boundaries, pt 2.

by Liz on 02.21

I was pretty bummed that I was out all day when this first post aired. I came home to some amazingly smart comments, and it made me wish I had been around for the discussion.

Before I even ran that post, however, I knew it would need a Part 2.

When describing the internet boundaries we established for our marriage, I knew it sounded like nothing that happens between me and Josh is ever shared outside of the four walls of my teeny apartment. This is totally untrue.

Most of what happens between us isn’t fit for the internet. That’s not just because of the overabundance of dirty jokes. It’s because marriage is a personal thing- physically, emotionally, spiritually- personal. To put it on public display is to remove some of the intimacy, sure, but also to take away from the importance of it all.

However, a large part of marital boundaries is not just knowing what to keep out of the public eye, but also what can NOT be kept personal. Josh and I don’t publish everything for public consumption. But, protecting our marriage doesn’t mean keeping everything in- it also means a healthy dose must be shared.

Awhile back I was in a discussion with someone who said she would never share marital arguments with ANYONE outside of their marriage. She felt that their arguments were private and that anything within the bounds of marriage was sacred. I remember several people nodding in agreement with her, and all the while, I’m thinking, “NOOO, honey. NO.”

Being inside of a relationship removes a level of objectivity. In a sense, that’s what makes marriage awesome. No one on the outside understands. No one gets your inside jokes, your quirks in bed, your joke-fights and petnames that sound crude or insulting. It’s a wonderfully separate secret place that no other person could fathom.

But that very aspect of an intimate relationship is what makes it so dangerous.  You assume, “No one else understands him,” and “No one knows him like I do,” enough and that line of thinking can put you at risk.

 

Josh and I have an understanding that we’re able to share anything at all with a few select friends. We can tell them about the fights, the sex- anything. Part of that is trusting one another not to just use that avenue without discretion. Part is knowing that these people are wise and will offer valuable opinions. Part is also seeing that they know each of us well enough to offer a loving and objective opinion. They knew us and loved us before we were married. They heard us say our vows. And they’re there to remind us of those vows when we need it. They’re there to tell us if something sounds off or unhealthy, to offer advice on how to fix things, to call us out when we’re being dummies, to encourage us when we want to give up on each other.

I can’t imagine how we’d cope without these friends.

I’ve been in and around enough unhealthy relationships to know that a key piece to perpetuating unhealthy cycles is to keep everything private.

 

Marriage is a tricky thing. Life itself is tricky, and trying to navigate the snags and obstacles of life with another person without any sort of guidance just seems silly. In my own stubborn independence, I’ve learned that things I try to do on my own, without the advice and help of friends, often end up being dismal failures. Why would I risk the same of my marriage?

 

you may also like::

  1. covert feminism.
  2. boundaries.

Your Comments | Add a Comment

Kirsty {a safe mooring} says:
Feb 21, 2012 6:13 am

So interesting. While I know deep down that you’re right, in practice I find it very, very difficult to open up to even close friends about my marriage (or anything else, really). I’m an extremely private person – which makes it kind of hilarious that I have a blog – and my tendency is always to turn inwards on myself when I’m in pain or trying to work something out, and keep everyone else at arm’s length.

I know, though, that this point in our lives is probably the calm before the storm. God knows not everything is perfect, but we’re happy together, and healthy, and our worries are relatively few. But my mum is ill and not going to get better, we potentially have kids and everything that entails on the horizon, and if I don’t start learning how to open up now, when my troubles are small, I’m going to find myself in a very difficult place when the shit really starts to hit the fan.

Thanks for this post, lady. Definite food for thought.

Reply

Alice says:
Feb 21, 2012 8:12 am

I think it’s impossible to establish generic rules for boundaries in marriage because every marriage is different. Just as some people are, some marriages are more introverted. We don’t have a steel curtain over everything that goes on in our marriage but most everything stays private. We don’t have an established rule but our relatively strict marital privacy policy developed naturally. Neither of us are comfortable sharing and so we don’t.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 8:38 am

I often wonder what aspects of marriage are universal and which fluctuate depending on the people involved. I think I stick by this one- maybe not as a rule. Perhaps a safeguard.

Meanwhile, I think the discomfort is a good thing. I think I’d be dubbed an over-sharer, but knowing that Josh has the license to share ANYTHING he wants about our marriage? It’s uncomfortable for even me. It sort of… keeps me in check. My bad temper and outrageous over-dramatic reactions are sometimes (this is embarrassing) reigned in by the idea that he has license to tell other people when I’m a bitch.

But I’m interested in hearing more of your perspective!

Reply

Ellie says:
Feb 21, 2012 8:43 am

I have a few people I confide in about my marriage, because they give sound, sage advice. I have different people for different things – I confide in my sister when my birth-family life is interfering with my baby-family life (“it bothers husband that Mom and Dad do this – how do I deal?”) and I confide in my friend when we’re having issues over career/life stuff, and I have another friend I go to over the more everyday issues. I feel like dividing my issues up and knowing who I can go to keeps me from dumping all of my marital problems on a single person, but still gives me valuable counsel from others. If I didn’t have other people to go to when I have issues, my relationship would never have gotten this far. I think some of that requires knowing that you are a slightly irrational or difficult to please person – nobody that I talk to is a “yes” person – more often than not, they take my husband’s side and show me that I’m overreacting and being silly.

Reply

Marie says:
Feb 21, 2012 10:26 am

I’m the same, different people for different things, and I do that for more than just my marriage. Often I will have talked to J about it but will need a little more time. To work through things I talk through them and sometimes I need to do that before I talk to him, it can temper what I’m about to say which definitely is not a bad thing.

I would also put forward that to me yes marriage is about the two of you but when we said our vows we were there with everyone else and they are part of our foundation, our support, our network of help to go to when we need. That for me marriage is all of us working together to make it work.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:18 pm

Yeah, definitely! It doesn’t make sense to turn to someone who is just going to nod and tell you you’re right, he’s a jerk.

Reply

Marie says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:51 pm

Absolutely, and if they do that and they do it too often then I for one would question they value in those discussions. Thanks for starting this Liz, a really interesting discussion!

Reply

Rachelle says:
Feb 21, 2012 8:51 am

Keeping things private works for us. We’ve been blessed with an easy start to our relationship and marriage so far so maybe it will change, but I really just don’t feel comfortable talking about the private things in our relationship with other people. Of course I’ll say, oh Stephen does that and it’s annoying or oh we got in a fight about the dishes but I never get very specific and usually only bring it up because someone else is sharing about their own relationship and need reassurance. I don’t get any comfort from telling other people about our fights or issues. In fact, other than a few very close friends, I feel uncomfortable when other people are continually telling me about the specific details of their relationship that I personally would keep private (really big fights, constantly arguing over the same things). I’m not ever going to agree and say, “oh yeah, your husband is a jerk” so then what exactly are you supposed to say? I know it’s a very old school way to look at it, but I see us as a team that needs to face the world united 99% of the time.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 9:03 am

Ooh, yeah. I agree with you in part. The “he always leaves his socks on the floor” stuff isn’t the stuff I’m talking about. Getting together with friends for a whine-fest isn’t beneficial. I guess that stuff needs to be vented SOMETIMES, but generally, I’d think it’s not constructive. Especially if you’re going to someone who will just say, “I KNOW. My husband is a jerk too!” Besides, the more I speak well of Josh, the more I’m thinking about his good points and it creates a really nice cycle of speaking/thinking well of him.

But what I’m talking about, really, is the BIG stuff. The “this is something that’s becoming an issue and might be detrimental to our marriage and I need advice” stuff.

Reply

Rachelle says:
Feb 21, 2012 9:08 am

I get what you’re saying. I guess it concerns me personally because I see people who open up to others and (at least from what I can tell) aren’t talking to their spouse about it as freely. It’s easier in some ways to tell a trusted friend that you’re having issues than it is to look at your spouse and say, we need to talk about this Big Thing. It’s scary to do that! But it needs to be done. I guess I just try to stay focused on the fact that Stephen is my #1 person to talk through stuff with. If we have already discussed it and I feel like I need more perspective (maybe on mother/career stuff or something he doesn’t know about) then I’ll do that, but then I bring that conversation back to him and we talk again. For me, Stephen needs to be in the loop about conversations I have with anyone about our marriage.

Reply

Emily says:
Feb 21, 2012 11:19 am

I think Liz and I are on the same page with this, but I get what you’re saying. For us, there’s an unspoken rule that we’ll get permission before bringing something to our trusted go-to friends. We have a few friends each who we can talk to about serious stuff, but we tend to check with the other before sharing things. That keeps the united team part safe while still allowing for healthy input.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:20 pm

We’ve been lucky enough that our problems thus far have been such that I feel comfortable telling him first before I talk to someone. But, we’ve agreed we don’t need to do that. It’s a measure of trust that he’s not going to go around trying to make me look bad and ditto for me- that we’ll only be seeking constructive advice.

Reply

Maggie says:
Feb 21, 2012 9:42 am

B and I are both really private people by nature (even when I TRY to be “open,” I’m apparently difficult to read and not very forthcoming, or so I’ve been told by colleagues), so neither of us end up sharing many details simply because we’re wired that way. But I also don’t feel like there’s a bunch of juicy stuff I’m holding back; maybe we’re just really boring? LOL. We have a pretty much drama-free relationship… which doesn’t make for much to tell (I can live with that).

I can talk easily about sex in the abstract, but it makes me very uncomfortable to be specific with friends, especially in person–I never did when I was single, either, so it’s not necessarily because I’m trying to protect B or our relationship. Maybe it’s prudish of me, but I get squirmy when it gets graphic, whether it’s positive or negative (though I have happily gone shopping at a sex shop w/friends and enjoy parsing sex and relationships in general terms). I’m happy to listen if others feel like sharing, but I don’t have much need to reciprocate. Maybe if we were experiencing issues, I’d feel more of an urge to seek advice…?

In-law issues, work issues, money issues, whether-or-not-to-have-kids issues, these may have an impact on my relationship, but I’m okay talking about them pretty freely. But I always go to my family first, mostly because they are my closest friends and I’ve been turning to them first all my life; if a twitter friend is hearing about an issue, that means I’ve most likely already discussed it with B, my mom, and my two sisters.

B shares with people even less than I do, but I’d say he’s more comfortable talking (gloating?) about sex when he talks to friends–though never in graphic detail.

Reply

Morgan says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:19 pm

I too have no problems talking about my inlaws, or work issues, or whatever, but that’s well, My Stuff, not My Marriage’s Stuff. The only real Serious Issues that come up in our relationship are so very personal and very intense that talking about them to someone else, outside perhaps a therapist, would feel wrong. Anything in the middle we just tend to, you know, talk it out together and then it’s done.

Maybe we’re just boring, or lucky, or talk stuff through really well, I don’t know. I do know that the two big fights we’ve had – the relationship quaking kinds, are two that I’ll only ever refer to with others in general terms, because when that shit got real, it got personal and private and was only between us.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:21 pm

I think we’ve had maybe one REALLY tough situation. And it was so personal and so intense, that outside advice was needed.

Reply

Evie says:
Feb 21, 2012 9:05 am

Nick and I have a rule about not selling the other down the river in group conversations. You know how it is in groups of couples: She does THIS, well he did THIS, ONE TIME SHE DID THIS! (everyone falls silent.)

Other than that, we trust each other to blow off steam/vent to our friends responsibly. It’s not as though my friends “take his side” all the time. In fact, often they don’t. I can’t imagine my marriage being a locked safe. Sounds scary.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:22 pm

YES, one hundred percent agree with that rule. Ugh, those situations are SO uncomfortable.

Reply

Erin says:
Feb 21, 2012 9:34 am

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We’ve mostly kept things very protected and private since we’ve been married, and it’s been a good thing. And lately, I’ve been needing to remind myself more to be my husband’s champion in public, instead of using him as an easy comedic target (Basic wife stuff. It’s like going back to marriage kindergarten on that one…). But at the same time, I’m starting to see the need for me to have a confidante, someone objective who can tell me when I’m being ridiculous, someone trustworthy who can help me work through what needs to be said when I need to say it, a person who can listen without a stake in the history or the outcome. The perfect outside ear would also refrain from falling into the easy “all men are X” explanations, too. So, the question for a far-from-home girl is, how do grown-ups find these folks?

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:25 pm

I wish I knew! I think it’s really hard to find someone who aligns with my perspective of marriage- which seems essential for that kind of confidential relationship, right? Plus, it takes me a long time to really feel close to someone. So I wouldn’t even know how to start from scratch.

Reply

Kerry says:
Feb 21, 2012 9:40 am

I feel like the “Boundaries” series could go on and on and on, and I would absolutely love it. Looking forward to Boundaries pt. 8!

I am an intensely private person, but given the nature of Craig’s relationship with his brothers and their partners…I’ve learned to share a great deal about my marriage (and before marriage, our dating relationship) with our little 6-person circle of trust. At first I felt strange and almost guilty , but over the years I’ve come to absolutely cherish their feedback. It’s important to remember that “sharing” doesn’t always mean the bad stuff – so many times I really need to talk about the pride/luck/crazy happiness my marriage gives me, and it’s amazing how sometimes you need the “right” kind of listener for those subjects, too…

Reply

Emily says:
Feb 21, 2012 11:23 am

Yeah! And for me, even when I need advice on scary big stuff, it’s not always necessarily bad. Sometimes it’s my issue, not his, affecting our relationship; or sometimes it’s circumstantial and not anyone’s fault anyway; and even if he’s legitimately causing a problem, it’s possible to talk about that in a respectful and honoring way. In fact, the friends I’d choose to talk to are ones who I would trust to respect him throughout the conversation without ever turning to immature bad-mouthing.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:26 pm

SUCH a good point! I really don’t feel comfortable gushing about how wonderful my husband is to everyone in the world, but sometimes I need to do it.

Reply

Beth says:
Feb 21, 2012 11:08 am

I think one of the things that makes the sharing thing difficult for me is making sure my sharing doesn’t sound like complaining. Most of my closest friends are from high school and college and have never been around Forrest for more than a day or two. I worry that any complaints about him cast him in a much too negative light. I’m much more likely to talk to people I’m MUCH less close to that know both of us: semi-friends in town, his friends spouses, or MAYBE my family. I get nervous because our life decisions have meant we’ve lived our relationship very sheltered from the view of those we love and that can be really hard.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:27 pm

Yeah, that’s tough, Beth. I’m sorry.

Reply

Beth says:
Feb 21, 2012 8:33 pm

It’s okay. Just something a bit different. As we start to be around people more (cumulatively if not more frequently) it gets better.

Reply

Nina says:
Feb 21, 2012 12:41 pm

I also have a very hard time being open about my relationship. I think Kirsty said it just right – when I’m in pain or worried, I turn inward.

But I’m also all about keeping it real with my friends. I don’t want to close my relationship off completely from the outside world or pretend like we’re some ideal couple who never struggles. So with my friends, when we get to our second or third glass of wine and relationships come up, I tend to share the things that are in our past. The things we struggled with that are no longer raw.

I find that I can talk about things much more openly once I have a bit more distance and perspective. And even if this sharing doesn’t happen when I’m knee-deep in the issue, it still often helps me get a new perspective and probably face it better next time (marriage is long after all). And with my friends, it helps all of us see that these struggles happen and that working on it is worthwhile.

Reply

Sharon says:
Feb 21, 2012 1:48 pm

Ahhh! So much food for thought here. Some instant reactions on reading the post and comments…

I firmly believe that marriage is as much a community endeavor as it is an individual one, and as such am a big proponent of sharing in the name of asking for/giving advice, setting and receiving good examples, etc. BUT. Jason and I still have rules. Like several commenters mentioned above, a big one is not undermining each other in public, since a) AWKWARD for everyone involved and b) unfair to the other person because there’s no way of actually working through the real issue in that kind of venue. Another is to involve as few people as possible in actual fights as they are happening. Sharing about how we worked things out afterward? Great! Welcome to all and sundry. But in the midst of the conflict, we check in with each other first about whether or not we feel we need an outside perspective and to whom we are going for that perspective. (I also have the personal rule of not venting when I go for that help but trying to present both sides fairly and to actually *listen* to the advice given, since I know I’m less generous than Jason is in this regard.) I’ve noticed that the longer we’ve been married, the easier it is for us to handle conflicts on our own. NOT in an “OMG, we have to keep this private from other people way” but rather just that we’re quicker to see each other’s perspectives and to make up if there’s conflict. In general, we tend to take the approach of “Is this beneficial to share?” For example. if we’re talking to a newlywed couple having trouble with physical intimacy, we’ll probably share about early painful intercourse and what we learned to do about it/what we learned from it, in the hopes of being helpful. But I would be SUPER uncomfortable if Jason engaged in some sort of high school locker room brag-talk with his guy friends about what we do in bed… that’s just… ew, no. We also try to avoid “Is it normal to…” conversations since every relationship is unique; what does it matter how we divide up our household chores if something different works for you, etc.

I don’t think I agree that it’s necessary to share *everything* with certain friends in order to get an objective view on your own relationship. In my experience, when my girlfriends have been in bad relationships, it tended to be pretty obvious to the rest of our circle. Whether or not we’d speak up was another kettle of fish, but most of the time what clued us in wasn’t because the person in question was telling us everything but because of other cues – i.e. dropping off the face of the planet to be with this guy, codependency, offhand comments, etc. So I don’t know… something about being motivated to share *because* of fear of losing perspective and ending up in a bad relationship strikes me as… maybe not quite right?

Trust is vital, which you touched on. Both trust in your spouse’s discretion and in the friends you confide in. There are definitely people in our life who we have no problem going to, with either problems or triumphs, because we know they have not only our backs as individuals but also support our marriage with every fiber of their being. I remember a piece of advice that a wise older woman gave me when Jason and I first started dating, which was – “Cultivate friendships with people who will support you as a couple.” Which isn’t to say make friends with a bunch of yes-people, since support can sometimes mean a healthy rebuke if our friends see us acting poorly toward each other. But through the years I’ve found that the friends who welcomed our marriage with glad hearts and open arms (vs. feeling like it created a barrier, feeling jealous, etc.) are now the ones we consider to be our closest friends and the ones we can trust with our marital issues.

Reply

liz says:
Feb 21, 2012 2:01 pm

Hm, yeah. You touch on something I’ve been struggling to put into words and it’s clear I still haven’t managed to.

I don’t fear that our relationship is going to one day grow unhealthy. It’s the mindset itself- “everything must stay private!”- that I think breeds unhealthy perspective and lacking objectivity.

It’s not that I NEED to tell someone ALL of the messy interworkings of our marriage (we actually share very little, in reality). The simple fact that we both know the outlet is there if it’s needed is enough. We’ve both agreed to allowing the other to share anything and everything at all with these select friends, but haven’t really need to take one another up on it much. Just knowing that the agreement is in place is huge.

I know I can turn to a close friend for advice about my sex life without feeling like I’ve betrayed Josh. We’ve both agreed to that. Whether or not I actually need to is another issue altogether, but it’s nice to know the outlet is there if I ever do need it. I feel concerned for friends who don’t have that avenue.

Reply

Sharon says:
Feb 21, 2012 3:21 pm

Ah yes, totally agree. Having people to go to because you know your community can hold your marriage up is a vastly different thing than feeling like everything must be kept private (whether because fear or otherwise).

Reply

Mariela says:
Feb 21, 2012 8:48 pm

I believe in this and want to be able to do this, badly!

As a young woman in a serious and committed relationship, I find myself lost in a sea of immature friends who are still dating and couldn’t imagine why anyone would make the choice to get engaged at this age (22.)

How do you find the *select friend* who you can come to???

Reply

ceebee says:
Feb 21, 2012 11:32 pm

Part of having a wedding to kick off marriage is to make some part of that private partnership public, so that we will not only have the other as accountability partners but have the whole community to uphold and be upheld.

Reply

Jo says:
Feb 25, 2012 12:42 pm

FIVE GOLD STARS to this post.

Reply

Siobhan says:
Feb 26, 2012 1:57 pm

This post and the other one, and all the comments give a me a lot to think about – thank-you!

Reply

Leave a Comment

Your Comments | Add a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: