Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: boundaries

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    Affair-Proofing Your Marriage

    Eric was married with two children. Life at home was good, and he considered his relationship with his wife to be healthy. They frequently spent time together and intimacy between the two of them was good. He never considered having an affair until he faced a potentially compromising situation with a co-worker.

    “Contrary to popular belief, most people do not set out to have an affair,” says Dr. Shirley Glass, infidelity expert and author of Not "Just Friends": Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. “Eric’s situation is all too common. It is faulty thinking to believe that being attracted to someone else means something is wrong at home. It is possible to be attracted to somebody else, even if you have a good marriage."

    Appropriate Boundaries Are Important

    "The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries," Glass says. "In a culture where men and women are working so closely, you must make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. Especially at a time when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse. One of the most common doorways into an affair is where a man and woman who are ‘just friends’ innocently begin to discuss problems in their primary relationship. They are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to the marriage.”

    According to research, 25 percent of women and 40 percent of men will have an extramarital affair at some point.

    Glass says that openness, honesty and self-disclosure defines intimacy in marriage. Anything that interferes with that creates walls of secrecy and should be a signal of looming danger. For example, meeting the same person every morning for breakfast in a public place without telling your spouse creates a wall of secrecy in your marriage. If you're uncomfortable talking with your spouse about it, that's a warning sign.

    Interestingly, only 10 percent of people who leave a marriage for their affair partner actually end up with them. Many say they wish the affair had never happened and that they had worked on their marriage instead. 

    So, how can you guard against an affair?

    • Establish clear boundaries.
    • Stay connected to each other and keep the lines of communication open.
    • Instead of creating walls of secrecy, talk with your spouse. Eric came home to his wife and told her about what happened with his co-worker. They were able to talk openly about strategies for clearer boundaries. This strengthened their relationship.
    • If you feel attracted to someone else, never let them know.
    • Watch out for outside influences that encourage infidelity. For example, avoid an environment where other people are fooling around. Be on guard at business socials where drinking and dancing happen and spouses aren’t present.
    • If you have experienced infidelity in your marriage, it's possible to survive it and be stronger than before. Unfortunately, it takes time for the wounds of betrayal to heal, and both parties must be willing to work together to move the marriage forward.

    If you are working through infidelity, Glass recommends the following:

    • Stop the affair. The betrayed person cannot begin to heal until the affair is over.
    • Replace deception with honesty. The person who had the affair must agree to be accountable and create a safe and open environment by letting their partner know where they are.  
    • Because someone has violated trust, you must tell the story of the affair. The only way to tear down the wall of deception is to have an open window – no secrets. Usually, partners want all of the details. They need to put all of the missing pieces together and ask questions. The partner who had the affair must be patient, understanding and willing to share information. This is one way to rebuild intimacy.
    • Identify vulnerabilities in your relationship and begin to work on them.
    • Discuss what faithfulness and commitment means to you. Just because a relationship is not sexual does not mean you are not having an emotional affair.
    • Understand that this is a very difficult process and you may need professional help to work through your issues.

    Eric was able to take a potentially harmful situation and turn it into one that fostered more open communication and trust in his marriage. The window of openness and the sharing of uncomfortable situations actually builds a marriage up instead of tearing it down.

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    How to Deal with Meddling Parents

    “We love his parents, but they have a way of creating chaos between the two of us that has gotten to the point that we are seriously considering divorce,” says Karen.

    “I see this scenario in my office frequently,” says psychologist Dr. Susan Hickman. “In most instances, the parents of the now adult child didn’t have good boundaries when they were raising their child. Now that their child is grown and has a family of their own, the parents believe they have the right to be involved at this same level with their grandchildren and the parents.”

    Think helicopter parents who seek to control all aspects of their child’s life. Now fast forward to what this looks like when their child marries and attempts to raise children in a healthy environment.

    “I’m watching what his parents are doing, thinking this is insane,” Karen says. “They have a key to our home and will show up unannounced, which I think is rude. They talk about me to my husband and seem to constantly be trying to pit us against each other. When I tried to talk with my husband about this, he became angry and felt like I was dishonoring his parents.”

    “Being raised in this type of environment is like being emotionally blackmailed,” Hickman says. “The terror you felt as a child who is vulnerable to the parent stays the same over time. As an adult, when you're dealing with your parents you still feel that same terror you felt when you were 4. This is why so many young adults have difficulty breaking free. Only by violating these assumptions can this unhealthy chain be broken.”

    Karen and Bob are struggling with next steps. However, many young adults actually recognize the problem and seek help, which can create even more friction between the couple and parents. And, boundaries and limits often anger parents. Then they can become even more difficult.

    “As adults start breaking free from this toxic family dynamic they should expect resistance from the parents,” Hickman says. “In the process of creating a new dynamic you will probably experience pressure to get back in line. This is a sign that you are moving in the right direction.”

    Here are Hickman's suggestions for breaking free:

    • Set boundaries and stick with them – Your marriage and family are your first priority.

    • Be patient – Things will not change overnight.

    • Learn to disengage – Don’t participate in manipulative behavior. This is not as much about you as you might think.

    • If your parents choose not to have a relationship with you because of the boundaries set, that is their choice. Don’t feel guilty about it.

    • Don’t be afraid to seek help – An objective party who can encourage you and help you keep perspective.

    “Many couples have successfully walked this road and eventually developed a healthy relationship with parents,” Hickman says. “Don’t give up!”

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    4 Steps for Setting Good Boundaries

    Just say the word boundaries and watch what happens to people’s faces. Some immediately become suspicious and negative while others believe they are a good thing. Why does this word elicit such opposing responses?

    “Many people view boundaries as a way to restrain them,” says relationship coach, Dr. David Banks. “They say they want to be free to do whatever, whenever they want to do it. This is not a healthy way of thinking. Living with no boundaries may sound exciting, but it can actually destroy you. The sad thing is, most of the time people don’t experience the negative impact of 'no boundaries' until after the fact, and then it is often too late.”

    For example, take the person whose goal is to make a million dollars in a year. He basically puts his marriage and children on hold while putting his nose to the grindstone to make his million. At year’s end, he realizes he reached his monetary goal, but sacrificed his relationship with his family in the process.

    “Setting boundaries starts early,” Banks says. “As parents, we model this for our children. Consider the fact that when children are born, parents usually place the child between the two of them and the marriage takes a back seat to childrearing. In reality, the child should be positioned in front with the parents standing firmly behind the child. The boundary is set from an early age that you don’t come between mom and dad. As parents, your job is to receive your child, raise your child and release your child.”

    Without firm boundaries in place, life can become chaotic and miserable. If you have never established boundaries, it is never too late to start.

    “Many people are afraid of the backlash of setting boundaries,” Banks shares. “While it is true that things could be a little challenging for a while, keep your eyes on the goal. Ultimately, people are looking for healthy relationships – at work, in their marriage, with their children and in friendships. Healthy boundaries help you establish priorities, manage your time better and have fulfilling relationships with people.

    “When you are spending time with your spouse and your phone rings or your teenager comes in wanting to talk about changing curfew, you see these for what they are – distractions from your priority at the moment. The phone can wait and so can your teen. Boundaries are actually very freeing.”

    Dr. Banks suggests the following steps for setting healthy boundaries:

    • Understand your purpose – Who are you? What is important to you? What are your priorities in life?

    • Focus on yourself, not on others – The only person you can change is you. You can’t control other people’s behavior. If your goal is to stay healthy and connected, boundaries help.

    • Stay strong – If you have operated without boundaries, suddenly putting them in place could initially create chaos in your relationships. Stay the course.

    • Surround yourself with a strong support system – These aren’t necessarily your best friends, but they will speak the truth to you, encourage you, and hold you accountable for the change you seek to create.

    Ultimately, boundaries set the standard for expectations in relationships at home, at work and in the community. They protect you and allow you to function at your highest level of productivity.

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    Resources for Dealing with Porn Addiction

    Perhaps you believe that you or someone you love is addicted to pornography. While the temptation may be great to keep it quiet, there are lots of resources to help with recovery.

    In her book, An Affair of the Mind, Laurie Hall says that, from her experience and research, there is no easy answer. As the spouse of a porn addict, she learned she had to disengage from trying to fix him and, instead, take care of herself.

    “You have to build your own personal foundations under you – boundaries, standards, tolerations and requirements,” says Hall. “It was not an option to tolerate this in my home. I learned that one of the first steps toward recovery, whether you are the person addicted or the spouse, is to seek help from a trained counselor.”

    Hall learned that some counselors empower those dealing with the difficulty of having a spouse who is a sex addict, while others simply don’t understand the nature of sexual addiction.

    “Working with a counselor who doesn’t get it can leave you feeling shredded,” Hall says. “I have hundreds of letters that bear out this point.”

    When looking for a counselor, Hall suggests asking these questions:

    • Where did they get their counseling training?

    • Have they had specific training in dealing with sex addiction? Where? When?

    • What is their approach in dealing with this subject?

    • Does the counselor network with national groups who deal with this subject?

    • How many people have they counseled on this issue?

    After the session, ask yourself:

    • Did the counselor treat me with respect?

    • Does this person view me as a partner in my own healing or as a project?

    • Did the counselor hear me or lecture me?

    • Does the counselor encourage or discount my intuition?

    • Is this person’s belief system compatible with mine?

    • Did I feel safe?

    • Did they offer any resources – books, pamphlets, websites and/or support groups for more information about sexual addiction?

    If you suspect a problem, but aren’t sure, you can take a sex addiction screening test. Dr. Patrick Carnes, an expert on sexual addiction and recovery, developed it, and you can take it online at faithfulandtrue.com under the self-assessment tab.

    If you know you have a porn addiction, Dr. Mark Laaser, author of The Pornography Trap and Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, suggests you begin by admitting the problem. Talk with an accountability partner and seek help. Put blocks on your computer and put the computer in a public place. Be straightforward about what would tempt you. Porn is in the mind of the beholder; certain things are universally considered porn, but other things like catalogs and magazines could be pornographic to an addict.

    “With help from a trained counselor, we are seeing evidence that people can successfully recalibrate their brain,” says Laaser. “By demonstrating sexually pure behavior, you can rewire your brain to be satisfied with sexual purity in your marriage. Though it is not an easy process, there are people who have been successful.”

    You can find additional resources on these websites:

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    7 Tips for Setting Healthy Holiday Boundaries

    Whether it's your first holiday as a married couple or not, it's helpful to have a plan for how you're going to handle the holidays together.

    • Set a specific time to talk about how you want to spend the holidays. Remember that you are on the same team and your spouse is your first priority… not your family.

    • As negotiations proceed, keep in mind that it isn’t your job to please everybody. You may make some decisions that disappoint one family or the other. That’s okay. People will adjust.

    • Before making any decisions, make sure all your options are on the table.

    • Once the decision has been made, each spouse should call their family to pass along the information. Be sure to say, “We have decided that…” instead of, “We can’t be with you Christmas day because he/she wants to be with his/her family." That will do nothing but create problems for you.

    • Avoid committing to any invitations before checking with your spouse, even if you are certain he/she will want to go.

    • Be respectful of each other as you navigate this territory.

    • Finally, entertain the idea of starting your own traditions and consider including the in-laws. 

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    Dealing with Difficult In-Laws

    If you have in-laws who seem cross the line a lot, here are some constructive strategies for dealing with them.

    Don't assume they are intentionally trying to be difficult. In many instances, people think they are being helpful. They don't realize that dropping by unannounced or giving unsolicited marital or parenting advice is not appreciated. Get with your spouse and brainstorm things that your in-laws could do that would be helpful. Then sit down with your in-laws and talk about what you would appreciate them doing. Also discuss things that you would like them to stop.

    What if you believe it is truly unhealthy for your family to be around your in-laws? Your first responsibility is to your spouse and family. If being around your in-laws creates safety issues or requires you to put your family in an unhealthy environment, you'll want to set limits. When you know you'll be with your in-laws, decide as a team how much time you will spend there. Perhaps a code word or signal that the tension is mounting and it is time to wrap up the visit would be helpful.

    Be careful about anticipating how things will be. In many instances, anticipating being around difficult in-laws can increase tension and actually make the situation worse.

    Stand your ground. Many couples experience marital distress because one spouse doesn't want to hurt his/her parents' feelings and doesn't see how them "investing" in the marriage is harmful. If your spouse is uncomfortable with how the in-laws relate to you and your family, it is important to realize that the two of you are a team - not the two of you plus the in-laws.

    Focus on those things over which you have control. You may try to do an extreme makeover on your in-laws' behavior, but in the end you will probably feel frustrated and discouraged. It might be better to focus on your own behavior and the things you do have control over, like:

    • How much time you spend with them

    • Topics that are off limits for discussion

    • How you allow their behavior to impact you

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    9 Warning Signs of Porn Addiction

    How Porn Impacts the Brain warns about some of the dangers of porn addiction.

    There is no question that pornography impacts the brain. Research says it’s more addictive than cocaine and it's a habit harder to break than heroin.

    The U.S. Justice Department believes that 9 out of 10 children see online porn between the ages of 8 and 16. The porn industry preys on young people, understanding the brain’s power and the challenges of forgetting these images once they seem them.

    Many men understand that porn is costing them all they have – in many instances their career and their marriage – but they can’t quit. One man told his counselor he spent $75,000 in one month viewing porn.

    Laurie Hall, author of An Affair of the Mind, found herself married to a porn addict. Like many others, she asked herself a million times, “What did I miss? How could I be so stupid? What is wrong with me?

    “I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” says Hall. “My husband was respected in the community, very intelligent and a hard worker.”

    Their marriage did not survive. Now Hall educates others about the impact of pornography

    “The idea that porn is victimless is a cruel joke,” Hall says. “Forty percent of professional men who are involved with pornography are going to lose their jobs due to their involvement with porn.

    “When you are engaged in fantasy, you lose your ability to connect between action and reaction. You no longer follow cause and effect. The more you fantasize, the more you become disconnected from what I call common sense. It affects your business judgment and it affects your ability to interact properly with other employees. It affects your ability to be intimate with your wife. The reality is most people don’t realize how pornography reaches out and grabs people.”

    While anyone can struggle with porn addiction, the overwhelming majority of porn users are men. These questions can help you identify red flags indicating involvement in this highly addictive activity:

    • Is his body language open and does he respond appropriately to questions? Does your husband look you in the eyes when speaking?

    • One lie often leads to another. People may give very complicated answers or different answers to simple questions than the day before.

    • Does your mate have appropriate boundaries or seem to live in constant drama and chaos? He may ask you to do strange things like videotape or take pictures of yourself getting out of the shower or at intimate moments.

    • Does your spouse excessively use inappropriate sexual humor and innuendos in conversation?

    • Is your spouse preoccupied with sexual behaviors or constantly wanting to push the boundaries and experiment sexually in questionable ways?

    • Does he exhibit inappropriate anger that appears to come from nowhere? For example, if you ask him about household cash flow or what time he will be home, he explodes.

    • Has he lost interest in you sexually or has his demand for sexual activity increased, but he is obviously not engaged emotionally during sex? Sex at this point is not about intimacy, but about control, power and what he can get you to do.

    • Do you seem to constantly have money problems regardless of how much money comes in?

    If you or someone you love is struggling with a pornography addiction, click here to learn about some resources for the battle.

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    5 Ways to Protect Your Marriage

    Vice President Pence has been the subject of many conversations lately regarding his rule about not dining alone with a woman other than his wife. People have varying opinions on the matter. Some think it is a good rule; others say it is archaic.

    Regardless of your opinion, plenty of research indicates that it's worthy of our attention. Noted relationship experts - including psychologist and author, Dr. Shirley Glass, psychiatrist and author Dr. Scott Haltzman, and Dr. Thomas Bradbury, psychologist and principal investigator of the UCLA Marriage and Family Development Study - raise a red flag of warning regarding marriage and opposite-sex friendships.

    In her book, NOT "Just Friends", Glass says that most people don't plan to have an affair. And, it's faulty thinking to believe that attraction to someone else means that something is wrong at home. It IS possible to think someone else is attractive, even if you have a good marriage.

    The single most important protector against an affair is appropriate boundaries. In a culture where men and women work so closely, it’s important to make sure you are not creating opportunities for an affair to occur. This is especially true when you might be vulnerable – like right after a fight with your spouse.

    Many relationship experts understand that one of the most common pathways to an affair is when a man and woman who are “just friends” innocently begin to discuss their marriage problems. In other words, they are doing their marriage work with someone who might not be a friend to their marriage.

    Can opposite-sex friendships exist in marriage? It depends. Many enter marriage with opposite-sex friendships where they describe the person as “like a sister/brother,” yet their spouse seems uncomfortable with the relationship. What do you do with that? This is a question each couple must answer.

    If you haven't talked as a couple about how you can protect your marriage, these guidelines can help inform your discussion:

    • Establish clear boundaries. It creates great guardrails and shows respect for your marriage. Discuss expectations and boundaries in your marriage. You probably believe you would never be weak enough to fall prey to a relationship outside of your marriage. The reality is, few who found themselves there say they were looking for it. A marriage where people believe they are not susceptible is perhaps the most vulnerable.
    • Keep the lines of communication open. Talk with your spouse about how you can avoid creating walls of secrecy between you. How will you make sure you do your marriage work with your spouse? How can you avoid creating unhealthy attachment or dependency on someone else?
    • Be aware, and value your mate's opinion. For example, a couple attended a party where the wife observed another woman flirting with her husband. When they left, the wife told her husband the woman was being flirtatious. With big eyes, he emphatically denied it. But after encountering the woman again, he agreed that she was indeed flirting. He thanked his wife for bringing it to his attention.
    • Recognize the danger zones. Sometimes people can be oblivious to tempting situations. Being on guard in social and business settings where alcohol is present (and spouses are not) may prevent unnecessary drama in your marriage. It's common knowledge that drinking can impair judgment.
    • Intentionally protect and nurture your marriage. Have an open conversation about how behavior impacts your marital health. For example, images of Prince William drinking and dancing with another woman went viral. We don’t know what was really happening, but it left room for questions. Avoiding behaviors that could create suspicion can’t hurt your marriage.

    So, we all know what Mike Pence has chosen to do in an attempt to safeguard his marriage. Perhaps the best thing we can do is focus on what is best for our own marriage. And let's cheer others on to do the same.

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    How Boundaries Can Protect Your Marriage

    Have you “friended” an old flame on Facebook without telling your spouse?

    Once you marry, is it okay to have close friends of the opposite sex?

    If asked to choose between going out with your friends or staying home with your spouse, which would you prefer?

    Do you discuss details about your marriage relationship with your parents?

    How you answer these questions can have a dramatic impact on your current or future marriage relationship.

    Most people are excited about spending the rest of their life with the one they love. However, the journey gets complicated when one person wants to do something or believes they have a right to do something and their spouse doesn’t share that same viewpoint. While the questions would be great discussion topics before you marry, it's probably safe to say that most couples don’t talk about these issues until they hit them square in the face.

    “Social media, friends of the opposite sex and in-laws are part of life,” says Dr. David Banks, relationship coach. “How you handle them can either enhance your marriage relationship or hurt it, which is why boundaries are important. Most people think of boundaries in marriage as bondage. In reality they are the key to keeping your marriage healthy. Think of a four-way stop or a railroad crossing signal. These are in place to protect you from danger.”

    Dr. Banks encourages couples to talk about these issues and to put a plan in place that builds up their marriage.

    “A hot topic for couples is the role that in-laws will play in their marriage so they don’t inadvertently become outlaws,” Banks says. “Some in-laws want to hover and be super-involved in the newlyweds’ lives. This is not appropriate. You can be supportive without interfering with the couple as they learn how to make their relationship work. Couples have to learn how to crawl before they can walk.”

    Other topics you might want to discuss include:

    • How to decline an invitation from the in-laws. Never throw your mate under the bus by saying, "We’re not coming because my wife/husband doesn’t want to come over to your house." Create ground rules that will help you build a healthy relationship with your in-laws. Just because Sunday dinner at your parents' house has been a ritual for years does not mean you have to keep doing that after you marry.
    • The importance of working together as a team. The goal is not what is best for you, but what is best for the team. Is "friending" an old flame really worth the tension it can create in your relationship?
    • How will you be intentional about taking care of your relationship? Avoid talking outside your relationship about things you haven’t talked about together. Discussing marital issues with an opposite-sex co-worker or friend can endanger the health of your marriage.
    • When facing a decision, ask yourself, "Will this be helpful to my marriage?" If the answer is no, don’t do it.

    These may be topics you didn’t discuss prior to marriage. However, there is no better time than the present to do something that will help you tighten the knot.


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    Are Opposite-Sex Friends Okay?

    As people marry later in life, many are bringing long-term opposite-sex friendships into their marriage relationship. While the friendships were great during singlehood, in marriage, these relationships may prove problematic.

    “I think it is okay for married people to have opposite-sex friends,” says Lisa Stewart. “However, I believe out of respect for your spouse that even if you were close friends before the marriage, there ought to be strong boundaries around that relationship.

    “For example, I would not be comfortable with my husband meeting a woman for coffee on a regular basis to talk about what is going on in his life. That is a conversation he ought to be having with me.”

    “It is possible for married people to have healthy opposite-sex friendships,” says Dr. Todd E. Linaman, founder of Relational Advantage. “However, give special consideration to a number of factors that, if ignored, can potentially threaten your marriage.”

    Wondering whether or not a close friendship with someone of the opposite-sex poses a threat to your marriage? If so, Linaman offers 20 questions for you to answer. Here are a few of them:

    • Is your mate unaware of your opposite-sex friendship?
    • Would you behave differently around your friend if your partner were present?
    • Would you feel uncomfortable if your fiancé or spouse had the same quality of friendship with someone of the opposite sex?
    • Do you have a physical and/or emotional attraction to your friend?
    • Do you ever compare your mate to your friend?
    • Have you ever entertained romantic fantasies about your friend?
    • Do you and your friend ever exchange highly personal details about your lives or complain about your relationships to each other?

    “If you answered 'yes' to one or more of the questions above, your opposite-sex friendship may be a real threat to the quality of your marriage,” Linaman says. “It may even be in the best interest of your marriage to either significantly limit or actually end your close friendship.”

    An informal survey shows that both married men and women were uncomfortable with their spouse having close friendships with the opposite sex. Not all opposite-sex friendships are dangerous, but it is important to err on the side of caution. It is helpful to discuss the nature of your friendship on a regular basis with your spouse. If not kept in check, a totally innocent relationship could end up causing unnecessary harm to your marriage.

    “I think it is okay to have friendships with the opposite sex. But I don’t share with other women what I haven’t shared with my wife,” says Will Honeycutt. “I think sometimes it is healthy to get input from another female. But on a regular basis I should not be sharing intimate issues with a woman who is not my wife.”

    Here are Linaman's tips to help you manage opposite-sex friendships so they don't threaten your marriage relationship:

    • Develop and consistently nurture a “best friend” relationship with your mate.
    • Develop and consistently nurture close same-sex friendships.
    • Make sure your spouse knows your friend. Also, be certain your mate is completely comfortable with the type and level of interaction you have with him/her.
    • Honor your spouse’s wishes concerning your friendship – even if it means ending it.
    • Avoid establishing close friendships with opposite-sex singles.
    • Avoid close opposite-sex friendships if you are struggling in your marriage relationship.
    • Address unmet needs and unresolved anger in your marriage with your spouse in an open, honest and timely fashion.

    While opposite-sex friendships do have the potential to create problems in a marriage, these friendships can enhance your relationship with your spouse if appropriate boundaries are in place. 

    Check out this video from JulieB TV for more on opposite-sex friendships!