Let Freedom Ring Within Relational Boundaries

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?

15 Comments

  1. Missy on July 5, 2023 at 10:28 am

    This is so brilliant! It’s very difficult to accept and live this reality when in a disappointing relationship, yet it provides so much maturity, freedom and TRUTH. Keep sharing – this is wonderful!

    • Susan K on July 5, 2023 at 10:37 am

      Thank you, Missy!

  2. Hope on July 5, 2023 at 11:28 am

    Such wonderful, life-giving advice! Thank you. I’d add a point of balance to the last paragraph. Once “you can begin to accept what is” and “free yourself to find what you need in other ways” it may not be enough to cultivate healthy family and friend relationships. Detaching from the outcome you want in the marriage is a good safeguard. But the chronic ongoing damage in the marriage may be enough that you simply can’t stay well within it–no matter how hard you try. or how much support you get. You simply can’t protect yourself , repair or heal as quickly as you’re being worn down. Sadly, then you may need to continue staying as well as you can while also preparing to leave well. This was a very hard reality for me to accept and took me years. But God is SO faithful and has given me great peace.

    • JoAnn on July 5, 2023 at 2:10 pm

      Hope, you said so clearly just what I was thinking. “A slap in the face” though not literal, sure feels abusive. So, accepting the limits of what you can expect to accomplish, and attempting to “stay well” in that environment may still prove to be too hurtful or damaging than she can tolerate. Meanwhile, he has a cook, a maid, and an occasional bed partner while doing nothing to compensate her for providing for his needs. By all means, set boundaries for what you will tolerate, but perhaps also secretly plan to leave well if some changes on your part only makes things worse.

    • Susan K on July 5, 2023 at 4:21 pm

      Thank you, Hope! That is correct, sometimes it is not possible to stay well. It is wise advise to rely on God’s leading; He is faithful to help with those difficult decisions.

    • Donna on July 6, 2023 at 8:34 am

      This is such a great response Hope! I left my destructive marriage before I found Leslie Vernick and her wonderful coaches. Reading this post is so reassuring to me as I certainly wasn’t staying well in my 20 years of marriage. I did the right thing fleeing and getting safe with my son but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time. I know of a few ladies in destructive and destructive relationships in my life now and I just pray they can apply this wonderful wisdom of detachment (if possible) in order to stay well or make a plan and leave well.

    • SaraClarkson on July 9, 2023 at 8:10 am

      Agreed, Hope. To me this article felt like it was advising: “lower your expectations, accept what is and bear it…then find other people who are safe.”
      Hard “no”s to a spouse’s request to be heard sounds destructive and unsustainable. Leaving well or leaving to get well might be a more realistic plan.

      • Susan K on July 10, 2023 at 4:33 pm

        For her own sake, I would advise changing her expectation to what is realistic given the pattern of her husband’s behavior and accepting the truth of what is, as well as building relationships with safe people. That does not mean that she will like it, but doing those things alone may change the intensity of her feelings. If there is neglect going on in the relationship, the couple may be able to live like roommates each doing their part. However, they will not have a deep intimate relationship if basic needs are being neglected. She was not specific about what she NEEDS from her husband, but it seems to have proven fruitless to fight about it. Ultimately, it is between her and God if she needs to leave in order to be well. Facing the truth may bring her down the path of leaving.

  3. Ann on July 6, 2023 at 9:07 am

    I have detached for about 2 years now and turned to my girlfriends, support groups and a counselor for relief and connection. My husband is telling me the people I am surrounding myself with are all negative to our marriage. He has admitted to eavesdropping on some of my phone conversations and has heard me talk to my friends about my hurts and frustrations. I asked him if he was saying that I need to stop my friendships, Coda group and counselor and he didn’t say yes, he just kept saying they are negative to our marriage. I’m not sure what I am supposed to do with that.

    • Leslie Vernick on July 8, 2023 at 2:16 pm

      Ann, they may be negative to the type of marriage you currently experience. It seems that you also are negative to the type of marriage you are currently in. So what instead of arguing or defending your friends aren’t negative, what if you said to him, ‘you’re right, they don’t want me to live like this nor do I but you have been unwilling to change. For me our marriage is xyz…so yes, I feel that is destructive, unhealthy and toxic to me. I’m glad my friends support me. If at some point you’re interested or willing to discuss creating a relationship that is good for both of us, I’m open (Only if you truly are open), but until then, it’s true, they are negative on the type of marriage we have, and I agree with them.” I wonder what his response would be – and if you fear any dangerous response, of course, don’t say it. But I only chime in here because sometimes a husband may utter something pretty true, and we’re afraid to stick up for the truth – yes it is negative because our marriage is negative, at least towards me.

  4. Sara Rapp on July 6, 2023 at 10:17 am

    Thank you so much. This clarifies things for me.

  5. Leonette on July 6, 2023 at 12:25 pm

    I too have been in this same situation. I was married 26 years to a man who was unwilling to change. I was the one making sure to change and be what he wanted. I too shrank back and kept quiet in order to “keep the peace.” But in all actuality, I was enabling him by not holding him accountable for his actions and behaviors within our marriage. In return, I became bitter and resentful of him. And God showed me that I had developed unforgiveness for him, as a result. I told the Lord that I was willing to remain in my marriage and be miserable for the rest of my life if it meant keeping my marriage. The Lord told me that He never intended for me to live that way and He sent His Son to die so I could have abundant life, and that was not it. I wanted my marriage more than I wanted to stay healthy and alive. That’s not healthy. Gos had to open my eyes and show me that unfortunately no matter how much praying, fasting, counseling (we went on three different occasions-at my request), if a person is not willing to change, not even God can or will change them. Because we have to be willing and submissive to God’s will for our lives. He won’t force us. In the end, I divorced and walked away. Knowing that I gave all that I could. But God showed me that I was either going to stay and die (emotionally, spiritually…it was already happening, and physically eventually) because of the chronic stress I was under. It was already taking a toll ( high blood pressure, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression). I will be praying that God shows you your way out. Whether that’s to stay and build healthy boundaries and nurture relationships that celebrate you. Or leave and begin to heal outside of a toxic atmosphere. I am praying your strength in the Lord to move in whatever direction you choose that is best for you.

  6. Stephanie on July 11, 2023 at 3:46 pm

    I am not sure you have really detached if you are asking him to meet your emotional needs. I am also trying to detach yet every now and then letting my guard down and asking him to meet an emotional need or have a basic conversation about something. For us, the truth is we cannot have simple conversations without it ending poorly. I am learning we can only talk about the weather, who fed the dog, etc and I need to live my life apart from ANY expectations from him if I am to truly detach and stay well. Leslie’s teachings are so helpful … she says staying well may look more like a ministry (not necessarily ministry to him) than a marriage. This will take reframing my old thoughts and is still so hard for me. Even though I now know I do not need him to be okay and we may never really enjoy each other as a couple, I still want to be married. I think we all must give ourselves grace because it takes time to reframe our thinking and retrain our brains from what we have been hoping and trying for so long. It is not easy deciding if it is better to keep practicing staying well or to prepare to leave well. I have not ever made many of my own decisions and am still in the space of growing strong enough to make this one. You are not alone.

  7. Kay Cacchione on July 25, 2023 at 3:41 pm

    Thank you Stephanie for your advice. I am beginning to learn so much about detachment and self care. I am taking a bold posture and drawing boundaries for myself. They are mostly ignored and violated. When I confront him (which is fearful for me) he gets angry, gaslights. deflects, says I’m the problem. I often get confused and take his mean words to heart. Of course that leads to a spiraling for me to helplessness and fear. I am choosing to develop my core strengths and avoiding my tendency to JADE! I have a long way to go but I will press forward to see a better me. I am determined not to stay the same. Self care is not selfish! I believe that now. I’m ready and passionate to change the way I show up in conversation with my husband. IUnfortunately I don’t think he likes a different me. I am keeping my brave on and willing to trust God with this. I am so thankful for all of you! Thank you Leslie, LeeAnn, Susan Jen and Elise. You are my lifeline! God is for me always! My faithful one.

  8. Blaise on July 25, 2023 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Saints,
    My first question is…
    is your husband in Christ?
    Secondly are you in Christ?
    Pardon my question, I don’t like to assume, we have to think from the beginning. As followers of Christ we have to set our views/motives or desires from the place of God’s word or character, so are your views in that marriage or desires align with God’s word? Is your husband’s personality and responds build on the reflection of God’s word or will, if not then that’s where the might be a problem, the Holy spirit lives on everyone who is in Christ and if we are united in His image and likeness then He is able to align and gracefully bring two in Him in one accord, remember Jesus addressing divorce revealed due to the hardness of man’s heart moses said divorce was okay but in the beginning it was not so, implying if your husband is in Christ let your views be build on God’s word and speak on that basis so he reads and sees things from the place of God’s word also addressing his lack of realizing he might be acting or living contrary to the faith dependent on the word, because if he abides in Christ the word is able to align him on accordance to your views that reflect God’s word, we can’t be united in Him and as one act in opposition to His word and have peace for the Spirit of God is always available to bring us into the place of walking in one accord according to His will for that marriage align to His word and purpose for you both as one in Him. Marriage is not about a man and a woman as the priority is about a man and a woman as one walking together to fulfill their purpose in accord to God’s will for their lives which is always in sync in accordance to God’s word or will for your lives. Both parties are obedient to His will and due to that foundation in Christ must be built in one accord and serve one another on one accord, the man is obligated to satisfy and serve you in alignment to the word of God and so is the woman obligated to satisfy and serve the man in alignment to God’s word which is where unity and together strengthen and made close to the perfect image of God’s glorious purpose for marriage. To remove and word as a compass and prior purpose of unity and perfection of a marriage union is a failure in the first place, for without the word as our guide and center of all we build we are failures except by the word are we able to prevail. I suggest this might help to check the foundation and see if you are building with the right understanding of God’s word, and your prayers as well are to be in same accord to the word, everything about your approach, and follow up to grasp together and live in is to be in accordance to God’s Character as revealed by the word for in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God, and He who abides in the word abides in perfect love. Thanks for reading and for this blessed opportunity to have me share the Father’s knowledge. Read 1 Corinthians 13 to expatriate on God’s kind of love expected of us, for if we can’t define love from God’s view how can we live in it?

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