Boundaries in a Healthy Marriage

Survivors of childhood abuse often have trouble establishing healthy boundaries in relationships. I am currently struggling with this in my marriage.

I have been reading about learning to trust, building intimacy, and lots of other abstract terms that seem frustratingly out of my reach.  I want to trust my husband – but I don’t. I trust him more than I used to, but I’m not sure trust can be a percentage and still be called trust. I’m trying to let him in, to tear down my protective walls. But that little girl I used to be, built quite a sturdy foundation and these walls are thick. My father started abusing me before I can remember, which is age 3, and I guess that little girl hid her true self so deep down behind those walls for self-preservation, before she even understood what it was.

And yet, those walls are coming down, and now I want to know just how far they should come down. I mean, should a husband and wife share absolutely every inner thought, desire, fantasy, fear, or dream with each other? The romantic part of me says “yes”. Yes we should give ourselves to each other completely, mind, body and soul. That the line between us may blur a bit as we don’t know where one stops and the other begins. But the part of me remaining behind the wall says “no”. Actually that part of me screams “NO-Don’t you dare let him in here you fool!”

I have read conflicting advice on this as well. Some happy couples share everything (but do they really?), and some need some privacy. I know we have to figure this out on our own, develop what feels right for us. But how do  we do this? I don’t even know how to bring up this type of conversation, and when I try, that hidden little girl starts screaming again and I just stop. But the other thing is, I’m not sure he wants in, or wants to let me in at that level.

Argh, so how do you have complete trust but also withhold major parts of who you are?

Like this blog, for example, hubby knows it exists, but to my knowledge he does not read it. I’m not that careful about logging out, but I also have never directly invited him in. He does not ask me about it either. Is this respect or disinterest? Is he content to let the bloggers handle these tough topics?

2 days ago he found a rough draft of a topic I have not yet been brave enough to post: concerns about sexuality, and sharing needs and fantasies, and my opinions and research on the use of pornography by either spouse in a healthy marriage. We have not yet talked about what he read, other than the fact he read it – and it is killing me to know what he thinks. But sitting together each night, it is so much easier to just watch TV and let these things go unsaid. Why? Because I am afraid of what we may find out, and things are going so well here otherwise. This talk has the potential to bring us even closer together, but what if it doesn’t? You can’t unshare a deep dark secret.

So tonight I have to bring it up, to follow my 3 day rule. Stupid rule. Deep breath. I can do this.

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12 thoughts on “Boundaries in a Healthy Marriage

  1. From what I’ve learned listening to my friends who are married and healthy and my counselors: Sharing EVERYTHING isn’t healthy. It shows a lack of boundaries. No one person is capable of being anyone’s everything. Case in point: You’re female friends will let you vent without trying to fix all your problems, while your husband goes crazy with simply listening wanting and needing to fix your problems in order to feel like he’s doing a good job. I was advised to share my problems with my girlfriends until I was ready for a fix, and then share it with a man.

    • My mind agrees with you that no one person can be your everything. But I get swept along on these romantic notions at times. And you are so correct, hubby can not listen without trying to fix or protect me, and I don’t always need that. I’m still developing new friendships, but hope to one day have some girlfriends I can turn to, but honestly don’t expect that. I now have friends that care for me, that we have fun together, but no one that I would call out of the blue to vent. I used to turn to my mom, and have realized I have caused much more damage this way, as her advice is completely unhealthy. I also have some emotionally unhealthy friends, with similar pasts, that I love dearly, but also can not lean on them. So I learned to keep everything inside for so long, and there were things a husband should know and I kept him out. I just need to learn now where to place the boundary, of which things to share to keep a healthy

      • Boundaries: The never ending discovery, because there will always be those who test them. The friends I share with, vent to, are my newer friends, the friends I’ve made since improving my healthy boundaries. I know it’s hard to believe right now, but you’ll discover friends who fit you. Keeping everything inside for so long was the safest available option. New options will open up. Don’t sell yourself short. *hugs*

  2. There are no right answers. Intimacy and trust takes time. Him reading something and digesting it is “time”. As long as you are committed to having a close relationship and he is too; the rest needs time to play out. As a woman/survivor married 19 years (w/ 7 years prior to marrage) I can unequivocally tell you that intimacy and a sense of feeling safe and comfortable grows through a daily trust with another person. If you love this guy, don’t follow your urge to run. Stick with it and you will be happier for having given into to trusting someone for the long haul. –Daylily

    • I am committed to having a close relationship now, and he says he is too. I want to believe him so badly, and I mostly do, but the doubts and fears remain. The difference is that he now knows of the doubts and fears, and that it comes from that scared little girl inside me, not so much because of him. I do love him. We’ve been together 18 years now, married 13, and I can’t believe how little we have shared over the years and feel like I am just now getting to know him. And the more I find out, the more I love him and hope that your last comment will be true for us, that we will stick with it and trust each other for the long haul.

  3. The famous family systems theorist, Murray Bowen, observed (oh so rightly) that closeness takes care of itself. It’s being a separate, self-constructed person with a core built on principle that is the challenge. The latter is what makes us unique and strong. When it comes to sharing inner secrets, fantasies and the like, the question is: To what end? Mystery in relationships is pure spice. Take that away and you get Melba toast.

    • What an interesting view, thank you for sharing this. I definitely prefer spice and I’m sure he does too. There must be some point of balance between mystery and intimacy I think, and I’m sure that balance is different for every couple.

  4. Pingback: Difficult Discussions Build Trust and Intimacy | Roots to Blossom

  5. Just a question that I am asking myself as well: do you think that you need to learn to trust yourself before you can trust your husband? I know I am not there for myself, closer but not yet.

  6. Pingback: Boundaries are Better Than Impenetrable Walls | Roots to Blossom

  7. Rootstoblossom, I just discovered your blog from a post that Ruth (We Are One) and I love it. This post on boundaries is particularly helpful to me and the timing of it is great. Thank you!

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