How to Set Loving Boundaries in a Difficult Marriage

How to Be a Loving Wife in a Difficult Marriage at sarahgeringer.com

Welcome to part three of my marriage series, titled How to Be a Loving Wife in a Difficult Marriage. I’m sharing four different ways to put love into action in a difficult marriage. Today’s topic is How to Set Loving Boundaries in a Difficult Marriage.

Use God’s Word to Set Boundaries

For the first seven years of our marriage, I was a doormat. I didn’t set necessary boundaries, and our marriage suffered because of it. In 2007, I read the book Boundaries for the first time. No other book beside the Bible has changed my life so completely. I drank in that book like water and God began to transform me from the inside out.

How the book Boundaries changed my life and my marriage. Click To Tweet

Before I read the book, I thought saying “no” was almost as bad as sinning. I thought “no” was unloving and disrespectful. That’s a common attitude among people-pleasers like me.

My attitude changed as Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend began showing me how Jesus lived with boundaries. I knew Jesus to be without sin. Until then, I didn’t realize Jesus was fine with saying “no” in loving ways. In fact, He specifically recommended it.

I had heard this scripture many times, but I hadn’t seen it through the lens of boundary-setting until I read it in the book:

All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

Matthew 5:37 NIV

I learned that my Yes sounded like Yes when I felt like saying No, and my No came out sounding like Yes. My dishonest, people-pleasing words opened the door to constant damage in my marriage. 

I had to learn to put what Jesus said into action, which is the essence of setting boundaries. The Boundaries book is grounded in God’s Word and gives many examples of Jesus’ boundaries, so I learned to set boundaries based on what God said, not only on what Christian counselors said.

Setting Loving Boundaries

I also had to learn to set loving boundaries. By not setting boundaries, I wasn’t loving myself as the Bible tells us to do. I was “loving” others without loving myself–those two elements must go together. People-pleasers often don’t value themselves, and God had to teach me to value myself enough to set boundaries in my marriage.

Setting loving boundaries is possible when you follow Jesus' example. Click To Tweet

I learned too that setting boundaries wasn’t mean–it was actually showing love to my husband, even if he didn’t see it that way. Our children were young at that time. I thought about it this way: If I don’t warn my son to stay away from our pond, he could drown. That would be unloving–it would be forsaking my God-given duties to let him play wherever he wanted without supervision. I was unloving when I let my husband do whatever he pleased with no consequences for damaging behavior.

Even though my relationship to my husband was obviously different than my relationship to my children, I still needed to set boundaries against dangerous and destructive behaviors. I had to see the boundaries as loving and kind, even when I faced resistance.

Get Support to Set Boundaries

After years of no boundaries in our marriage, I began to set one boundary at a time. I faced fierce resistance, just as the book said I would. Dr. Cloud and Townsend recommended getting counseling and small group support because the resistance would tempt me to back down.

The resistance felt painful and unloving, and I relied heavily on my support network to keep moving forward. After several years of standing by the boundaries God led me to set, I was still facing active resistance from my husband. But I was much stronger and no longer a people-pleaser. I was living to please God instead, and I was loving myself for the first time in my life.

How to Set Loving Boundaries in a Difficult Marriage

The boundaries ultimately led us to a brief separation. But they also eventually healed our marriage and put us on a healthier track. I am thankful that God showed me the power of boundaries at just the right time in our difficult marriage. Boundaries are crucial for anyone else who feel stuck in a difficult marriage. They give life, hope, and new direction to a challenging situation.

But boundaries simply cannot be set in isolation. If you have faced years of abuse or damage in your relationship, resistance is sure to roar in your face with the first boundary you set and discourage you unless you have help. Make sure you develop a strong relationship with God first, and rally a group of godly supporters who you can call when you’re feeling weak. They will encourage you to stand strong and follow a healthy, God-pleasing path.

Use Christian Books to Set Boundaries

I’ve already mentioned how much the book Boundaries has helped me. These books also worked great change in our marriage, and I recommend each one to you if you are in a difficult marriage.

 Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend

Boundaries in Marriage

The Boundaries book is a wonderful resource for general boundary setting. Boundaries in Marriage provides specific advice and help for boundary-setting within your marriage. I enjoyed the various scenarios described in the book, and I turned to it again and again in moments of weakness. I still use it when I need a dose of strength and encouragement.

Love Must Be Tough by Dr. James Dobson

Love Must Be Tough: New Hope for Marriages in Crisis

Dr. James Dobson’s teachings have had a profound influence on my faith. This invaluable book is a treasure for those in the most difficult marriages. During our separation, this book was a lifeline for me. It gave me courage and strength to set firm boundaries that still stand in our marriage.

I Don't Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage

I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90 Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage

This book literally laid the framework for our separation. I didn’t order it until the separation had begun, and at the time I felt at a loss for how to proceed, not knowing if our marriage would survive. Dr. David Clarke lays out a tough-as-steel approach that some may find controversial. But I am living proof that it works. I am certain our marriage would have been over if God hadn’t given me this book at just the right time. It helped me defend necessary boundaries so our marriage could be mended, which would not have been possible had I not carefully followed the principles in this book. If your marriage is in crisis, this book just might save it, like it did for us.

Three Christian books to help you set loving boundaries in marriage. Click To Tweet

Bonus link: My blogging friend and Christian therapist Melissa Gendreau recently wrote an excellent post on setting boundaries in marriage. I encourage you to visit her site for more helpful information.

The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

Bonus Book Review: The Masterpiece

I recently read this excellent novel about a troubled relationship, and it gave me unexpected insight into my difficult marriage. I hope it will inspire you as well. Here’s my review of this wonderful book.

This is my new favorite Francine Rivers book, and I’ve been a huge fan for a long time. Like the best books and movies I’ve ever read, the scenes and themes of this book are still playing in my mind, days after I’ve finished it. This book moved me deeply and spoke hope into my heart.

Francine could have easily drawn her character descriptions from my life and my husband’s life. We both endured childhood trauma that still affects us as adults. Our relationship has suffered because of it, just like Roman and Grace suffered individually and together. It was interesting to see new glimpses into our own story through the story of these two characters.

The Masterpiece: how God makes troubled relationships into works of art. Click To Tweet

I enjoyed the slow unfolding of the mysteries, which kept me hooked. The secondary characters like Jasper and Shanice are also well-developed, and I liked the side stories too. The characters are real-to-life but painted with respectful language, something I always appreciate in Francine’s writing.

The most powerful and riveting scenes in the book were the ones about the spiritual world. Spiritual warfare is not often described in Christian fiction, and when it is it can be unbiblical. I truly appreciated Francine’s commitment to depict those scenes with care and a faithful interpretation of the Bible. These scenes have given me new hope for my marriage and motivated me to pray differently than I have been doing.

I read over 100 books every year. Even though 2018 just started, I’m positive The Masterpiece will be my favorite book for the year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Your Boundary Reset

Setting boundaries requires a lot of courage. I understand how hard it can be if you have acted like a doormat for a long time. But change is possible with God’s help. He can breathe new life into your marriage with new boundaries.

This powerful scripture encourages me when I’m feeling weak and afraid:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV

Repeat that scripture aloud when you are feeling discouraged, friend. God will help you set loving boundaries in your difficult marriage, just as He helped me!

Please join me next time for a discussion on choosing wise battles in a difficult marriage.

Hope for the Unequally Yoked Marriage at sarahgeringer.com

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Questions for you:

Do you know someone who may benefit from this series? Will you share it with them today?

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