Live Regret Free, Day 4

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.”

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13 comments… add one

  • Ronnie January 6, 2011, 2:58 pm


    Good stuff! I may print off just the points portion and try to talk about them with my wife this coming weekend.

    Thanks for your work!

  • Iva January 6, 2011, 3:01 pm

    Today I set out to learn how to help my husband let go of his resentment towards me. This was a well timed post, I have been sharing these with him the last few days. He hasn’t taken the time to read them yet. I am trying to be understanding and patient with him because I do see the small efforts he has been making. But I wish he would talk to me about the big issues such as this more. I haven’t figured out if that is an expectation or a boundary. Part of me feels I need to let him work it out all on his own and just be there as a loving supportive wife and be ready for him. But part of me feels I deserve or at least should be told where he stands and how he feels about the baby steps we are taking. He told me he wants to leave, I asked him to stay and commit to trying for a set amount of time and he has been thinking about that for 2 weeks now. I really want to know and really don’t want to know and really wish I could let go and let it be as it is and be patient. I can’t figure out where the lines should be for me and us. I tell myself he wouldn’t be making lil efforts everyday if he was fully commit to leaving and that I should be grateful for that alone.

  • Drummer Guy January 6, 2011, 3:04 pm

    EXCELLENT Post Alisa. Lots of tings to think about. Sorry if this comment goes a little long (like that’s something new with but a lot to address.

    1.”What is Sacred to me”?: Music. Playing music is about the only real distraction from the grind of caregiving, work, household duties & the hum drum realities of life I get. As a musician I have a real passion for playing & performing. It is something that comes from deep within ones soul & feels like you will burst if you don’t let it out. Being a musician isn’t something I do, it is who I am.

    In my first marriage although I was a musician when she married me, she latter really began to resent it. Her religious convictions were partially responsible for that. Odd since we shared the same faith. She thought is was awful that we played in bars. She also didn’t like the attention it draws from female fans. If a young lady did nothing more than come up & say “hey great show” she would call her whore, slut, criticize her hair, clothes etc. So I quit to please her & get peace at home.

    BIG, HUGE, GIANT, ENORMOUS mistake. The resentment I built toward her had a profound effect on our marriage. I still don’t blame her. I blame myself. She did not make me quit. I did so to please her. So I was the one who denied a HUGE part of my very soul. So if any of you are giving up something you love to “please your spouse”. Unless it is a destructive activity, find a way to work it out. Otherwise you will SERIOUSLY regret it.

    I did make sure that when dating after the divorce that I was with somebody who didn’t just “not mind” me playing but somebody who enjoyed music herself & didn’t have jealousy issues. I went through a couple of short term relationships trying to find that. It’s NOT easy. That’s why they were short term. My wife spent her early years playing & was a lead singer in a couple of bands so she understand the joy I get from it. This is getting WAY to long so I’ll address one more point & come back to the others latter.

    2) “Am I centered enough to make it on my own?”: Most assuredly yes. I have been divorced once. I was even one of those people who said “Never again”. Not that it was a bad divorce or the marriage was horrible. She was a good woman & I honestly wish her the best. I just sort of got where I liked the independence. Even in my first marriage because she was an Active Duty Air Force Officer I had to learn to do a LOT on my own already. Because she was active duty she was gone a LOT. She even did 2 remote tours in her 20 years. So I had already learned to survive on my own. I even became a pretty darn good cook. There were some things I was enjoying about single life, some I didn’t. Of course then I met my beloved, fell head over heals in love. 2 years latter, there I was standing at the front of the church & the wedding march was playing again. Best move I EVER made

    Keep on ROCKIN Alisa
    Ron :-)

  • Kathy January 6, 2011, 3:11 pm

    Great post. I’ve recently learned some of this. And I believe I owe a lot of that learning to reading your blog, Alisa. So, THANK YOU!!!

    I’m setting boundaries with friends. It was easier with hubby.

    Today my friend and I were out for a long walk in a nature preserve. We got to the end of the trail and I hate retracing my steps. So I suggested we just walk in the dormant grass to get back to where the car was parked. She didn’t want to do that because she didn’t want to get burrs in her shoes and socks. I loved that we nicely discussed our points and agreed on a solution. We retraced our steps. I forgot about the burrs and I didn’t want to deal with them in my clothes or on my dog. This story really has nothing to do with boundaries per se, I just liked how she and I were able to come to an agreement that worked for both of us and didn’t leave either one resentful.

    I’m starting to use more communication when hubby and I don’t see things eye-to-eye.

  • Angela P January 7, 2011, 11:37 am

    Thanks again for a great post! I really have to set the boundaries in my relationship with my husband and his mother. This became an issue this week again. My mother in law has been less than nice to me. Part of it is racism some of it is getting married quickly after dating. On wednesday I was sick all day at work with intestinal issues. I worked my full day and came home half dead. My husband came home and wanted me to go eat at his mothers house after I told him I was sick. When I told him no he pouted and was a jerk. So I finally had enough and set the boundaries. I had told him I was sick before his mother invited us to dinner. So I asked him if he would go if he was sick. When he said he would not I asked him to extend me the same thoughtfullness. So last night I took my mother in law to dinner. So I think I have successfully set the boundary. I hope…

  • Nikki January 7, 2011, 4:01 pm

    Wow! I like the way the questions are focused on your readers. It makes them take ownership in the way they are allowing people to treat them because in the end we are the only ones we can change anyway…right? I would also like to suggest a book entitled ” A Women’s Search for worth: Finding fulfillment as the women God intended you to be” by Dr. Deborah Newman. Another great book is “Peacemaking for Families: A biblical guide to managing conflict in your home” by Ken Sande & Tom Raabe.

  • Pink Kitchen January 8, 2011, 9:56 pm

    I really like the question: “What is sacred to you.” Wow, I think half the battle is just being able to bottom-line things, for our mate and maybe also for ourselves. Thank you!

  • Sarah Liz January 9, 2011, 3:01 am

    Alisa, I absolutely love your definition of expectations and boundaries.

    I am just now learning how to set boundaries–but I still expect an awful lot from people–including myself.

    Boundaries are so important for maintaining healthy, happy relationships–and not just in marriages. But, they’re equally important there. I think setting firm boundaries, but doing so with respect and kindness, is an art form–and like I said, it’s one I’m still learning.

    Since I am a human being who cannot get everything right all the time, for now, I’ll stick to keeping boundaries (things that keep me safe, sane and healthy–not walls that keep people out) and worry about lowering my expectations later. (Though I do need to work on that too!)

    That being said, I am totally realizing the need for not expecting more from someone than are actually capable of giving. That’s where acceptance comes in. But I digress….

    Ron, your comment was fantastic and real. I thank you for being so honest and genuine.

    I adore the questions you asked of us, Alisa, and while I don’t yet have a comment about them, you’ve definitely got me thinking–which I love–thanks!

    Many Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Sarah Liz January 9, 2011, 3:15 am

    P.S. I can actually state what is sacred to me, the rest of the questions, however, I’m still thinking about:

    What’s sacred to me is:
    My Faith (it’s an all encompassing, general spiritual way of life), My Family, My Writing and Music.

    Anyone who gets in the way of those, or out right disrespects my beliefs (faith & family) and tastes (in writing and music) is probably going to end up with a cranky Sarah on their hands.

    Great question!

    I don’t play music–but making time for it, listening to it, disecting it, taking time to get inspired by it–and particularly Country Music & Classical Music–that is sacred to me. I need it in my life!

    Writing–I NEED to do that also. It’s who I am, like so many others on here. Not everything I write is fabulous (most of it isn’t), but I cannot not do it. Again, taking the time to write, to read others’ writing, to immerse myself in the art of it–it’s sacred.

    Faith and family–pretty much define who I am, so while I KNOW everyone is different–and absolutely entitled to THEIR way of life, their beliefs and can run their family however they so choose–in the way that is best for them–now that I think about it, a lot of my marital arguments have happened when those lines (of faith and family) are questioned or blurred.

    In fact, a few months ago–my husband and I were having an argument and I royally messed up. I stupidly did NOT think before I spoke and said some pretty harsh words, that to this day, I am ashamed of. I think we’ve all been there, but still. His response? Telling me I was no good in God’s eyes. Oh my goodness, I was so angry about that. I totally forgot what the original argument was about and the next day I said to him, calmly, and nicely–”Here’s the deal: You get to say a lot to me and a lot about me. You know me better than most and you see ALL sides of me, good, bad and in between. You can say I’m a bitch, you can think what you want about me. But the ONLY relationship with God you need to worry about is your own. (And I’m not judging it because it’s so not for me to judge.) The kind of person I am in God’s eyes is not for you, or anyone else, to decide. Did I dissapoint Him with what I said to you last night? Probably so. But I’ve already asked for His forgiveness and yours. And it is absolutely not your place to judge, okay. So, you can say a lot, about anything you want, that, however–trying to predict how my God sees me–that you will not do.”

    See, pretty, obvious, my faith and my relationship with my God is incredibly sacred to me.

    I realize that during the original argument, I crossed a line with my husband, and I instantly apologized to him after I said what I’d said (the night before) but, that’s my boundary.

    No one comes between me and my God–you can see God however you need to, or not at all. Does not matter to me, sincerely. But, my faith is sacred to me and no one gets to call that relationship except me and My maker, you know?

    Very interesting post, Alisa–thanks again!

    Many Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Undeserving January 9, 2011, 5:06 am

    I think your blogs are great, I have been reading the archives all night. Pardon me for not responding directly to this blog and changing suit a bit.

    I was wondering if you had a blog on When your spouse is in love with another person (yet not cheating). I have a situation where my wife has been distracted from our marriage, slowly closed our communication line and met with a man behind my back for months, claiming nothing physical. She did finally come out with this after she realized I had figured it all out on my own. Since then, she has completely shut the other guy out and told him its over, and reopened communication with me. However she is heartbroken as if she lost a boyfriend, and I am affraid she is lost in her own soul aside from all of this.

    She is still affectionate with me, and has committed to at least trying to get back to “in Love” with me. Though, we have good days and bad days. Today almost ended in diviorce. We married young, and she is wondering if being married is right for her now. I have been %110 invested in our relationship for 12 years. She is now torn and feeling guilty. How do I concole her with out condoning, and as long as she is trying to make things work, how should I respond to her bad days when she is lost and confused!?

    I am sure we can work it out, we just have to wait as she changes into her new self.

  • Angela P. January 12, 2011, 11:44 am

    Dear Undeserving,
    Please read all of Alisa’s archive. She has wisdom beyond her years. Also ask your wife to read it. Or read it to her. I have read some of the archive to my husband and it has helped our relationship.
    I really think that you can support your wife without condoning her actions. You can tell her you understand how she is feeling even if you don’t agree with how she got to that place.
    I also think that most relationships will survive as long as one of you are still in love at any given time. I heard someone say that the art of being together is never falling out of love at the same time.

  • Undeserving January 12, 2011, 12:59 pm

    Angela P.: Thanks for that.

    I have shared many things from this blog’s archives with my wife. They have helped.

    I have to say that we made it through that bad day I was talking about. And my wife assured me that her soul is fine, and she is okay. Just harder for her emotionally somedays. No matter what, I support her, and oddly I love her more through all of this. I do understand the reallity and humanity of her actions, and she knows how “wrong” they are (I don’t have to tell her). I do Understand that my own actions in this marriage lead to this. Leading up to this I was withdrawn and in my own world and I had no idea I was hurting her with neglect. But our lack of communication was the real issue, disallowing us to address our problems.

    Now we have forgiven each other for our mistakes, and we talk again, and we work at this together. If she could just get over the other guy, who happens to be a close friend of mine, or was, I’m ready to move on focused positively on a brighter day.

    I hope what you say about the art of being together holds true.

  • OneHotTamale25 January 20, 2011, 10:40 pm

    What about high expectations AND high boundaries???

    I am a little embarrassed at how selfish I felt after reading this post. I am so adamant about getting what I want and taking care of myself that I demand much while also drawing lines in the sand where I want them. Clearly I need to relax in both areas just a little. After all, compromise is important and realistic expectations reduce disappointment. :)


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