So on part 1 I went into a little detail on the struggles of marriage and what has been a good strategy for us to keep up our connection and protect our relationship. Please read that first to get some context/back story for this if you have time!
One thing we worked on and actually stuck from our pre-marital counseling was setting boundaries for our marriage. This was a crucial step for us and has been something we have used as a line in the sand on certain issues and as continual struggles come up, we can usually identify a boundary that needs to be set there. I like two of the webster definitions on boundary: a point of limit that indicates where two things become different; unofficial rules about what should not be done: a limit that defines acceptable behavior.
Now we didn't want our marriage to get bogged down with silly rules like don't leave the toilet seat down or always put your dish in the dishwasher. These are unrealistic and aren't of the highest priority for us so it didn't make sense to basically dumb down the seriousness of a boundary in our marriage.
We boiled it down to a few areas:
Fighting Fair- we realized we had to set some boundaries there or trust/security in our marriage will crumble really quickly as the gloves come off during a fight. We together sat down and worked on a list of non-negotionables in a fight. As Andy Stanley says, a guardrail on the high way is not something you ride your car up against and get as close to as possible, just the opposite, it is there in sight as a boundary that you want to keep your distance from. So just because we set these boundaries doesn't mean we want to always get as close as possible to them, these are something we have agreed we will not go near, even when joking.
2. Don't get physical- this includes grabbing, hitting, pushing, slamming doors, etc. This is a non-negotionable for us as well. We both agreed and have full understanding this is something we will stay far away from in our marriage.
Some notes from a sermon at church I jotted down on fighting fair (summitrdu.com):
A. Overlook what you can (Prov 19:11, Prov 12:16) This does not apply to things that do lasting damage (abuse, etc) and Grace filled speech doesn't mean you always keep your mouth shut. Eph 4:25 But always speak when it is in the best interest of the person or your relationship.
B. Examine your own heart- You'll probably find anger, malice, etc. Your reaction in anger can show if Satan has a foothold there. Don't just control your anger, uproot it. It is smoke signals of an idol burning in your heart.
C. Be practical in how you fight- Prov 12:18 Your words should be healing, or for the purpose of moving towards wholeness. Boundarize your fights. Don't fight in the bedroom. Don't fight after 11pm. That is not letting the sun go down on your anger, it is saying we are both tired and nothing kind is coming out of our mouths, lets agree to pause this and punt it to a certain named time tomorrow because we want to finish this well. Sometimes it takes a good 24 hours to separate unrighteous irritation from righteous anger.
D. Be slow to speak and quick to listen- Prov 18:13- The vast majority of communication problems are not expression problems, they're listening problems. Be a servant listener. Seek first to understand and not be understood. Don't interrupt- that is an attitude saying 'my thoughts are more important than yours'. Don't give premature advice, be a companion in pain not a solution to the problem.
E.Seek Resolution not victory- Focus not on self-vindication but on your spouses and your own sanctification. I don't need to defend myself. Jesus has already done that. Let vindication be God's.
F. Believe in God's overriding purposes in your marriage- In seasons of long suffering in marriage remember God has appointed you to be together. God has brought you together to glorify his name and point others to himself. Let that hope pull you through and rest yourself in the promises of God not in the hope that your spouse will change; they may never but He will sustain.
G. Speak Grace Saturated words- No "You" statements, for every negative remark have several positive, no sarcasm or condescending speech, no public confrontations.
H. Truly forgive- Do not get hysterical or historical in an argument. If you are bringing up past arguments that have been resolved it is an indication you didn't truly forgive. You don't have to forget but don't use it as ammunition against your spouse. Forgiveness is never conditional on your spouses repentence. It is between you and God- an overflow of his forgiveness of you.
I. Do all things out of reverence for Christ- This is the only way you will have strength is when the cross gets large in your life. When the cross is small in your life your spouses sins are huge. Do it for Jesus. Maybe this is how God will glorify himself in your marriage. Christ is worthy when your spouse is not. Retribution never changes a heart, only grace. Retribution coerces behavior but grace changes a heart.
**None of this applies to a situation of continual abuse**
1. No alone time with members of opposite sex- this means riding in the car, meeting in a private/date-like place (ie. restaurant, coffee shop etc). With John's work he is around young women a lot. He has made this a line in the sand and it honors me so much and allows me to trust without reservation in this area. His meetings with female managers happen out in the restaurant, he doesn't ride in the car alone with them, nothing happens behind closed doors, etc. This at times has caused awkward situations before and he has had to call me or someone else to ride with him to the airport, meeting etc so that he was not alone in the car with another woman. This allows for no grey areas even if John didn't do anything it allows him to have integrity that no one could even really claim anything happened when it didn't. I heard once that Billy Graham would have someone walk into a hotel room before him to make sure there wasn't a female cleaning person or crazy fan in the room so he didn't have any room for temptation or accusation.
Finances- this is a big area for tension in marriage. It can turn into a blame game really quick here. Finances really points at our heart in a way nothing else does so of course this is an area that a lot of ugliness can come out.
1. No purchases over 500$ without running it by your spouse- you can set the limit for your marriage but this was a good number for us that allowed freedom and not a watchdog mentality on each other but was just a healthy limit for us to include the other person in on bigger decisions. This kept things in the light in this area and allowed us to feel valued and considered in larger financial decisions instead of a fight on the back end.
We have a few other categories and boundaries under them but I hope that it at least gets the discussion started with your spouse of building a hedge of protection around your marriage. We have had to add along the way boundaries when it comes to sex, technology, parenting, etc. Satan wants nothing but to tear our marriages apart. Or even take good things, like kids, jobs, ministry and let them supersede our marriages and subtly let them wither away into a distant connection. We miss the mark a lot. And like I said in part 1 we have even reached out to Christian counselors at certain seasons in our marriage to check-in, get advice, and grow. There is nothing wrong with that and I hate it is a stigma in our culture.
I pray this week you make time to sit down with your spouse and discuss this! We are on our date night coming up this Friday (it is our 10 year anniversary of J asking me to marry him!:). It needs to be a continual check-point for us so we can keep this at the forefront of our relationship! We have to ask Jesus to forgive us daily on the way we mess up and let each other down. I know John cannot fulfill what Jesus is supposed to in my heart. It is usually when those two positions are out of whack when I put unrealistic and stressful expectations on John and our marriage. Leave room for grace. Extend forgiveness. Love out of the overflow of how you have been loved by a big God. And enjoy the ride.