Hello LV & Co. friends! It is my (Coach Susan) privilege to be writing the blog this week. I am not necessarily a political person; but being an American, it seems appropriate to talk about freedom in July. Our founders fought for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to be protected within the country's boundaries. Boundaries invite freedom to enjoy all that is enriching and to protect from the harm of destruction. Freedom allows for enjoyment and protection; in freedom, we have the ability to have our yes and our no. Have fun and be safe this July!
Today’s Question: I love what you say about freedom, and am learning to come to terms with the idea that in a healthy relationship, everyone can say “no”. As I'm trying to do my own work and take ownership of my part in the deterioration of my marriage, I'm wondering how to change the pattern we've been in regarding this freedom.
The pattern I'm seeing is that in order to keep the peace, I ask as little as possible from my husband. I try to give him his way as much as I possibly can because not doing so causes so much stress, arguments, tension, etc. It makes the relationship feel unsustainable. But when I finally do (after much thought, prayer, strategy, patience, etc.) tell him my deep emotional needs and ask him for a specific way I would like him to try and meet my needs- and he refuses- that “no” feels like a slap in the face.
It's happened many times, but most recently I asked him to be open and receptive to listening to me about what I would love from him in the future, and he said “no” that he didn't even want to hear it. That led to a series of fights ending in my suggesting we separate. It felt like the most basic of requests, so a no just felt like a total disregard for me and our marriage.
I'm trying to stay well, but my question is – how do we break this pattern and both have the freedom to say “no” at any time without constantly fighting? So far I've just detached, but it feels a lot like the same pattern we've been in.
Susan’s Response: Thank you for drawing out this principle of freedom because it is important. However, it is not the only important ingredient in a healthy marriage. You have said you want to change the pattern you’ve been in regarding freedom. Therefore, let’s define freedom a bit and also talk about reciprocity and mutuality, as they all work together in forming a faithful and loving relationship. Along with those, boundaries help to create safety within freedom.
Throughout scripture, God shows us that we are free to love him rather than being forced to do so. He also designed creation and relationships within the structure of boundaries for our enjoyment and our protection. We have the freedom to say yes to relationship with God and His protection and we have the freedom to say no.
In our culture today, we often think of freedom like a hamburger commercial; we believe we are free to have it our way. There is an expectation that there should be no rules, restrictions, or boundaries with freedom. We are not entitled to a yes from others so we can have it our way. That is not true freedom.
Freedom in marriage means the ability to express one’s thoughts, feelings, and needs without fear, as well as the freedom to respectfully challenge someone’s behavior or ideas without retaliation or harm. I would question whether or not this pattern you are experiencing actually includes freedom. It sounds like your marriage may be missing other important components as well.
Mutuality in a relationship indicates both individuals contribute specific qualities essential for the care, maintenance, and repair of the relationship. Some of these are honesty, safety, caring, respect, responsibility, and repentance. In marriage, both individuals make efforts to grow and change for the welfare of the other and the preservation of their relationship. It does not sound like this is happening for you.
Reciprocity means that both people in the relationship give and both people in the relationship receive. Power and responsibility are shared and there is not a double standard where one person gets all the benefits while the other person sacrificially does most of the work. It sounds like you are trying at great lengths to meet his needs and many of your own are being left unmet.
When your husband does not get his way, how does he react? Since you are saying the stress in the relationship doesn’t feel sustainable, I will assume that you mean what is going on is more than basic disagreements and disappointments. If you are not able to use your voice in the relationship to speak up for yourself without threats, gaslighting, blame, name-calling, or being yelled at, you are not living in freedom in this relationship. Perhaps you are being bullied to give in. At the very least, it seems you are staying quiet in order to create a false sense of peace.
You stated that when you told him what you would love from him in the future, his “no” felt like a slap in the face. I would ask you to consider whether his “no” causes destruction to you or causes a feeling of disappointment within you. A slap in the face is abusive but saying “no” is not necessarily abusive. Is your husband’s “no” a way to neglect your basic needs like safety, belonging, food, clothing or shelter? Maybe he is saying “no” when you ask him to stay sober, be faithful, or communicate honestly. Or maybe he is saying “no” to giving you recognition, planning date nights, giving more cuddles, buying you jewelry, washing his dishes, or other things that would speak your love language? You will have some degree of discomfort with any of these scenarios. However, this is an important distinction so you can align the intensity of your feelings to the facts and best decide how to help yourself. We can easily tell ourselves that having our needs rejected means destruction to our sense of self, but with proper boundaries, destruction of self does not have to be the outcome. Additionally, if you are truly unsafe, I want to encourage you to make sure your safety and basic needs are being met the best you are able.
It is reasonable to want to share deep emotional needs with your husband. As you allow him access to the depths of your soul, how responsibly is he handling that information? It doesn’t sound like he is open or receptive to even listening to you about your needs. Therefore, your desires may not be realistic given what you have shared. For now, you might consider establishing some boundaries by lessening the degree of closeness you allow. Try setting your expectations and energy to what is realistic given his current pattern of relational engagement and responsibility.
If you are still engaging in arguments in order to get him to change, understand, or see things your way, you have not been detaching well. Detaching doesn’t mean placating your husband or becoming cold toward him. It means detaching from the outcome you want in the marriage by accepting what is true and acknowledging what is out of your control.
Lastly, to answer your question, you can break the current pattern by stepping out of the cycle yourself. When you stop trying to convince your husband to give you the answer you want or to become the man you want him to be, you can begin to accept what is. By acknowledging what is true, you can free yourself to find what you need in other ways. Maybe that means spending more time and energy with family or girlfriends who are interested in cultivating relationships based on mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom.
Once you accept the truth, the truth can set you free. Be Well!
Beloved reader, how do boundaries in your relationships help you to create safety and freedom?
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