straightforward and unapologetic dive into why people fail or struggle at marriage. More than a book about marriage, it’s a book about how to manage life with another person. You can find your copy on newsstands nationwide. 

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