I’m afraid by using recent examples, I may have glided past the giant awkwardness of my first 5 years of trying to navigate boundaries. The dinner example was from 6 months ago, after years of ample practice with this revised version of marital give and take. If I had offered you an example from even 3 years ago, it could’ve included another night at the dinner table with a heated discussion about book club, accusations flying and me eventually storming away from the table, tears streaming down my face, my bare feet agitatedly carrying me down the street to the stop sign where I wallowed in my resentment & frustration with my spouse’s seeming lack of understanding and disappointment in my own ability to be patient. We still remember that day every time we notice the dent I put in the door frame when I slammed the door with strength I didn’t know I had. Rest assured this new understanding we’re building over here is coming with some good old-fashioned time and hours of sometimes patient communication.
Here are a few more examples:
Last week we had just returned from a trip out of town and then my little one was sick so at the end of the week I had two days to work through mountains of laundry, put our house back together, and handle numerous other neglected responsibilities before the business of this week hit. I happened to have a PTC meeting the next morning where we would be wrapping some items for our upcoming event. Fighting every urge in me to show up, be “responsible” and “supportive” and then handle my resentment later (emotional credit card balance), I emailed the leader of the project and told her that in lieu of attending the work meeting, I was going to spend the time working on my assignment at home and I gave her a report on my status.
For me, having boundaries means letting people down sometimes and I really don’t like doing that. But when I do, it’s a lot like acknowledging that I have a credit limit and the discomfort of my honesty helps me to assess my commitments and be more realistic about what I agree to handle. I may have disappointed her and the few others there by adding to their workload but I also know my family experienced a bit more patience from me last week because I managed a limit. It seems like maybe conflicting feelings are an uncomfortable and necessary part of boundaries.
Example shared with permission from all parties: Several years ago, RJ and I were both filling leadership roles in our church. Our congregation operates entirely based on volunteer efforts so people offer extraordinary amounts of time in order for us to enjoy the religious culture that we love. We found ourselves in an annual family meeting with the leader of our congregation and we ended up talking about the assignments our family was handling. We explained that our life felt full of a lot of good and important things and that our little family was struggling. In addition to our church efforts, we were offering support to our family and friends and we were both trying to soak up the novel babyhood we were experiencing. We pointed out that we may be 30ish but we were/are rookie parents and we were loving the chance to really focus on learning how to work together to help our little girl grow. We asked him to consider this information and the assignments we had and we were hopeful that some kind of change would be made for one of us. I felt real apprehension and shame and embarrassment before and after the exchange because I didn’t think I would ever ask for something like that. I had questioned myself for months about the validity of my feelings. I believe Heaven can and does make up the difference. People far busier than myself offer far more time, etc, etc. But ultimately I had to come to terms (again) with the the reality of the situation and if verbalizing that reality meant that I was less faithful or less charitable than I thought I was then I just had to humbly accept that and work honestly from there. At the same time, the pace had stopped feeling needful to us and as I prayed I didn’t feel discouraged from opening up a dialogue.
Because we were responsible folks who were apparently doing a fabulous job of looking put-together, our bishop (the leader of our congregation) was surprised to hear that we were having a hard time. Thankfully, he was very gracious with the honest information we offered him and RJ’s assignment was changed shortly after that. With time, it just is what it is but in the limbo phase just afterwards, I was torn between relief and guilt. I couldn’t get over feeling like we had maybe let our bishop, or all the people we worship with or maybe even Heavenly Father down. That was a hard place to be. (Incidentally, seeking his permission to use this example freed me from some of that self-inflicted guilt). This man has always been a supportive and loving figure for our family and he could appreciate and champion our perspective once he knew what it was. I was really, really grateful that he responded with such compassion.
It would’ve been easy to wrap this one up by saying it was Heavenly Father’s will that we change or that it was the right time. Honestly, it just felt like a choice. Ultimately, all service is right? So I owned a choice and owned the consequences. In hindsight, I realized a lot of healing was happening for 2 broken hearts in this house but it’s only with distance that I’ve been graced with that understanding. I imagine I would’ve found goodness in continuing as well. At the time, all it was was uncomfortable.