Lines of love

Some boundaries, if trespassed, may jolt the foundation of your relationship and bring it crumbling down

Couples outline

It’s difficult…thinking about reasons for ending a relationship. And yet, there’s that knot in your stomach, the ache in your chest, and the gnawing message, “Something isn’t quite right.”

On the other hand, many folk have tons of ultimatums—typically stated as, “If you do that again, I’ll... I’ll... leave!” The problem with this is that it’s expressed over trivialities, and the person saying it doesn’t actually leave! I think that every couple ought to be exploring what I call “Lines in the Sand.”

These are the few things that would lead, pretty quickly, to the ending of a relationship. In my case, my wife Darbella and I have only two lines in the sand: Total honesty, and using a Communication Model. If either stop happening, our relationship would be over.

While by no means an exhaustive list of Lines in the Sand, here are a few that are important:

Communication

Use of the pronoun “I”—most fights are about blaming, and the pronoun of blame is ‘you.’ If either or both partners are ‘you-ing,’ it’s time to stop. You want to remember that the only person you have control over is yourself, and therefore finger pointing is a waste of time.

Only talk about what you know about—the only thing you know about for sure is you and your motivations. Pretending to know what’s up for your partner is impossible. Yet, most fights contain a lot of, “here’s what you are thinking, feeling, doing…”

In good communication, you talk about what is happening for you, and invite your partner to share their story. You may also make requests, but they need to be things you are also doing, like, “I am willing to sit and talk for 30 minutes a day, using a communication model, and I’m asking you to do the same.”

Why it matters: Good communication is the only way to resolve issues. Bad communication [blaming, yelling, demanding, manipulating] is a huge marker for something seriously wrong with the relationship.

If you are engaging in bad communication and both of you are not willing to fix it [by going to see a therapist to learn how to communicate!], then what you see now is as good as it will get.

Being unwilling to communicate well is a primary cause of relationship failure, so choosing not to fix this basic ingredient is a clear indicator that the relationship is over.

Honesty

Total honesty is what it sounds like. In a relationship, there can be no secrets.

Typically, resistance to honesty is caused by:

  • The resistant party pulling the “I’m an adult, I have a right to privacy!” card, or
  • The person has done something they fear revealing.

There’s something about dishonesty—it simply stands out. You can “feel it.” It’s that undercurrent of distrust—the sense that you’re only being told part of the story. And the excuses for not being honest are simply dumb.
YES, YOU DO HAVE A RIGHT TO PRIVACY. IT’S CALLED BEING SINGLE!

Why it matters: In a relationship, honesty is everything. And this includes being honest about attractions to others [of course it keeps happening!], how you relate to others [see below] and what is going on at work, with your maiden family…everything.

And primarily, it’s about communication: “So, I’m noticing that I am making myself uncomfortable about…”

If either you or your partner is hiding things from the other, it’s time to spell out what’s not being said, or end the relationship.

Respect

Respect means treating your partner with compassion, kindness, empathy, and civility. That this isn’t the case in many bad relationships is obvious. I’ve never been able to understand why people yell at, berate, blame, or gossip about their partner. After all, this person is ‘supposed to be’ your best friend. Just because you are making yourself miserable in the relationship is no excuse to treat your partner worse than you treat, for example, colleagues at work.

Why it matters: Successful relationships are built on the characteristics I’m mentioning, and especially on trust. My principal partner is the person I am most ‘at home’ with, and it is simply unacceptable to berate this person, for any reason, at any time.

This is not a prescription for blind acceptance of any behaviour. It’s within the context of these five points. In other words, being respectful is linked to good communication, honesty. Respect comes from practice.

If you are treating your partner like a stupid child, for example, it’s time to go for therapy, or leave the relationship.

Sex and relating with others

Sexual dissatisfaction and sneaking around are two big causes of relationship issues. As is being surprised by sexual attraction to others. We are all sexual beings, and none of us are wired to only be turned on by only one person. We also have different needs and wants sexually, and because of embarrassment, often do not ask for or get what we want. The cure, of course, is honesty. If a relationship is based upon the other 4 principles, then sexual issues can be discussed openly, honestly, and resolved with good communication.

Why it matters: Our sexual lives are integral to our wellbeing, and dishonesty or endless suspicions are deadly in this arena. We need to get over fearing our sexual side, and openly embrace who we are and what we want, through honest dialogue.

If this is scary for you, talk with a therapist—functional adulthood requires a mature sex life / understanding. If you won’t grow up sexually, it’s time to leave the relationship.

Putting your partner first

What I mean here is, nothing and no one should be more important than your partner. Not your job, not your parents, not your family of origin, not your kids. Your principal partner is called that because that’s what principal means.

When we get ‘married,’ we leave our parents [and in old English,] ‘cleave’ to our spouse. This means, ‘to be attached to, or faithful [ loyal] to this person.’ This doesn’t mean we attempt to change this person into someone others want our spouse to be.

Back to respect. Part of respect is total acceptance of the other person as s/he is. Your partner is the one person you choose to be totally honest and intimate with, forever.

Why it matters: We don’t get into relationships to fix the other person, nor change them, nor take sides against them. Each person in the couple ought to believe that the other person has their back. We are there for them, above all else.

If you put more value in your family of origin, or your job, or in someone other than your spouse, you really need to separate and go live with the people you respect more.

This is not an exhaustive list, but rather five areas of contention that come up often in couples’ therapy. Have a look at the list, do a ‘gut check,’ and see if you’re ignoring any of these areas. If you are, and want to fix the relationship, get some help sooner rather than later. If you decide that the relationship has fallen too far down the rabbit hole, get some help and separate amicably. Wasting your life in a dishonest, disrespectful relationship is simply foolish.

This was first published in the November 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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