39. Boundaries Within a Marriage Relationship
Mary: Let’s talk boundaries. Today I’m here with an anonymous guest who is going to be talking about boundaries in her marriage relationship. Hey, thanks for being here today.
Guest: Thanks for having me.
Mary: What’s going on?
Guest: I’ve been married for almost 18 years and I am a struggling people pleaser and so I am trying to take back my power and my responsibility, get away from the victimhood. But I am struggling to rewrite my role in my marriage I would describe it much like a role-based marriage where I’m the mom and I take care of the kids and I am, you know, and then my husband, he does a great job at providing for us. But I have realized that that’s not enough for me. So he is seeking more connection and I am wanting less, and then I’m feeling guilty about it and shaming myself about it. So basically, I just, I don’t like who I am in the relationship, so I would love to get to, you know, the bottom of it.
Mary: Awesome. I’m so glad you’re willing to share and be open about these things cause other people can really benefit from this discussion as well. So, tell me, when you said you’ve had roles, what do you mean? What was your role previously? What is your role moving to?
Guest: Okay, so the way I understand it is that I was over-functioning. And very much so. My mom was like that, so that’s, you know, that was the example I had and that was the expectation that I have for myself and my family as a mom and a and a wife. So, I’m also very observant and organized and my husband is capable, but I think I have always just done everything. Plus I like things to be done a certain way. And so I have a hard time allowing other people to do things not my way. But I have learned having, you know, multiple children that well really, six years ago, my body said enough. I was very sick. I have an autoimmune disease now, so I don’t have as much energy and I definitely don’t have as much motivation. So I haven’t always worked and so I, I would feel guilty if ever I expected my spouse to kind of step up. And to make matters worse, I am not very comfortable asking for help. And he was raised in a family where you’re helpful, but you need to be asked and told. And that is so frustrating to me cause I see everything and you know, when my mom and I are in our, in the kitchen, we’re just on the same page. And so that has been a struggle for us because he says he is willing to help, but you know, he’s human and he doesn’t just ho hop right up to do it. And so I’m like, oh, he probably doesn’t want to do that, so I’m just not gonna ask him anyway, any, you know, time and then I’m just gonna be mad at him because he doesn’t help.
Mary: Yeah. Okay. So you were the over-functioner in your relationship. So what’s the problem with being an over-functioner?
Guest: I was doing things out of obligation and responsibility, and I was not doing them from a loving place. And so I was very much the victim and just woe is me and this is unfair. So it’s not a fun place to live.
Mary: Right. And eventually it caught up with your body?
Guest: Caught up with my body and then I kind of like just said, okay, screw it. But then, so like I, I still do this. I still go ebb and flows where it’s like, get back on track, do all the things that I wanna do, and then I get burnt out. And so I really am trying to like, take the responsibility if I want it to be done then I have resources, you know, you and I talked about this, like I have resources around me to help me. And so it has improved a little bit, but I still, I still have this like husband manual where I just, I think he should do X, Y, and Z, and I have brothers who I really admire, who work really hard in their marriages, and so my poor husband is getting compared to all these people who are different, or even like my brothers are more like me.
Mary: So you mentioned that you have a husband manual, that he should do X, Y, and Z. Tell me more about that cuz I, I think our listeners can relate to this. I know I can.
Guest: So my parents’ marriage was not a marriage I wanted to be a part of. But somehow, I, you know, through movies or whatever, I, I saw other people’s marriages and I’m like, oh yes, I want that. And good husbands do that and good wives do this and, and so I have all these expectations of him, like he’s gonna do the dishes sometimes, or he’s gonna be present with our kids when he’s home cuz he travels so much. Or you know, all these things that he never signed up for or told me that he would do. But things that I think he should do, you know, a lot of shoulds.
Mary: A lot of shoulds, right? Yeah. So you have a manual for your husband of all the things you think he should do, and that’s what would make him a good husband for you, right? Does he have a manual for what’s a good wife and think about all the things you should do to be a good wife for him?
Guest: I’m sure he does, but I’m sure his manual is much shorter. Like maybe like three paragraphs, you know, very, very easy.
Mary: Three paragraphs? How long is your manual?
Guest: Oh, you know, like a novel, like thousands of pages.
Mary: Okay, so you have thousands page manual of all the things that he should do to be a good husband? So relatable. So many people that I talk to actually think this way, even though they may not say it exactly this way, right? So do you like the idea that he has a manual for you?
Guest: I know what you’re trying to get at, but yes and no. The most obvious response is no, because you know, you want people to love you for who you are and not for what you do or don’t do. But my personality, it is nice to know, like to check the boxes, like, yes, I’m doing this and yes I’m doing this. You know, cuz that is another thing that I struggle with. I struggle with proving myself through the things I do.
Mary: Right so, what’s the solution for that?
Guest: Well I do remind myself a lot that I’m human. And I don’t have to be perfect. Mm-hmm. That my spouse doesn’t expect me to be perfect. But still, it’s like this hard wired part of me where this is what good moms do. You know? And I think that’s kind of how I justify him having a manual because I have, if not longer, just as long the manual for myself. Mm-hmm.
Mary: Yeah. So what would happen if we just threw away the manual?
Guest: It would be fantastic. I mean, it’s like I understand it, theoretically, like you are who you are. Your worth cannot be like you’re worthy, period. . Like you’re born worthy. I get it. And yet sometimes it’s so hard because it’s like, well, we are expected to improve and to progress and to become better and I have experienced firsthand how positive encouragement is so much more beneficial for progression and improvement, and yet I still am so unkind to myself and unkind to those around me.
Mary: Right. Yeah. Okay. So if you were to throw away this manual and get rid of these shoulds and stop judging yourself and stop judging him. Imagine you had like a miracle happened. You had a magic wand. You went to sleep tonight, and you woke up tomorrow and there were no manuals. Describe to me what that would be like.
Guest: Light and freeing and just unburdened, like just freedom.
Mary: Ok. The feeling would be freedom? Or the result would be freedom?
Guest: The result would be freedom. The feeling would,
Mary: What’s the feeling?
Guest: Just like a release, like a, the pressure is gone. I’m having a hard time finding the word.
Guest: Relieved. That’s the
Mary: word. Okay. So you throw away the manual and you feel relieved. What would you be doing?
Guest: See, that’s where it gets messy for me, because I’m good at like the black and the white. Like either you put your nose to the ground and you work hard or you’re just playing, you know, you’re on vacation and easy breezy. But it’s the day-to-day ebb and flow of getting some work done, you know, to function versus like also making play and downtime. Yeah, I mean,
Mary: Okay. But what would you be doing in your marriage relationship? You throw away the manual, you’re relieved. There’s no more expectations of what you should or shouldn’t do. You don’t have to be good at being a spouse. He doesn’t have to be good at being a spouse. How would you show up to that relationship?
Guest: Just like happy and curious and excited to do whatever we’re gonna do and yeah positive like, yeah, just be present. I think I’d be able to be present and not worry about the past or the future.
Mary: Mm-hmm. Okay. How would you engage with him? How would you talk to him? What kinds of things would you do with him?
Guest: See, that’s a little bit harder to imagine. And I you know, because I think I definitely have this really thick wall that I’ve built up.
Mary: Okay, so we’re gonna imagine these manuals, right? One’s three pages, one’s a thousand pages. Mm-hmm. You, they were burned in a fire. You had a bonfire book burning fire, right? And they’re gone. There’s no manual anymore.
Guest: Well, I almost wonder if it would like, I’m trying to imagine that, and I almost wonder if like, I have all these little minions to do all the things that I worry about.
Mary: Oh, tell me more. Right. What does that mean?
Guest: So it’s like, you know, you’re grocery shopping and you’re cooking dinner and you’re lining your kids up and taking them to the doctor and you know, all those things. If there was some someone or some magic service that took that responsibility away, then that would feel like freedom. Cause I think where the resentment comes from is because it’s mainly around our kids.
Mary: Mm. So you need staff is what I’m hearing.
Guest: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Exactly. Yeah, then I wouldn’t always be looking for someone to help me out because I feel like I’m failing all the time cause I can’t do it all.
Mary: Mm, okay. So you would have staff or others, other people, who would share responsibility for you? With you for all the things in your family?
Guest: Yes. Because I think when I think of the responsibilities, like the weight that I hold, it is because like I know I’m a good mom. Like I’m not perfect by any means, but I put a lot of energy, I would even say, and I feel guilty about this, I put way more energy into my kids than my
Mary: husband. Hmm, Okay. But what if you don’t have to be a good mom? What if there is no such thing as a good mom or a bad mom or great mom or terrible mom or an okay mom? What if you just gave yourself permission just to be a mom?
Guest: That’s a hard one. You know that?
Mary: I do know that.
Guest: It’s hard to imagine. Yeah. Okay. How would I show up? I would be so fun, so carefree, so fun, so carefree. Just party all the time.
Mary: Just party all the time?
Mary: Party all the time.
Guest: Wow. I can’t, I can’t even really truly imagine it because, okay. Yeah.
Mary: Okay, so you wake up, there’s no manual. You feel relieved, and what do you do that gets this result of freedom?
Guest: I tell my staff to get to work.
Mary: Okay. Who are these staff people?
Guest: Oh, I dunno. See, the, the jumping from reality to theoretical is like hard for me.
Mary: Okay. So what if the staff are people in your family? How many people are in your family?
Guest: Six and a dog.
Mary: Six people and a dog. Okay and the reality is, is that families have work that they need to accomplish, right?
Mary: Yeah. So what if it was the responsibility of these six people and a dog to share all of this work?
Guest: No. Yeah, I mean that, that is the hope, that’s the expectation that’s the should part of it.
Mary: Do you wanna be on a work crew with these people or no?
Guest: Let’s just say I can think of other people that are harder workers than my crew. Does that answer your question?
Mary: Okay. But do you wanna do life with these people?
Guest: Yes, absolutely.
Mary: Okay. Right. So what if you just had like a draft, like a football draft, like a task draft? And you like rallied up your staff, your minions, and were like, let’s write down all of the responsibilities on index cards. Okay. And then we’re gonna go around and everybody picks one until all the responsibilities are gone. Or something like that.
Guest: Yes I see it and what, what my brain is telling me is I have tried that, but my brain also likes to teach me that they have failed because somehow I have failed in teaching them. Oh.
Mary: Are you the supervisor of this staff?
Guest: Well, no one else is rising to the occasion. I think, I really think that’s the root of the problem, like I am trying to prove my worth through how well my family and my marriage and all these things fit into this manual that I have.
Mary: Mm-hmm. I agree. That is the root of the problem.
Guest: So I think the problem is, I don’t know how to throw out the manual. Is there a way you could just like rip a page every day?
Mary: You could. You could rip a page every day. You could burn the whole thing and write a page, a new manual every day. You could give yourself permission just to be a mom, not to have to be a good mom. Just be the wife, not to have to be a good wife.
Guest: But why do I feel like I have to be a good one? Like the best to my ability? Like what is that? It’s like.
Mary: That is earning your worth. Yeah.
Guest: So I’m trying to tie it back to my spouse and I can’t really make it all fit in my brain cause it’s like, yes, I’m mad at him that he’s not buying into my manual. But like he didn’t help write the manual, so. I think the problem is like, I obviously have all these expectations. When I look at them, I see they’re unfair, even the expectations I have of my myself, but I just, I don’t know how to reprogram my brain to do it a different way.
Mary: Okay, so you’ve gotten rid of the manual, now you’re a team. Everybody on the team’s already valuable. Like they already passed the interview, the hiring process. They’ve got redeemable qualities to get on the team. And you threw out the manual? Yes. So now you’re relieved of all of the expectations. Right? What would you need to be thinking?
Guest: Maybe something like, I wonder how this is gonna work out, or maybe something like the other way wasn’t working so we’re gonna try a new way. And I’d like to be open to new ways. My brain keeps going back to like, Yeah, but you have to keep your kids fed and alive and loved and off social media. You know what I mean? Mm-hmm. It’s just like, it just doesn’t seem that simple.
Mary: So curiosity might be the bridge to get you to that feeling of relief, right? Getting curious about like, how could this be a team? How could we have a staff meeting here? How could I be a member of this team instead of the leader of this team. How could we create our own manual? How can I just show up and love these people?
Guest: Yeah. Well, and that’s the problem because it’s like, so I’m trying to throw out the manual and I’m trying to stay present. But I’m still gonna be disappointed cuz I’m human and I can’t really throw out the whole manual.
Mary: You really can actually. Totally optional.
Guest: Like, for example, my oldest is such a great teacher for me because he only does things that he feels logical about. And so I’ve really had to learn that I have no control over him, which has actually been really beneficial for me. Right. But it’s been really challenging.
Mary: So you actually have no control over any of these people?
Guest: I know. I just, I don’t know how to, like, how do I put theory into practice when my brain is fighting so hard against it?
Mary: Hmm. So, a couple of things. One is we choose our thoughts around this. Right? We find some intentional thoughts. The way you wanna feel is relieved. You have to choose some thoughts that are gonna help you feel relieved.
Guest: Okay. Even if they don’t feel true?
Mary: Well, you have to come up with some that are gonna feel true or you bridge yourself. Right? Use curiosity or other feelings and other thoughts that are gonna help you get to a place where you do feel true. Right? Okay. So what you wanna be relieved of are these expectations of how people should behave. I think there’s also some relief around being the leader of this work crew that doesn’t wanna work. And then you have to be responsible for all of the work product for the people that aren’t? Right? Right. So what if it’s all of that work is not your responsibility?
Guest: Can I give you a circumstance though and then we work through it?
Mary: Yeah, of course. Tell me.
Guest: Okay. So this happens a lot. Nobody in my house, well, it seems like nobody cares how clean the house. Is I am the only one. So how can I not take responsibility for something that we all share?
Mary: So the reason why this is funny to me is because there was a time a few years ago and it was like right after things shut down for Covid and I called a family meeting and I said, you guys, I feel like I’m the only one in this family that cares if this house is clean. I have a problem I’m struggling with and I think that I’m the only one who cares if we live in a clean house and they said, you’re right. That is the problem. The problem is that you care about the house being clean and we don’t. So stop. All of them were like, yes, we figured it out. So just stop caring about if this house is clean. So that’s an option. You could just choose not to care. That’s an option. You don’t like that option?
Guest: That would be hard for me.
Mary: Okay. What are some other options?
Guest: Hire a house cleaner instead of have Christmas presents.
Mary: There you go. Hire a house cleaner instead of Christmas presents. That’s an option. What else?
Guest: One that I go to frequently because I’m a quasi minimalist, is like, well, let’s just get rid of all the stuff that makes a mess.
Mary: Get rid of all your stuff. That’s an option.
Guest: This is hard.
Mary: Okay, so what’s the circumstance?
Guest: My house has items on the floor.
Mary: Okay. Items on the floor in the house. And you think what?
Guest: They’re not supposed to be on the floor. If these kids were respectful and grateful, they would put them away.
Mary: Mm-hmm. And how do you feel?
Guest: Frustrated, discouraged.
Mary: And what do you do? Yell at the kids?
Guest: Don’t yell.
Mary: Oh, that’s good. I might.
Guest: But it probably would be better. I’m more the passive aggressive type. Not healthy. Okay.
Mary: So I wanna circle back to what does this have to do with your relationship with your husband?
Guest: Yes. I think I’m buying into the manual that he is really only here to be my children’s dad. Having an aha moment right now.
Mary: Okay. Tell me more about that.
Guest: Like, for whatever reason, if he can’t even do that, then why would I allow him to like go into the, you know, more vulnerable, parts of me. I mean there are times like, he’s a very kind, loving, he’s a good dad and at times I don’t feel safe, emotionally safe, I should say that, because I feel one very responsible for his feelings and emotions and needs. So there’s a boundary violation that I’m trying to work on. And also because I am not a very comfortable person communicating hard things, I like shut down and I get upset and, you know, processing hard emotions is, I still am not very good at it. It’s so, so, so scary to me.
Mary: Okay, so what if he doesn’t have to be a good dad? Like, is he a dad?
He is, because he has four children and a dog. Right? That’s what makes him a dad. Right? Right. Like he’s already a dad, so he doesn’t have to earn his value as a dad.
Guest: Then I guess I’m like, I’m confused like why he’s there. Like what is he here for then?
Mary: What do you think?
Guest: Like if I wasn’t a mom or a daughter or a sister or a wife, I don’t know who I would be, and maybe that’s the problem. I’m not like, Hmm,
Mary: Maybe you just get to be a human.
Guest: I know.
Mary: Right? Like a human having an earthly experience. Yeah. Learning, growing, contributing.
Guest: Maybe I just can’t relate to how he shows up in the world because it’s just so confusing to my brain.
Mary: You can do it if you want to. Okay. So are you a valuable person?
Mary: How do you know?
Guest: Cuz I know. There’s a God and I know that he knows me and he loves me.
Mary: Is your spouse a valuable person?
Mary: How do you know that?
Guest: Because he is also a child of God.
Mary: Yeah. So you’re valuable people. You wanna be married to each other?
Mary: Yes. You wanna be married to each other, right? Yeah. So we’d have two people who are both valuable, who wanna be married to each other. They have four children together and a dog, so that makes them a husband, a wife, a mom, a dad, and they don’t have to be good at it.
Guest: Then why are like, what are we even doing on Earth? Like if I’m just supposed to be here, present?
Mary: Well, the shift is you’re not doing it to become good. You already are good. Right? Like you’re already valuable, so you don’t have to earn your value here. That’s the shift. And then once you understand your value, you actually want to show up with love for the people that you care about because you love them, not because you wanna be good at it. So then you just get to love your husband because you want to, not because you wanna be good at it?
Guest: Yeah. This is an interesting concept to me because, you know, I’ve been taught like when you love someone, you serve them and you put them before your needs but in my situation, that often turns to resentment because I do it out of obligation. Right. So how do I get back to that place where I’m doing it out of love? I mean, I just, I really do feel like my heart is like just black and shriveled and just angry at everybody because
Mary: You stop doing it out of obligation. You give yourself permission not to do things out of obligation, not to do things because you have to be responsible. And it’s like a pendulum. It might swing a little bit over here where you’re like, okay, now I’m doing nothing. And then eventually it’ll fall in the center in a place that feels good, where you can show up with love and kindness and feel good about helping people that you love.
Guest: So how does that work on like the continuum of like grudges and needing to forgive and forget? Cause I feel stuck. I feel stuck in like the being resentful and,
Mary: I mean, what is it that you think you need to forgive someone for?
Guest: Well, it’s just like every time I look at him, like just like see all the disappointment and like, it’s so hard for me to like see the good in him. And there’s so much good in him. It’s like he just let me down. And so in response to that, I’m keeping like him so far away cause I think I’m trying to harm him too, but in reality, I’m probably harming myself as well.
Mary: Right. The reason why we feel disappointed is because we have expectations of something that doesn’t come to fruition for us. So when you throw out the manual, then you let go of those expectations and then there’s nothing to feel resentment about. Then you just get to love them. Because you wanna be married. Let’s wrap it up. What’s your takeaways?
Guest: My takeaway is that I get to choose my thoughts and unless I am intentional about my thoughts, they will take me places that have not served me well before. And then the second one is I don’t have to be in charge. I don’t have to be the responsible one.
Mary: Wouldn’t it be fun to play with not being in charge and not being responsible?
Guest: That would be fun.
Mary: Okay. Anything else?
Guest: Yes. Only do things out of love.
Mary: Only do things out of love. When you have a question in your mind, if you wanna do something or not, I ask myself, is this something I can do from a place of love? If I can’t get behind a reason why I wanna do it, then it’s information for me to choose to say no thank you. Because I’m only willing to do things that I can do from a place of love.
Guest: So, is there ever a time to be worried if, like, over and over I can’t find a reason of love?
Mary: Nope. Nothing to be worried about there.
Guest: Okay. I think I am living in fear, like my fear is that I’ll just become this selfish, you know, inward person and just, yeah, that’s my fear.
Mary: I don’t think you will. I think the pendulum’s gonna swing and then it’ll land safely in a place where you can show up with love for both yourself and the people around you. Okay. Thanks for being here, friend. You got this.
Guest: Thank you.
Mary: All right. Take care.