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The Art of Loving


We're going to talk a little bit about boundaries today.

First, I'm going to just give you some ideas about boundaries, and then I will address specific questions that people have asked.

One thing I want to say about boundaries, to start out with, is that boundaries have to do with how you're in relationship to other people. They have to do with what's your responsibility and what's the responsibility of others. And this question gets confused by the fact of our dependency on other people to manage our sense of self. And so, as you've probably heard me talk about in the courses, when we start out in life we start out in an innate dependency. We are looking to others to tell us about who we are, whether or not we are sufficient, and what it means to love and to be loved. 

When you're fortunate enough to be in a really functional and loving family, the parents understand that their goal, that their job, is to facilitate your growth and development and your ability to take deep responsibility for yourself in your life. And they give you the kind of support and limits and encouragement that best facilitate you expressing your uniqueness in the world, living up to your responsibilities, and being able to sustain your own psychological functioning. 

When a family system is dysfunctional, the parents can manage their own neediness, and their own difficulty with their sense of self, by exploiting the dependency of that child. A parent can pressure the child who wants the parent's approval and who wants to feel that they're enough to caretake the parent. So in dysfunctional systems, the caretaking doesn't go from parent to child, it goes from child to parent, often for psychological functioning. And this is where boundaries, in a sort of native sense, get confused. 

For example, I was working with someone recently whose parents were very dysfunctional. The mother was always doing things that were very embarrassing, the father could be explosive, and she was trying to manage her sense of safety. She's trying to get the adults in her life to take care of her because that's her only option. And so the way that that gets handled instinctively because it's adaptive for the child, is to try to regulate and manage the mother's emotionality and try to take care of the mother and be enough of what the mother wants so the mother will pay attention to her. She's trying to manage the father's demandingness and keep him from being angry. And so you naturally, just out of your own desire to be safe, are going to start taking care of the minds around you to protect yourself. 

Now the reason why this is all related to adult functioning is that oftentimes the way that you learn those patterns growing up then gets played out in an adult-choosing-adult relationship. And so the way I talk about it in the Strengthening Relationship Course is that boundaries are highly related to how much self-respect you have and how much respect for others you have. It very much relates to how you think about who you are and who you need to be, to be sufficient. And so if you're busy trying to prove to other people that you are worthy or you're worth their time or worth being in a relationship to you, you're much more likely to be over-functioning in the relationship, that is to say, taking care of your mind and their mind, trying to get them to be okay with you, and trying to manage how they feel about you. And the person on the other side of that tracks that and maybe grew up in an environment where if you just complain enough, talk about being a victim enough, pressure enough, you can get other people to manage your mind for you. And a lot of times, those two people get married and so you easily have a system where the boundaries are messed up. There's under-functioning and over-functioning and both are trying to regulate their sense of self. So it's the challenge with one’s sense of self that interferes with good judgment around what is about me and what is not about me. 

Now, even if you grew up in the most perfect of families, you still are developing in the world and you still have things to sort out in your relationship such as, "Is this my problem? Am I being unfair? If I believe differently than my spouse am I doing them harm?  Am I being flippant about what it means to them?" Those are important questions, and they exist for all humanity to sort out. "What is my responsibility and what is not my responsibility?" But the more that our sense of self is playing into that, then the more limited your ability to see through it might be. 

So let me just give you a couple more examples and I'll say a little bit more educationally before I go to the questions. When I talk about your sense of self, it's also linked to your identity. So, for example, my challenge is that I have very much an identity of being a helpful person, that I help others. So if someone's in distress, it's very familiar to me to want to alleviate the distress. And that sounds very good. It doesn't sound like a limitation, but it is a limitation because sometimes it's not helpful to do that. I was doing this a bit with my son. I was going in and trying to solve and trying to support and do more than was actually ultimately beneficial for him.  Part of helping people is not about them being dependent on them. It's about them sorting out their own strength, and taking more responsibility for their lives. And if you're busy being a solver, you're actually infecting that process because your sense of who you are is too linked to that idea. Then, you actually are not helpful but rather you're interfering because of your own limited sense of self. 

A lot of times we have identities that have been shaped by our experience, and part of growing into deeper maturity is to see those liabilities or limitations and push yourself against them. And, just speaking from experience, to not run in and be the savior but rather tolerate the anxiety. And then you expand your sense of self. You see the good that comes from it. You learn how to take deeper responsibility for yourself and your role and let others take responsibility for themselves. I think this is an easy place to get confused. 

So those are just some ideas of thinking about how you think about who you are. You could be somebody who thinks, "I need everybody else to help me. I've never been good at helping myself. Therefore, I'm justified in pressuring people to help me out because I'm insecure because I don't know how to do these things because I feel so much self-doubt. Therefore, I need your help." That's also a "sense of self" issue. It's very easy to go around and push other people to prop you up rather than stopping yourself from that pattern and taking more responsibility for your fallibility for your difficulty and getting stronger in the process of not going and trying to get other people to fill in. 

One more thing about boundaries that I talk about in the Relationship Course as well, is the idea of protected boundaries and containing boundaries. This is a Terry Real idea, actually, it might be a Pia Melody idea that I read in a book. So the protective boundary is the self-respecting boundary, that is, you are going to set limits with people as a function of self-respect. So if somebody is taking from you, it is exploitative, it is trying to pressure you against your own integrity or well-being. A protective boundary will limit or stop that. Boundaries are not about controlling other people. This is a very important point. A boundary is not about getting other people to do the right thing, and this is very confusing for people.  "You're not respecting my boundary," is the idea that you need to be doing what I have set up as the rules. Boundaries are about self-definition. They are about what you're going to do vis-a-vis the other people in your life. Who are you going to be? You can't control all those other factors. The quicker you get clear about that, the more the issue of boundaries gets cleaned up. You're not going to solve other people and their choices, those always reside with them. Boundaries are about, "Who am I going to be in this situation and what decisions am I going to make given the choices that people I care about are making? What are the choices I can respect? What are the choices that I think are functional, that are self-respecting, and also other-respecting?" So a protective boundary is more about self-respect. 

Containing boundaries is respect for others. So, taking it back to my son, if I'm over-functioning, well, first of all, that's the fantasy that if I do enough, I can solve his distress. That's a fantasy. It's one I happen to like, but it's a fantasy. So me engaging in that fantasy is more about how I want to see myself and that I don't want to tolerate his agency in his ability to make choices that I can't control. Either he will invest in his life or he won't.  By not engaging in a good containing boundary, I actually go and interfere with his process. I've found that if don't do that, it leaves the dilemmas on him in a way that's been much more valuable for him, much more useful, but anxiety evoking for me because I have to tolerate what I don't have control over while I give him the chance to control what he does have control over. So that's a containing boundary. 

Ryan asks: "What does setting boundaries look like for the more anxiously attached needy partner? I want more closeness with my wife (ostensibly) so I struggle with understanding what setting healthy boundaries looks like for me. Are they actually more to protect her (containing boundary)? If the primary "wrong" I feel from her is emotional and sexual disengagement. I guess I don't see how I can set a boundary around that, other than just not letting myself try to control her choices.” 

I think you're seeing your wife as the source of your well-being and you're trying to get her validation to sustain your sense of self. When you're in a frame of, "My wife doesn't give enough and she's frigid and rigid and withholding," she may be all those things, but that idea justifies your taking. Just to be really straight about it, you're using your neediness to justify taking what's not being offered. I'm not saying what she's choosing is necessarily healthy, it could be, but you trying to take what's not being given or asking her to manage your sense of self in the name of love, is to do two things. One, to be entitled to take something not being offered even if you deserve it. It doesn't mean you should take what's not offered. But also, it justifies her feeling that this is somebody who wants to suck the life out of me so I just want to put up a wall. 

In the Relationship Course, I talk about walled-off people versus boundaryless, and well, obviously a lot of times these people get married. Or I should say, even if they weren't clear who they were before, that pattern emerges because the one who tends to get others' approval to manage their sense of self is going to quickly facilitate a quick wall in the one who tends to feel like they have to manage the people around them.  Maybe it feels good while dating, but they don't want to feel that they are constantly being pressured to caretake. It's not attractive. And then the walled-off person has, in this case, her own anxieties and her own questions around her value. But she can use the needy husband to justify not stepping in or not exposing more of who she is, which, of course, makes him feel more needy. So it's a pattern that's a self-regulation challenge on both sides. But the boundary is with yourself. That's where you start. "I'm trying to feel okay about myself by getting her to love me in the way I want her to. I can't do that. I can think it's about judgment on her part, but I'm not going to punish her or pressure her. I'm going to regulate myself better because that's the only way to give her a real choice, for starters." This also allows you deeper self-regulation, which you need in order to be in an intimate relationship. Because if you're in a need frame in a relationship, it's not about intimacy, it's about caretaking. It's "I can't handle myself. That's why I'm with you." That's not love, that's taking. So it's an opportunity for you to get better at regulating your own emotions and regulating your own feelings so that you're more desirable because it's not so costly to be with you, but also because you're managing your own psychological weight and you're stronger and better for doing that. And so this isn't just about her or it’s not just about being a desirable guy to her. It’s about being a desirable person to yourself, it’s about feeling more whole. 

This ability to handle ourselves is adult development. It's not easy. I mean, we are validation gluttons. We love it. All of us. And so validation feels great and it certainly makes sense, but we have to push against that in ourselves if we're going to really be free and if we're really going to be strong. And so this partnership, your marriage, is giving you that opportunity if you keep yourself contained in this way. You can, if you're really self-regulating, talk about what you desire or what you'd like. But that's different than pressuring neediness. Neediness is like suggesting, "When are you going to love me like you should?" And so you really have to start with yourself here to see, "What am I doing? And am I really managing myself here or not? And am I justifying her wall? And her wall is immature too, but am I making it easy for her to be immature in this way?" 

Katelyn says: "After we regulate ourselves and are more whole, how do we find that connection without neediness and validation seeking? I’m still trying to understand this concept." 

It's an excellent question because I remember myself thinking, "Well, what else is there, if you don't need the person why are you with them?" It's such a cheap view of love but it's a very human one. When you listen to pop music, it's all about, "I need you, baby, I need you. That's why I love you so much." Well, need is not love. Need is, "I want to get something from you to manage me and I'll think you're awesome for it." Or at least we think we will, but we don't actually because we can often resent the people we need. But if I don't need them, then why wouldn't I just be all by myself in my house with my cat? So I think it's hard to understand until you start to experience it. Once you actually can sustain your sense of self, you do feel you are okay, and you can be at peace with who you are, and then you're not trying to get them for your psychological functioning. You may say, "I like you. My life is richer with you in it. I want to have a friendship with you. I want to build a life with you because my life is richer and better for having you in it." That's different than, "I can't manage me so you take care of me for life and we'll call it love." A lot of us, when we're getting married, are trying to lock in someone to manage our sense of self, give us a place in society, give us legitimacy, and manage our anxieties about being able to sustain ourselves economically. And so a lot of times, I think for a lot of us, it's like we hurry and lock somebody in that has to love me and do it before they know too much. And I don't think we admit these things to ourselves, but I think that it's an easy way to try to mitigate the vulnerability of really letting somebody in on who you are, especially when you're not yet at peace with who you are. You can't really want someone to know you if you think you have parts of yourself that are unacceptable and that you don't want to have be knowable. And so your capacity for intimacy is very linked to your ability to sustain yourself psychologically and to be honest with yourself. So what you start to see when you're more able to do this is that you desire someone because you value them because you love them, you respect them, you care about them as a person and their own functioning and their own needs and their own beliefs and their own ideas because you're not trying to get them to reinforce you all the time. Of course, it feels good when they do reinforce you. It feels good when they validate you. There's nothing wrong with that. But you can also function and be decent and you can stay honest and be a friend even when you're not getting that validation. That's the measure. You can't really have love without honesty. If a love relationship is based on something dishonest, it isn't love. It is only love to the degree that it's honest. I think a lot of us are in that struggle between a need frame--I need you and I need to be needed by you--to something more honest and where there are truly choices. At the core of healthy boundaries is this ability to manage our own functioning. 

So let me just go to the questions again. David says, "If neither person needs the other and they have established their own independent lives and hence nearly do their lives intersect... seems an empty existence.” 

What I think you're saying is that to intersect is because you need. That's not that's not true. I mean, you can intersect with someone's life because you care about them because you hold their interests in your heart because you like sharing a life with them because you are invested in their well-being and their happiness. And you share projects together, you share the efforts of building a life together, building a family together. It doesn't have to be a need frame, that is the attachment doesn't have to be around need. It absolutely does not. You think about your friendships. Are you hanging out with them and going climbing together because you need each other? No, because you value each other and you're finding shared interests and things that you enjoy doing together. So I think it can be sometimes more challenging in intimate relationships because we burden our intimate relationships with a lot more demand. Our sense of self is much more exposed in an intimate partnership in a way that it isn't with somebody that you might get lunch with or go to the gym with. And so we put a lot more demand on our partnerships, and when they fail us we can manage our sense of self in that through resentment, through capitulation, through all these things that actually obscure the sort of choice-based intersection that's not about need. 

OK, so let me go to the questions here. This person said, "Please try to read this without judgment as I would like to learn from others' opinions and experiences. Boundaries…(Sounds like this person has been judged for her choices, is what it seems to me.)...was talked about a little bit in a recent post. So what does this look like? For my personal situation, I felt very disrespected at the beginning of my marriage. We fought constantly, and I'm not saying it was all my husband's fault, but some very harsh things were said by him several times. Our therapist talked about boundaries. So what do I do when it continues to happen? How do you set those boundaries and let your spouse know how serious you are about it? What if they keep overstepping that boundary?"

So just one thing I'd say right here is you have a right to set a boundary. That's a self-defining frame of what you're willing to participate in or not participate in or what you'll accept in a sense. But they have a right to cross it. You can say, "I'm not going to be in a partnership where I'm being verbally assaulted." And they can say, "Oh, yeah, well, I'm going to see." They have a right to do it. Again, it's not about controlling the other person, it's about controlling yourself in the face of that. "Who am I going to be? What am I going to do if this person is verbally contemptuous toward me? How will I handle myself in that?" So this is about controlling what you do have control over. It's very easy to want to control other people. It's very instinctive for us to imagine there's got to be some way we can do it. 

Recently, I was working with a client who was constantly setting up contracts with her spouse out of a fantasy that she could get him to be verbally obligated to something that made her comfortable. But her goal, in the name of something that is noble as a contract or an agreed-upon decision, is really about trying to get him to do "dot dot dot," whatever makes her feel more comfortable. So again, you have every right to define the terms of your participation, and I think it's absolutely right to say, "I don't want to be a part of or participate in a marriage where I'm going to be verbally slandered."  That's a self-respecting boundary. I'm not saying these things are easy because how do you actually handle it in the moment? That's not easy. But getting the focus on the right question is going to help you tremendously rather than, "How do we get this guy to do the right thing," the better question is, "What am I really going to do? Who am I really going to be?" 

So back to the question, "So after one more fight, which I thought was the biggest, I made the decision to kick him out. I was ready for a separation. Some said this was sexist or entitled because he has a right to the house and bed as much as I do, but I didn't know how else to let him know how serious I was. I was tired of the disrespect." (That sounds reasonable.) "He left but came back hours later. I could have left and I made the decision to save money so I could if it happened again." (Which is smart. You're making a plan to be prepared to act if you need to). But it actually never happened again. He never said those kinds of mean things to me again." 

I mean, you could have left as opposed to kicking him out. You said go, and he went. But you are saying, "This isn’t it for me. I am not going to screw around with this." That's a self-defining moment. And he mapped you as taking yourself seriously. Now, what some people might do in that situation is say, "I have told you not to treat me like that. How many times do I have to listen to your apology?" But what they're also showing is they're obviously going to tolerate it. And what that does is telegraph that the person can keep getting away with it, that they can continue to do this, and they can do it without consequence.  And, you know, a lot of people take this and they start using it as a way to control their partner out of a kind of self-righteous anger. And I just want you all to be thoughtful about that. This is not about controlling another person or making them pay. This is much more quiet and self-regulated. It's like you're saying, "I know I can't keep doing this. I am ready to do something different. If it continues, I will no longer be a part of it." And so it's really around getting yourself to make a decision around who you're going to be. 

So she says, "He never did those things again." Yeah, because he understood that you were going to take meaningful action. And so he could see that he wasn't going to pull this off anymore. And this is good for you. It's also good for him. Propping up a tyrant, letting somebody indulge their worst behaviors is terrible for you, for kids, if you have them, but terrible for him too. And a lot of times people that do this kind of stuff didn't have enough meaningful limits put on them as kids. They didn't have a loving parent. They either had parents who were indulgent themselves or would tyrannize the kid if the kid was indulgent, or allow the child to be indulgent. But they weren't setting meaningful limits on the kid who then grows up and does these kinds of five-year-old moves with impunity, with no limit. I'm not saying you need to be their parent, but I'm saying if you hold a self-respecting position, it's good for everybody. It's not good for people to get away with using others or disrespecting others. Ever. 

Going back to the questioner, if some think it wasn't the right way to handle it, how do you handle it, then? How do you keep those boundaries set? Because if a spouse knows those boundaries but doesn't respect them in the heat of the moment, you can't just keep accepting apology after apology, right? Because that is to say, "Don't take me seriously, like nothing happened." In my view, apologies are worthless in a sense. I mean, an apology can mean something if someone is exposing who they are and saying, "I feel a tremendous amount of regret about what I did to you." But it's only meaningful if it's matched with changed behavior. The real measure of remorse is a change in behavior. You know, a lot of people, do it more like the repentance of the damned, which is, "I'm sorry. Feel good about me. Make it go away. Forgive me." But they're not in a self-confrontation. They're not trying to manage themselves differently. They're trying to manage you and get you to forgive it so that they, in the sense, don't have to confront themselves. So you have to be really careful with apologies for what they mean. Changed behavior is everything. 

So let me just read one more question because I can see a lot of questions coming in. This is clearly a hot topic because there are a lot of questions today. I don't know if I'm gonna be able to get to many of them. This person says, "My husband will touch me in a sexual manner at random points on any given day. I hate it. It keeps me on edge as I don't welcome it, but I don't perceive he means any harm by it." 

I think this is very important because the questioner then goes on to say that she thinks he does mean harm by it. So this is important to map accurately. “Do I just have a lot of sexual anxiety and I don't like my husband being sexual or being sexually interested in me? Or do I think that there is something aggressive in it or something where I'm being taken from?” Because this really matters for self-defining. When you define your boundaries, you want them to be as clear-headed as possible and you want to be able to see, "Am I being blind to something? Is this a more self-serving boundary or is this a boundary that's really about tracking? Is it protective? Am I tracking a kind of disrespect in it? Or am I using a boundary to take advantage of somebody else by not opening up myself, not engaging in an honest way?" And so I think that this issue of self-definition is not small, it is very, very important.  

I keep bringing up my son, but that was something I had to really think through. "What am I doing? How am I participating in this? Who is he? Who am I? Am I a part of this challenge he's having? And how do I calibrate?" Well, that was not an easy process for me. I took some time to really think through it. I had to think about what I couldn't see about myself. I had to think about how he experienced me. I was trying to get other points of view. And this was last year when my son was having some trouble and he had a good therapist. And that therapist was a very helpful resource for me to understand myself better and how I was in relationship to him. 

So, back to this questioner, "It keeps me on edge as I don't welcome it, but I don't perceive he means any harm in it. I also don't like it if he's sexy whistles at me. I just want to exist. I don't want to be his source of pleasure any time he chooses." 

So, when you say "I don't want to be his source of pleasure any time he chooses," again this is a self-evaluation thing, and the more honest, the better, which is, "Is it that I just don't want to give to this person? I don't want him to have pleasure. I want to freeze him out. I like the control in it." That's hypothesis A. Hypothesis B is, "I feel like this person is extracting from me all the time and doesn't respect that I don't like it."  Now it could be some of both, for sure. But she says, "I just want to exist. I don't want to be his source of pleasure anytime he chooses." So it sounds like she's at least feeling like she's being taken from. That he's using her for his pleasure, quote-unquote. It doesn't seem to feel like it's about being with you. What I would wonder is if tracking that she doesn't like it, I’m sure he is. And even if she doesn't like it because she's frigid and immature, I'm not saying she is, but let's just say she's the world's most rigid closed-off partner. To nonetheless go do to somebody what they don't want to be done to them, is its own offense. So what I would be interested in is how is he mapping his wife. Does he think she's having a good time? Probably not. So why is he doing it anyway? What's justifying it in himself? 

She says, "What's the difference between foreplay and flirtation and objectification (or what I would call use)?" And it has to do with his intention and also your receptivity to him. So when it's flirtatious, it's reciprocal. Even if your spouse is saying, (in a playful way) "Stop, I know I'm sexy, but stop." That's playful. That's reciprocal. That is not about, "You are just so invasive. You're constantly pestering me and taking from me when I don't like." That's a very different picture. When it's flirtation, both people are having a good time, even if one's pretending to like it less, even if it's the dance of pursuit and resistance. It is still a dance you're both participating in. I talked about this in the Art of Loving Course, the men's course. I was watching our golden retriever and my mom's puppy, who's a Havanese, play. And the Havanese would take on this kind of alpha aggressor position, and the big golden retriever would play the beta, the kind of submissive one. So they're playing in this pursuit and resistance and aggressive and submit, but it's a game they both absolutely liked. And sometimes when the little dog would wander away, Sullivan, our dog, would bark at him, like a "Come back and play” bark.  Clearly, they both liked this. So even if you're in this dynamic, that can be a part of flirtation, it's mutual. It's shared fun. 

The questioner continues, "So how do I establish a boundary that allows for desired sexual touch, but eliminates these instances that I don't welcome?" So again, you want to think about it in terms of self-definition and defining the terms of your engagement. And I would address with him what it is about the touch that you reject. I'm going to go with how you're thinking of it without knowing more here, but that you're experiencing it as invasive, as disrespectful, as disrespecting the fact that he maps that you don't like it, and you're feeling taken from, and so it feels devaluing. And he does it even when you reject it. So that's what I would be addressing. What I wouldn't do, and what often happens, is people start addressing it in terms of, "I don't like it...," that's kind of like saying, "I have an issue, or I’m the issue" as opposed to, "When you touch me, when you know I don't like it, that says a lot to me about how you think about me. That's a problem for me. That's the problem. It's not that I don't like sex, it's that I don't like feeling that you're coming at me when I don't want it. If you can't respect my no, you're not going to get a yes from me." Now, some people may say, "Oh, you're trying to control him." No, this is self-control. Now you may feel controlled. A lot of times people do feel controlled when you set your boundary. Like the woman who's asked her husband to go because he's being verbally abusive. He could probably get people to agree with him that she's being controlling. OK, that's fine. When you start to hold your limits, people do feel that they don't have the choices that they want. But you have to just be honest with yourself, "Am I doing it to control the other person? Or am I trying to control myself relative to the other person? I'm not going to have an open-hearted sexual relationship with somebody who won't respect me. I won't do it because to do it is to debases myself. I don't want to do it. You can debase me. I can't control that. I can control whether or not I'm in connection with you when you do that." So again, it has implications for him. But you're defining the terms of your participation in the partnership. 

Let me just kind of check into what other people are saying. Someone wrote, "For me, I have to say no in each instance. My husband doesn't get that I want to invite him in rather than constantly having to say no." Okay. He might not get it, but sometimes it's easy to not get things you don't want to get. What you have to look at in that question is yourself, "Am I just so controlling that (I'm not saying you are, but just to think about it) I need to control everybody?" You know, the person I was talking about that's always having contracts with her husband? Well, she's trying to manage her sense of sexual safety by micromanaging everything her husband does. My input to her is, "You trying to control other people will keep you absolutely certainly anxious because you can't control other people. You set up contracts with your husband, but you know he's lying to you because he always does. You know he's saying yes to you when there's no guarantee that he really means it because he's so busy trying to make you happy with him that he's not trustworthy, but you still are trying to control him. You will never feel secure if you're trying to control what you can't control."  Anxiety is about trying to control what you can't control. Resentment is usually about the punishment and anger you feel when you don't have that control. It's always harder, but where your development rests is in self-control. 

So going back to that question, "I have to say no in each instance." But I think you want to look at why am I saying no. Is it the way I'm being engaged, or is it that I want a ridiculous amount of control? Is it that I have a hard time receiving? Is it that I have a hard time owning my own desires when I track his desires? Is it the way he approaches me?  Do I play a role in always being approached in this way that I don't like?” 

I'm not trying to excuse him, but if I only have myself to control, I better get a clean look at what I'm doing. And then if I've got a hold of what I'm doing, I'm more in a position to hold a healthy position, to hold a self-respecting position, to hold a position that will pressure us forward more than if I'm just vilifying him and or trying to control him. If you think, "I really do have a spouse who will not respect my no," well, that's an important issue to take up and say, "That's a big deal for me." But it's not coming, again, from trying to manage him, it's about being honest about yourself in that relationship. "I am not okay with that. So if you want to be okay with me, you've got to respect what I'm saying to you. Your choice. But these are the terms of my participation." 

This is an anonymous question: "So my question is my husband tells me that he doesn't like chatting or texting because he does this for work, but has zero issues doing these things for random people, especially women. He doesn't want to put the work into our marriage because he's an introvert but has no problem putting in the work for friendship relationships. He wants to spend time on video games, phones, and electronics basically. Then he is upset that I don't feel close to him. My love language is quality time and words of affirmation. He doesn't listen to me when I try to talk to him. He just calls me names. And tells me that issues are all my fault. My husband said he joined your group because he feels like we are roommates. I agree. But he doesn't want to put any work into having an actual relationship. There's zero connection. We aren't partners, but that's all by his choice. He wants to leave the housework to me and the work of our marriage and expects things to be good. And when I mentioned divorce, he said, I'm just using him. When wouldn't that be the other way around? He's using me to be his maid and for sex when he wants it and doesn't meet my needs?" 

Yeah. OK, let me think about what I would say about that. I mean, it's a little tricky to know because I don't have both views to know that that's the best view. I'm not questioning your honesty or anything, just thinking about what's the operating system. But it sounds like you're pointing to a meaning twist that happens in the marriage, and this does happen a lot in marriages, where the spouse is professing to be a victim of something from you, when in fact that's precisely what they do to you. You use me when in fact they're using you. You don't care about me. You just care about me in how it serves you, when in fact, that's precisely how they're in relationship to you. And so let's assume, for the sake of the question, that you've got this exactly right, that this is the right view of what he's doing and of yourself in it. I think that again, you're not going to be able to get validation from your husband of your point of view. He has no interest to validate that view because it blows up his view, the view that justifies his behavior. And if he were to tolerate your view, he would have to grow up and take more responsibility for himself and what he's actually doing in his marriage. That is he’s taking advantage of you and justifying it while he does what he wants outside the marriage. So this is most definitely a place where you have to take responsibility for yourself without his validation. You have to take a deeper, self-defining position knowing that he will do his best to push back on it because he has the control he wants currently as long as he has been able to keep you self-doubting on your side of this. 

So I would really recommend you have a good therapist. You need to have some good input on this to really work out a clear picture of what's happening and how you're participating in it because it's going to be you making different decisions. A lot of times people think that means the only option is divorce. It often means you have to be willing to contemplate divorce for any chance of getting healthy. But it means starting to set limits within the marriage itself and in terms of your behavior.  “I'm not willing to have sex with you. You don't have to agree with me, I know you're not going to agree with me, but I'm not OK with you texting other women and not investing in your relationship with me." He might reply, "Well, that's stupid. That's so dumb." To which you could say, "You have every right to think that it's dumb. But I'm not willing to do it." Him: "Wow. You've always been so rigid." Her: "You have a right to think that, this is still what I'm going to do. I don't agree with you. In fact, my view is that you take advantage of me in these ways."

But see, you're not trying to prove to him, you're saying, "Here I am. In my mind, you're taking advantage of me. This is not up for debate. I'm living according to what I see as good and valuable for me. I'm not going to be complicit in your mistreatment." Him: "Well that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard." Her: "You have a right to think it, but you have to decide what you're going to be because I'm not going to participate in a marriage where I'm being treated like this." Him: "So are you going to divorce me?" Her: "We'll have to see what you choose. I would prefer not to. I'd prefer for you to love me, but I'm going to do what's healthy for me and I'll watch and see what you're going to do." But see, you're essentially saying, "I'm going to define me and do what's right. I hope you'll make good choices. But that's up to you." 

Let me just see if there's another. This one says, "I need this advice too. My husband doesn't think that trust needs to be built back up, that I should automatically trust again." I'm not sure which question it's referencing, but clearly, that's not true. I'll just speak to that issue of trust. I've talked about this before in Facebook lives, but one of the worst things you can do for yourself is to be dishonest because you blow up the issue of your trustworthiness, and it's a big price to pay. We're all human and we all make mistakes, but to really undermine your word, to undermine that you are credible, that you are what you say you are, that you'll do what you say you'll do, is a big price to pay. And so if you have blown that up and that's become present, it's foolishness to ask your spouse to trust you, because even if they say they do, they don't. And even if they say they do, you know they don't. Now you maybe want them to act trustingly, so you don't have to deal with your life and deal with yourself. But that's not the basis of an honest and intimate marriage. The more honest response is, "Of course, you don't trust me. You have every reason to not trust me. I've been untrustworthy. It's good judgment to doubt me. So I'm not asking you to trust me. I am, with myself, committed to being trustworthy. I'm very good at not being trustworthy. But I'm on it, and you can decide if I'm being straight with you or not." But that's entirely on the person themselves that they have made a commitment to themselves and God about the kind of person they're going to be, and they're not trying to convince anybody. And even if they are saying, "Well, I can see why you wouldn't. I'm not going to ask you to think something that's not true."  But the onus is on themselves. Whenever somebody is saying, "You won't forgive me." It's just proof positive right there that this person is obsessed with how you see them, not with who they are. That makes them fundamentally a bad person to trust because they're more concerned about how they're viewed, not about their own character and what kind of person they are. 

Thank you, everybody. You can learn more about boundaries and self-respect and all that in the Strengthening Relationship Course. Thanks everybody. I hope you have a great long weekend and I'll see you next month. 

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