A few years ago, I started reading Boundaries in Marriage but school obligations got in the way of all of my free reading time, so I never finished. I was excited when Charlene brought up the subject of boundaries in a conversation that we had earlier this year because it prompted me to start the book over in preparation for this collaboration post with her today. I'm not finished with the book yet, but I've learned so much from reading it already. What I expected to take up the entire book has only been the focus of one or two chapters. The book is so much more than I thought it would be and I've already been trying to implement what I've learned from reading it. (Check out Charlene's post to read about what she'd expected to get from the book.)
One of the biggest things that I've learned from Cloud and Townsend's book is that boundary setting has to start within your marriage. When I think about boundaries, I think about setting boundaries to protect your marriage from outside forces. It turns out that you have to protect your marriage from within and essentially, from yourselves first. In order to for the relationship to change, the people in it must change. You can't change your spouse, no matter how or what you're trying to change about them. You have to change your own person if you want your relationship to change. There have been moments while reading when I can feel my cheeks burning as I've realized that there are some things that I need to do differently with myself in order to create a more healthy marriage. Some things I was already aware of and others I didn't realize were that much of a problem. This book has given me the push that I need to make changes within myself and create the marriage relationship that I really want.
Chapter 12 has been my favorite because it's the one that I feel really relates to couples making their marriage a priority. The chapter is fittingly titled 'Three's a Crowd' and touches on the boundaries that need to be in place in order for your marriage to be safe from outside influences. Cloud and Townsend say that when you allow "intruders" into your marriage, you are weakening the relationship that you have with your spouse. "If you have spent time, effort and sacrifice in preserving your marriage from other influences, your odds of a solid marriage are better. If life has just "happened" to your marriage, you will have a more fragile bond." Putting other things first, bringing a third party into your disagreements, over committing yourself to other obligations or allowing life situations to come between you will break down the bond that you have been working every day to strengthen. Work, kids, individual hobbies/interests, technology/social media, and in-laws/family are just a few of the things on Cloud and Townsend's list of potential intruders. These intruders can affect your relationship in any of the ways that I just mentioned, but learning to be ok with saying no to all of those things sometimes will help keep your marriage safe.
It can be hard to say no, at least it is for me and it's something that I'm working to change on a daily basis. Why is it that we feel obligated to put other responsibilities before the most important thing in our lives, our marriage and our family? One thing that has helped me is to allot time to each of those important but not critical roles in my life. Especially now that I've started working part time from home, it has been important for me to set those boundaries to make sure that I am still making time for my kids and most importantly, for my marriage. I have set work hours within the office and I once I am home, it's family time. On days when I'm working from home, I have set hours when I sit down to do my work, but I have also promised the office that I will check my e-mail throughout the day and deal with urgent matters as they come up. It would be easy for me to have my e-mail on my phone and get notifications every time something comes in, but I know that if I did that, I would be dealing with work issues constantly. Instead, I check e-mails while I'm at the table eating meals with Bensen, while he's napping and right before the end of the day. I'm able to take half an hour or so to clear my inbox and take care of any tasks that I need and remain fully present with my kids for the rest of the day. I apply the same tactics for other obligations in my life that have the potential to become something that I'm dealing with constantly when I should be spending time with my husband and my kids.
There is nothing wrong with having other roles in your life or spending a significant amount of time on them, but you must put the time and effort into your marriage necessary to keep that relationship strong. I liked what Kaitlyn said in the interview that I did for my Wives to Watch in Every Stage of Life series. You have to put the needs of the institution first. If your marriage is strong, you can put time into other areas of your life, like getting together with a friend a few times a month or going on a trip by yourself. But if it comes to the point that your relationship is starting to struggle, it is time to put those things that don't have to be done on the back burner, and possibly even cut back on the things that do have to be done, in order to put your relationship first.
Sometimes, other things are going to have to come before your marriage. Big deadlines at work, your children, a family member who needs extra help, etc. are all important and I would never say that you should say no to everything, however, their needs to be a balance. The first four months of this year were rough for us. I had taken on my biggest course load yet and was working hard to graduate by May. We knew that life was going to be busy, but some unforeseen circumstances made it even more chaotic than we'd planned. I was feeling overwhelmed and discouraged and like I was not being the best mom and wife that I should. I was gone constantly for class or work, coming home most nights after Bensen was in bed only to sit down and work on homework until well after midnight, rather than being present and spending time with Joe. It was not the ideal situation, but I worked hard to still put the needs of my family first and make time for them wherever I could.
We cut out an extra Sunday each month when we would usually go to visit both of our families so that we could spend time with just our little family instead, weekly date nights became an even bigger priority and my social life went completely out the window because any spare minute that I had was spent with Joe and Bensen. After that crazy semester was over, Joe and I spent a weekend away together for some much needed relaxation and quality time and I took an entire week off of work just to stay home and hang out with Bensen. Now that life is less busy, it doesn't feel like I have to make as much as an effort to set boundaries to protect those relationships, but I still do because it can be all too easy to let other things creep in and take over the time that I should be using to work on becoming the best wife and mother that I can be. No matter what is going on in my life, I want my family to remember me for the moments that I was there. Amidst the chaos of having a baby in the NICU or that crazy semester that I had, I worked hard to create memories and moments that my son and my husband would remember. Sure, they'll probably remember the time that we spent apart and how much I was not around, but I hope that they also remember that I tried and that I made an effort to make my relationship with them a priority, no matter what else was going on.
Whether you think that you struggle with boundaries in your marriage or not, I would highly suggest that you read Boundaries in Marriage! I also have the Boundaries in Marriage workbook that I started using the last time I read the book. I haven't been using it this time through because I am usually reading while I feed or snuggle Emmy and it's difficult to have both books out at once. I plan on reading the book again and really studying it on my next time through, using the workbook to help me work through the changes that I need to make.