Boundary Problems in Marriage

by Gary Gilles

Questions and Answers – Marital Communication

marital conflictQuestion: My husband and I have been married for 18 years. We repeatedly get into arguments because he expects me to know what he is thinking and feeling about any given situation. I tell him I’m not a mind-reader. He says that if I really knew him I would know why he’s acting the way he is. We’re stuck and drifting apart because we can’t break through this. Any suggestions?

–  Rebecca C.

You’re already on the right track Rebecca with understanding that you can’t read your husband’s mind, regardless of how long you’ve been married or how well you know him.

What you are describing is really a boundary problem in your relationship. Let me explain this in greater detail.

A boundary is like a relational property line that helps distinguish you from someone else. It defines that which belongs to you versus that which belongs to your husband. You are fully responsible for everything that belongs to you and your husband for everything that is on his side of the relational boundary line.

For example, you are each responsible for your bodies, your emotions, your choices, your values, your thoughts, etc. This means that if your husband wants you to know what he is feeling, he must take responsibility to tell you. Even if he is not good at it, he still is responsible for communicating his feelings to make the relationship work.

Now, having said this, it may be the case that your husband wants to tell you his thoughts and feeling but may not know how. Many adults find it difficult to make sense of their inner lives. Articulating your feelings is a learned skill. But unfortunately many people didn’t grow up in families where this was valued or practiced. So, we have to learn to do it in adulthood, which is not easy. But it can be learned if you are willing to make some changes in how you interact.

The starting point for this type of change is clarifying the boundary line. By continually guessing your husband’s thoughts and feelings you are taking too much responsibility. Your part is to stop guessing. His part is to try and help you understand what is going on inside him to the best of his ability. There’s no shame in admitting that he isn’t good at putting his feelings into words. But he can’t stop there. He needs to practice.

If you are interested in taking this further, please see the review I recently wrote on the book called Boundaries in Marriage. It would give you a lot of practical ideas on how to strengthen your communication and your relationship.

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