Recently someone asked me about the difference between expectations and boundaries. I told him that expectations are what you hope will happen. Boundaries are what you allow to happen.
Let me tell you something. I was unhappiest in my marriage when my expectations were high, but my boundaries were low.
I expected a lot from my husband. I wanted him to be sensitive, kind, understanding, funny, exciting, hard working, smart and a million other things. I expected a lot from marriage, too. I wanted marriage to complete me. I’ll just stop with that one because it’s a high enough expectation all by itself.
My boundaries, however, were almost nonexistent. I gave up who I was in order to please others, especially my husband. If I was scheduled to go to a meditation class and he asked if he could go for a bike ride, I would agree to skip meditation and stay home with our daughter.
And I resented it. I bathed in a personally drawn hot bath of resentment during every moment of every day. This is not the kind of bath one wants to bathe in. Just so you know.
I was resentful because I wanted my husband to have a divine revelation. I wanted him to see that his choices were using me up and draining me dry. See? High expectations. I wanted him to have ESP. But he’s not the kind of person who can read minds like that.
And, in reality, I was the one who was creating the problem. I had no boundaries.
This high expectations (wanting a lot) and low boundaries (standing up for too little) was a pervasive problem in every area of my life. It caused unhappiness in my marriage, in my career, in my friendships… everywhere.
Once I learned how to lower my expectations and draw strong, confident boundaries in marriage, I was able to do it everywhere in life. I’m a better, stronger, happier person for it.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, then you might want to do the same. Here are a few things to think about. If you are doing this series with your spouse, consider talking about each of these questions. If you are doing it on your own, consider them and see what revelations they generate:
- What is sacred to you? What do you absolutely need to have in your life in order for you to be a happy, well-adjusted person? For me, I need to exercise regularly, get enough sleep, go to meditation once a week and practice it daily, and have a little me time (which might entail spending time with friends, reading novels, or just staring at a wall).
- How often do you give up what is sacred to you in order to please someone else in your life—especially your spouse? Does it happen all the time? Or hardly at all?
- What are some ways you can draw firm boundaries around what is sacred to you?
- What are some ways you can better communicate the importance of what is scared to you to your spouse? (Note: Next week’s posts will all be about communication).
- Are you centered, strong and complete enough to stand on your own two feet? In other words, if your marriage ended, do you know, without a doubt, that you would be able to survive on your own? If not, what can you do to create more completeness in your life and become more self sufficient and confident?
- Think about your expectations of your spouse and of your marriage. Do you have expectations that you could satisfy outside of your marriage—and especially by drawing a firm boundary? For instance, if you have a need for excitement, could you satisfy that by taking more risks in your career or by traveling? If you have a need for stimulating conversation, could you satisfy it by going out with friends or by attending book club?
- Think about your spouse’s boundaries. Are they strong and visible? Have you been trying to get past them? Do you respect those strong boundaries, or do you rally against them? Or are they weak and non-existent? Do you know where your spouse’s line is? Do you walk all over your spouse and not even realize it?
- How do other people in your life assert their boundaries in a healthy way? Who are some people you would like to emulate?
* Jen’s Love Lessons reviewed PHEA saying, “This is going on my 10-relationship-books-you-should-read-before-you-die list…. There were several aspects of this book that either deeply moved me, made me take a step back and think for a minute (or ten), caused me to laugh out loud, or intrigued me to continue reading.”
* Anonymous8 interviewed me about writing, marriage, and sex. Here’s an excerpt, “I’ve found that marriage improvement is a lot like a dance. One spouse leads. The other follows.”
* Boston Metro reviewed PHEA. So did Philly Metro. And so did NY Metro. Love them.
* Finding Blessings in Everyday Life reviewed PHEA saying, “I have read other marriage books and I can tell you that none have made this much sense, none have been this honest and direct. None have felt like I was getting advice from a friend.”
A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.