Thanks for your prayers. I have definitely needed them. Time is going by so quickly this month. I’m making some headway but still have a lot to go. Pray I can focus, focus, focus, this week especially. We are heading to San Diego on Saturday for a week’s vacation, taking our granddaughters, so there won’t be much work time there.
Question: My husband does not treat me like an equal but like a child to be taught, controlled, and scolded. Today he handed me a $50 bill and told me to be sure I see it as $50 and not a $20. He tells me how to drive and where to park. We always go by his timetable. How do I set boundaries?
Answer: You asked a perfect question but I fear you may be misunderstanding the whole concept of boundaries. When you set a boundary or have a boundary, it’s not about another person; it’s on you.
Let me explain a bit more. A boundary is a way of establishing identity or ownership so that you can steward your resources responsibly. It helps us know and separate what I am responsible for and what someone else is responsible for. For example, Arizona is responsible for Arizona, and California is responsible for California. Although there is not a physical barrier between the states, there is a property line that defines which side is Arizona and which side is California.
Each state is responsible for its own school system, its own roads, its government, etc. Arizona may help out California if California requests it, but Arizona is not responsible for California. In the same way, Arizona can’t set a boundary on California residents, or what their government should be doing, or on their policies or laws. That’s California’s responsibility, not Arizona’s responsibility.
In a marriage, you are responsible for you, your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions, and your husband is likewise responsible for his thoughts, his feelings, and his actions.
You are responsible to each other in a marriage but not for each other. >> Click To Tweet<<
So here is your dilemma. Your husband does not treat you like an equal partner in your marriage but rather like a child. He tells you what you can spend, how you can drive, where you can park and you said, “we always go by his timetable.”
How long has this been going on? You see, as someone said in the comments last week, we teach someone how to treat us. Have you enabled your husband to see and treat you like a child for your whole marriage? For example, you said, “We always go by his timetable.” How come? Have you ever said, “No, I don’t want to do it that way?”
Have you ever asserted yourself as an adult and said “This doesn’t work for me” or “I don't need you to tell me how to drive or park, I’ve been doing it just fine for 25 years.” Have you been employed and made your own money so that you are not as dependent on him giving you money for your expenses?
You didn’t mention how long you were married, but for those reading this blog, if you are a newlywed and this is happening, I strongly encourage you to try to change the dynamics now. The longer you “allow it” the longer it becomes “how things are” and then when you get sick of it and try to change, you’ve got a long precedent of your passivity to overcome.
Here are two approaches: Both involve setting some boundaries for yourself, not for him.
- The soft approach: This works best when you have been passive for a long time and allowed yourself to be treated as a child and controlled. You are going to speak up for yourself but instead of addressing his controlling tendencies, you are going to address your passivity and dependency. This will make him feel less defensive which will give you a better opportunity to be heard.
Here is an example of what you can say. “I want to talk with you about a problem I’m having. When would be a good time?” When you state it this way, he is likely to be more open to hearing about your problem, then if you said, “I want to talk with you about a problem you’re having. When is a good time?”
Asking for the time is helpful because, first you are treating him as an adult with respect, which is how you want to be treated. Second, this is a really important conversation so you want to maximize the chance that it will be a productive one. If you catch him when he’s not ready to listen, or when he’s tired or hungry or distracted, you may not get the same results.
Begin by saying, “I’ve noticed that I’ve been pretty passive our entire marriage. I’ve allowed myself to become more and more dependent on you, so much that I even let you tell me where to park as if I can’t make up my own mind on that simple decision. I don’t like that and I think I need to make some changes for my own welfare. Someday I may be all alone and I need to learn how to do things on my own, make my own decisions about certain things and even learn how to make and handle our money. It would be very helpful to me if you just let me flounder a little bit until I get the hang of being more of an adult here. For example, if I’m driving, or need to find a parking spot, let me figure it out. I’d like to have a monthly budget for our household expenses that I manage and spend for our groceries, gas, etc.”
You didn’t give me enough details to help you more specifically with the wording here but I think you get the idea. You are now softly asserting yourself with him by telling him that you no longer are going to function like a child and would like him to be supportive of your new goals. But then your next step is that you are going to have to act like it. That means addressing anything that has kept you childlike in this relationship. It means that when he tries to be the parent and treat you like the child, you will again remind him that your goal is to not be so passive, so you will say to him, “thank you but I don’t need your input on this.”
Your boundaries are “I will decide for me” and “You can decide for you” and “I won’t let you decide for me because I need to decide for me.” Do you see how different that is versus saying “You can’t decide for me.” He most certainly can, however, it is only effective if you give him that power. If he decides and you don’t give him that power it’s meaningless.
Now I imagine that he won’t like these changes and will give you some grief as you assert yourself. However, if you are resolved to function like an adult – and not a little child or an angry rebellious child, I think you can handle yourself just fine by saying, “I know you’re used to making these decisions for me but I will decide for myself from now on.” Repeat that as often as you need to and do not allow him to make a decision for you.
If he escalates into any abusive behavior your next boundary would be, “I won’t allow myself to be treated that way” and either leave the room, leave the house, or if necessary call the police. You are taking responsibility for you, your body, your thoughts, your feelings and your actions and you are protecting you. That is a boundary. You are being responsible for stewarding you, you are not trying to control him.
2. The second approach would be firmer if you have already tried approach #1 and have gotten nowhere and he is escalating verbally with more threats or more control. Here’s what you might say…
“I would prefer to work this out as two adults. But I will not allow myself to be treated like a 7-year-old anymore. I am XYZ years old and I need to be treated like an adult. If you are not capable of treating me like a grown up or are not willing to do so, then I will have to consult with a lawyer to see what my legal rights are. (I would suggest you have already done this ahead of time and if so, you would say) “I have consulted with an attorney and in this state, I am legally your partner, entitled to 50 % of all marital assets. I am not your child or your slave. If you’d like this marriage to continue, then I expect to be treated like an adult.”
You also may decide to get your own job to have some financial independence. These are big changes for him but also for you. So before you declare your adulthood, make sure you are prepared to function like one, in strength and dignity, like the women in Proverbs 31 who then can smile at the future unafraid.
Friend, when you woke up and realized that you didn’t like being treated like a child, what steps did you take to assert yourself?