“Saying no to something actually means I am saying yes to something more important.” (KV)
When we first got married, my husband and I encountered one of the biggest challenges we have faced in our married life. How to live with boundaries.
My husband and I met at the end of October, 2000 and we were married by June 2, 2001 – after only slightly over 7 months of knowing each other. Neither one of us is a pushover, to say the least, and the first few years of our marriage was generously speckled with fireworks. As we got to know each other, and our respective families, light was shed on our strong views.
My husband’s family is loud, bubbly, friendly and into everyone’s business. None of them knows a stranger, and the bigger the party the better. Storytelling is a form of art, and no detail is sacred. They are full of life, and love being part of life with everyone. Loyalty and conformity to the family is paramount. In contrast, my family is relatively quiet, very private, tends to keep small circles of close friends and for the most part would rather go unseen than cause a scene. My family tends to celebrate independance and while loyalty runs deep, support in going our separate ways is emphasised above family obligations. We were trying to take these two paradigms and meld them into a brand new way of life uniquely ours… but we didn’t understand a vital piece of the puzzle; boundaries.
At first, I wasn’t sure why I felt suddenly bound up. Didn’t I love our families? Wasn’t I grateful he worked so hard? Isn’t it good to serve and be part of church life? About five years in I realized I felt lost. Like the real me was hidden from my view, stashed away under a pile of obligations, relationships and bills. I didn’t really know my husband any more either. I felt suffocated and stuck.
At the same time, my husband was trapped in a suit of armor called, YES. To him the word “no” was the ultimate rejection. He couldn’t say no to anyone he feared might be disappointed, he didn’t like hearing the word no either. But with this suit of armor came the uncomfortable reality that the real him was locked away, even from himself. Not only that, but he began losing trust, as one too many yes’s eventually meant someone was disappointed. He began to sound hollow and tinny and conflict seemed to follow him around.
I’m not sure when I realized it. Somewhere along the way I felt like I had reached the end of my rope and was falling into an abyss. The word “boundaries” began exploding from my lips – a word that translated “I hate you” to my husband’s ears at first. So much so that in one rather explosive encounter he yelled, “why do you hate me?”
His words stopped me cold. I’d had no idea how he’d been feeling.
“I don’t hate you,” I almost laughed with relief, “I just value myself too much to keep living like this. And really, I guess I value you too, because I hate feeling so distant from you.”
It was a pivotal moment for us. My husband’s YES suit cracked and the real man was exposed. I finally felt like I could could catch my breath again, surfacing from beneath a heavy load.
At that point we discovered a new reality. Saying no to something really does mean saying yes to something more important. It was like, as we’d been going through life, every one we knew had an expectation, like a rubber band, that they could throw around us – keeping us obligated to them because we didn’t say no. After years of this we had so many rubber bands around us we were literally bound up and pulled in every direction, including away from each other and our children. Giving in one area increased tension in another and eventually we’d snap back… and forth and back again… until finally we both literally snapped.
Like a rubber band snapping in two, it stung at times. We were not very graceful at communicating our new found boundaries – our freedom to say the word no to whomever we needed to, so that we were saying yes to each other and our kids. We offended people, and each other at times. But our relationship was worth every sting.
We discovered that boundaries are like fence posts along our path in life. When people approach us with an expectation, or “rubber band,” we have a few options. We can put it on ourselves and be obligated, we can altogether say no thank you, or we can place it on a fence post and let it stretch as far as they are willing to stretch it with us. When we place expectations, or “rubber bands,” on our fence posts, letting the ones that will stretch with us stay and those that won’t bounce off, our boundaries become a line, like a fence clearly outlining a road that takes us to our destination. We are free to move in the direction we need to go, toward intimacy, unity and safety, alongside relationships that move along our fence posts with us.
It’s not perfect, of course. Putting boundaries in place has continued to offended many people. We are still growing in our ability to communicate well, and to continually define those boundaries as our needs and family changes. However, the benefits of freedom in saying yes so strongly to what we love that we are willing to say no to everything else has far outweighed the discomfort we feel at times. Our marriage has transformed, our kids are complemented everywhere we go, friendships are rich and honest, ministry is a joy and work is prospering and a blessing.
“Some people can’t say no because the don’t have a strong enough yes. They live reactively instead of proactively. They haven’t thought about how their inability to say no has affected their yes… their destiny, their family, their health, their God mission.
…When I set boundaries in my life I rest my soul and actualize my full potential.”