How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Marriage (Part 2)

3. Use “If…Then” Statements to Create Them

 So what does a boundary look like and how do you create one? Here’s an example:

  • If my spouse starts to lose his temper and begins to lash out, then I will, verbalizing a time-out, leave his presence and choose not to engage until he cools down.
  • If my spouse does not divulge a relapse in a sexually addictive behavior, then he must sleep on the couch that night.
  • If I feel anxious or worried or intuitive that something is amiss and my spouse is hiding a bad habit (alcoholism, pornography, etc.), then I have the right to confront my spouse about these feelings.

The “if” part indicates what the boundary is or surrounds—not allowing yourself to be around an explosively angry spouse; the “then” part indicates what will happen when that boundary is crossed. The next section discusses these “then” statements (which are also often referred to as consequences) in a little more detail. If you’re still feeling confused and uncertain about how to set boundaries and what a healthy boundary looks like, you’re not alone. Learning how to set boundaries that are effective and good and true is not easy—it takes time, trial, and error, but you will eventually get it right if you keep trying.

 4. Design Appropriate “Consequences” and Follow Through

 It’s important that you create consequences (the “then” part of a boundary statement) along with the boundaries so that if a boundary is crossed, whoever the offender is will know that it’s not okay and that it won’t go unnoticed. Creating appropriate and effective consequences is essential, but not always easy, as it should NOT be a way to punish your spouse, but should be a way of keeping you safe, secure, and at peace. Here are some tips for creating effective consequences:

  • Don’t create them when you’re feeling angry and impulsive
  • Make it realistic and related to the action
  • It should be appropriately severe for the situation
  • It should be something you can enforce every time it happens, because if you don’t, the behavior will continue
  • It should be immediate as possible
  • It should be respectful

Following through with the consequence when a boundary is crossed is absolutely essential. When you enforce the consequence, it not only keeps you from getting hurt over and over, it helps the person who hurt you to come to a self-awareness of his actions over time. Whether he chooses to change based on this self-awareness is up to him, but at least these consequences will help bring clarity to the situation.

 5. Read Books to Learn More About How to Set Boundaries

 Learning how to create, set, and follow through with boundaries and consequences is not easy for those who’ve never done it. Sometimes it’s not even easy for those who have done it before! That’s why continually researching through books, articles, and respected friends and colleagues is critical if you want to establish boundaries that will work in helping you feel safe and protected. As always, practice makes perfect, even when it comes to boundaries.

One example of an excellent book about boundaries is What Can I Do About Me? by Rhyll Croshaw. In this book, the author narrates how she went from being a happily married newlywed to a devastated and crushed wife when she discovered her husband had a sex addiction and had been soliciting prostitutes. She then goes on to explain how setting boundaries and seeking outside help and counseling eventually led to her marriage being saved. It’s a very realistic, yet hopeful book about how, if both partners are willing, a marriage can be saved despite its darkest moments.