• Dr. Bill Walker

Do You Have Healthy Boundaries Established With Your Spouse and Kids?

Establishing healthy boundaries with your spouse and children is essential to having a family that is functional (vs. dysfunctional) and happy.

Why Are These Boundaries Important?

No relationships in your life should be closer to you than your relationship with your spouse and children. But because these relationships are so close it can be easy for the roles of family members (spouse, parent, child) to blur together.

Boundaries define who is the parent and who is the child. Boundaries define what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable in a family.

What Behavior IS Acceptable and unacceptable in your family?

  • If your bedroom door is closed is it o.k. for the children to walk in anytime without knocking?

  • Is it o.k. for your spouse or children to walk around the house with no clothes on?

  • Is it o.k. for your spouse to check your iphone messages?

  • Is it o.k. for your children to take money from your purse/wallet without asking?

These are all boundary issues.

Boundaries are the unwritten, but agreed upon rules regarding what behavior is acceptable between the members in a given relationship.

Every family is unique in the sense that it has its own rules and ways of being a family. Because the nuclear family involves the most intimate relationships of all relationship types --husband/wife, parent/child -- boundary lines can be especially difficult to maintain.

An Example

Most parents enjoy that wonderful feeling of having their young children sleep in bed with them. But, what happens when this becomes an every night habit? Kids–in-the-bed means sacrificing quality time together between you and your spouse, and this is not just about sex. Couples need time just for them – whether it be snuggling, a final short conversation to end the day, or just the experience of lying next to one another, undisturbed, as a couple. Kids-in-the-bed keeps this from happening.

If you and your spouse are both o.k. with kids-in-the-bed all night, then no problem exists. But what if one of you is not o.k. with it? In this case, resentment can begin to build in the marriage relationship.

How To Say “No”

Boundaries are established and maintained by saying, ‘no’ – or some form of ‘no’.

The ‘no’s in our family are what define and reinforce family boundaries more than anything else.

But, we often associate the word ‘no’ with rejection and disapproval. To prevent this always be as respectful as possible when saying ‘no’.

“Not tonight”, “not now”, “Don’t do that again”, are all forms of ‘no’ that are appropriate with children. For your spouse, comments like, “I really feel disrespected when you do that. Please don’t do that”, can get your point across in a respectful way.

Providing a short explanation with your ‘no’ can be effective with your children. “No, you cannot sleep in the big bed tonight. Your father and I want some time just for us. We will make this coming Friday night a ‘family sleep together night’”.

Some parenting ‘experts’ say you don’t owe your children an explanation and maybe you don’t. I always tried to give my children a reason for the ‘no’s. To me, it was just a matter of showing respect to them, as well as helping them understand there were valid reasons behind my ‘no’.

Chances are high your child will challenge the reason(s) you give for setting a particular boundary. Remember – this is a way for them to test the firmness of the boundary. Even if they do not accept your reasoning for the boundary they must respect the reality of it.

Life is full of boundaries – many of which we may not agree with – but we must learn to honor boundaries. The government expects us to pay taxes and obey the laws of the land; God and our spouses expect us to stay faithful to our marriage vows, etc. By setting boundaries and giving an explanation you are helping your children how to function in the real world.

The alternative to giving no explanation is to say those 4 frustrating words we all despised as kids, “because I say so”.

Nuclear Family Boundary Checkup

1. Have you established clear boundaries between you and your spouse and children?

2. Do these boundaries work to make the rules of behavior clear between the members of the family?

3. If not, identify the main area in your nuclear family that is not working because of a lack of boundaries.

4. Write these out on a piece of paper to help better organize your thoughts.

5. Come up with a plan on how you can set some boundaries in this area.