I live just a few miles from the city of Fort Worth. Fort Phantom, outside Abilene, was just a few miles from where I grew up. I could go on, but I think you get the idea that forts were common in taming Texas. (Just watch an old John Wayne western.) Why are forts on my mind? I have been presenting and viewing a fantastic video series by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend entitled Boundaries. (They have a new book, Boundaries in Marriage from Zondervan Publishing House.)
What in the world do forts and boundaries have to do with marriage? you might be asking?
Have you ever been in a relationship where trying harder wasnt working, and being nicer wasnt working any better? Have you learned the hard way that taking responsibility for others and their behavior wasnt helping the relationship either? These dilemmas are all symptoms of boundary issues.
A boundary, as defined by Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend, is a property line where I begin and end. Boundaries are not something that you set on another person. Boundaries are about you. Boundaries have to do with ownership and responsibility.
Boundaries help us determine who is responsible for what. If we understand who owns what, we then know who must take responsibility for it. Remember Adam when God confronted him after sinning in the garden? (Genesis 3:1-13) The woman you put here with me she gave me some fruit from the tree, Adam said, and I ate it. Adam blamed his behavior on his wife, and by implication he also blamed God for making her. Maybe you have seen this in other couples, or even in yourself!
He is so angry all the time.
She nags at me all the time.
Its like a bad Ping-Pong match, back and forth. Neither one took ownership of his or her own behavior. The problem becomes a way of blaming the other.
And speaking of anger... Do you have an issue with anger in marriage? A lack of boundaries and anger go hand in hand: Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit (Proverbs 25:28 NASB).
The problem becomes a way of blaming the other.
What are the treasures we must protect and be responsible for within our boundaries? What are the situations for which we need to take ownership or responsibility? Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend list the following:
We choose our actions and reactions in each of these areas. The parts of our life fall in our boundary line. These are things that we must nurture and protect.
Remember those forts I talked about earlier? Like boundaries do for us today, they served three purposes for the early settlers:
- They kept good things in and kept bad things out
- The functioned as an alarm (When the walls were on fire, you had some protecting to do)
- They helped provide a place for withdrawal (There are a lot of hostiles out there)
The ways we define and maintain our sense of individuality, freedom, responsibility, and personal integrity are all very important. Real boundaries focus on these three things. So...
Do you feel under attack?
Do you feel out of control?
Are you pointing too many fingers at your mate?
Maybe it is time that you took some ownership and staked a boundary in different areas of your life and relationship. This is important because once we can see that any relational problem is our problem, that we are responsible for it, then we are in the drivers seat of change. For the first time, we are empowered make some difference in the situation. One of the first places to begin, it so set some healthy boundaries so that were not trying to fix everything or be responsible for everything. At the same time, we also need to not feel like a victim that has no choices. Lets set our boundaries, find our responsibilities, and get to work on relationships.