Thinking of perimeters around writing causes me to think of boundaries. And the very word boundaries always makes me think of marriage.
I came into marriage with a poor sense of boundaries. I wasn’t quite sure where I ended and where another person began, and as is par for the course, I also didn’t realize I had this deficit.
Very painfully I learned what it means for David and I to be two distinct people, covenanted to each other but still each our own selves.
My first awareness of my lack of boundaries began to emerge when my husband hit a stretch of change and personal growth that ran quite counter to my own experience. I couldn’t comprehend the direction he was headed because his struggles were so vastly different from my own, and what to him felt like processing and growth, to me felt like losing my husband. I warred against the change in him.
Two years were spent in this conflict. I wanted things to return to “how they used to be.” He wanted (though he couldn’t verbalize the desire) the freedom to think and feel outside of the box we’d created. My attempts to qualify his experience by my own misperceptions added pain to his process, and there we both were, locked in this thing we didn’t understand.
Basically, he was just growing up. But everything in my experience told me that if he changed, I would lose him.
I’m Right; He’s Wrong.
It’s easy to summarize now, all these years later: I thought I was right and he was wrong and if he just did All The Things I recommended, we’d be good again. I was hurting, so it felt reasonable that he could fix the hurt if he just did X, Y, Z. But in reality, he was hurting, and he just wanted me to be quiet, and sit at his side.
Though there were many other very real factors that made those years hard, the separation between the two of us was the hardest. We cycled: he withdrew, so I strove to connect. I strove to connect, and he withdrew.
Only…when I look back I realize: I wasn’t just trying to connect. I was also afraid, and from that fear was trying to take over his experience, trying to make it go away. Likewise, he wasn’t just trying to withdraw, he was instead pulling back into himself with a very real need to have a season of process and healing, and was inviting me to be with him in this journey. His heart wasn’t actually leaving mine at all.
Like I said, at the time I didn’t have a sense of where I ended and where he began. He was reacting to this, I think, because something was broken that needed to be made whole, and he sensed it, even if he could not put to it words. What I interpreted as movement away from me, was actually movement in a very healthy direction for our marriage.
Owning Our Stuff.
As people, as humans, my husband and I had to up and own our stuff, stretch out a little, and grow. I had to learn a little distance and had to learn to value an experience so different from my own.
Here’s what happened: by the Grace of God (really, I just feel like we were saved and shown great mercy) and by the virtue of the type of higher education we’d both received (I really think this played a HUGE role), and by the example burned into my childhood memory of my best friend’s mom and dad, my husband and I knew enough truth to take us through. I may not have known where he began and where I ended, but I knew that he must have an ending, as must I. Conceptually, I knew about boundaries between people. I knew that we were distinct even in our unity, but I had to learn to take the lesson to heart. I’m still learning.
Here’s what I think I know: truest intimacy comes when two distinct, healthy people covenantally choose each other. Two people take as a primary responsibility the work of growing as persons, continue to grow into emotional and mental and spiritual maturity, and hold tight to the covenant between them as they do. The covenant causes them to turn inward toward each other, to slow down or speed up in step with the other, to lay down their lives and serve each other, and to have an awful lot of space for the other’s weaknesses, quirks, brain chemistry and personality. The covenant causes each person to day in and day out, out of the fullness of who they each truly are (because they are whole, distinct persons with their own identity in Christ) be the primary encouragement in the other spouse’s life.
I think this is what marital submission actually means: respect. And respect in this context? Trust.
This type of trust and respect come when we think of another person as separate from ourselves (you are not my property, your experience is not mine to determine or control), and step back to show them honor. Intimacy comes when two people so mutually honored move back toward each other, and give themselves to each other in love.
The boundaries between two people are just as important as the boundaries around. The perimeters mark the space and make the relationship whole. They permit the area within the perimeters to deepen and flourish, becoming a type of real-life-is-right-now sacred ground.
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