Can You Set Boundaries in an Abusive Marriage?

Boundaries can be set in any relationship and should be. They teach people how to treat you. Boundaries can help relationships grow by nurturing both parties in a way that is respectful for everyone.

The only way boundary-setting works is when the boundaries are enforced.

If a boundary is allowed to be crossed, then it is not a boundary. When boundaries are continuously trampled on, then it is abuse.

We will look at:

What Boundaries are

How Boundaries are Set

Boundaries in Marriage

And Boundaries in Abusive Marriages

set boundaries in marriage

What are boundaries?

“A boundary is an imaginary line that separates me from you.” Sharon Martin

A boundary shows where something begins and another ends. In relationships, boundaries separate who you are from others. Physical bodies are boundaries, the way we think and feel are separate from how others think and feel.

Boundaries teach people how to treat you.

Boundaries teach people what is welcomed and what is off-limits.

Boundaries demand respect.

Boundaries protect you.

When first learning to set boundaries, you may feel a bit off. Even mean. Are boundaries good? And how can you learn to set them if you haven’t ever set them before?

What does the Bible say about Boundaries? 

God Uses Boundaries in Creation.

When God created everything, He also created boundaries. The night and day were separated. The earth and sky, and land and water were separate from each other. (Genesis 1:3&4; 9&10)

We hear in Jeremiah God speak about the boundary he set between the water and dry land.

I think of the times I stood beside the ocean and watched the water rush in, and then back out again. How amazing is our God that He has set the boundary of the water?

Jesus Used Boundaries on Earth

Jesus respected people’s decisions. He gave them an invitation to follow Him, and He called them to a higher living. Though He never tried to overrule their decisions, He never tried to shame or blame them. He gave them the facts they needed to make a decision. And then He moved on.

Jesus never clung to anyone’s feet begging them to change their minds. He never told them they were stupid for choosing a life without Him. He walked away.

Jesus models healthy boundaries for us in this way. We can learn so much for sure!

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set boundaries

How are Boundaries Set?

Imagine what the shore would be like if there were no boundaries set for the water? It would be completely swallowed up!

And that is exactly what a lack of boundaries feels like, being completely swallowed up.

But if the shore could not be caught by the persistent approaching waves, then the shore would remain.

How do Boundaries Work in Marriage?

Marriage allows for greater intimacy, a true knowing than any other earthly relationship. When two people love God and seek Him, and love and respect each other, then something beautiful happens.

Knowing each other can only be embraced through the mutual act of letting each other know. This can be letting each other know what you do and don’t like, what your desires are, and what your dreams are.

Boundaries do not hinder intimacy, they foster intimacy.

When you choose to voice your concerns and desires in a relationship then there is an opportunity to grow, become stronger, and withstand the hardships that married couples face. Because you allow yourself to be known and to know the one you love, only then is true intimacy is enjoyed.

Marriage is not a license to abuse, but an allowance to know and enjoy each other.

Can I have Boundaries in an Abusive Marriage?

You can have boundaries in an abusive marriage. Both cannot exist simultaneously, though.

Let me explain.

Boundaries say ” You may only come this far”, or “You may no longer do that.” However, if your husband keeps coming closer when you say stop, then there is no longer a boundary. If he continues to do the things you tell him not to, then there is no boundary.

To reinforce a boundary there must be a consequence for the boundary not being respected. The only safe way to keep a boundary in an abusive marriage is to leave. Whether temporarily or permanently, leave.

Abusive men demand that they have complete and total control over their wives. So, a boundary can be set, but it almost always results in the ending of the relationship. Do you see?

This can be dangerous. Boundary setting usually appears to be a threat to the abuser, making him feel as if he is losing control. Read this post before trying to leave an abusive relationship.

Boundaries should be viewed as games rules to win over your lover’s heart. But to an abusive man, boundaries are an obstacle in the way of making him feel powerful and in control- of you!

Good boundaries give you responsibility for your actions, and me over mine. But an abusive marriage demands that the abused spouse takes full responsibility for the abuser.

What Hinders Boundary Setting?

  1. Fear. This can be fear of what someone may think or fear of rejection, or fear of the loss of a relationship. When there is a boundary set there is always the chance that the relationship will suffer. Such relationships were never strong, to begin with. Without boundaries though, there is no chance for a strong relationship.
  2. The disbelief of personal value. You may not feel worthy of having protection or being comfortable. But two truths exist A. You were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). B. Jesus died for you just like He did for everyone else in order to for them to come to the Father.

Boundaries can be so weird to navigate, and they can even be painful at first. As time passes, you move from intentionally having to set boundaries, to setting them effortlessly.

You teach people how to treat you, and people can always be retrained. Don’t worry too much if you have don’t do this well. It is never too late to start. If you’re angry at yourself this post 8 ways to stop beating yourself up may help.

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