Saturday, July 22, 2006

Boundaries in Marriage

As a grade school student in the 1960’s, I grew up quite confused as to whether I resided in the town of San Juan or of Mandaluyong.

You see, the huge compound I grew up in, owned by a Chinese family, was partly in San Juan and partly in Mandaluyong. The main gate opened up to a road that had a crack, a depression in the pavement that marked the boundary between Mandaluyong and San Juan. The road crew cemented only that part of the road that belonged to Mandaluyong. Later on, the San Juan municipal government cemented the other part of the road that belonged to it.

To add to my confusion, although the address we officially used was “San Juan,” my older sisters and I studied in Mandaluyong Elementary School. I remember early mornings, my mother would accompany my older sisters and me to school as we walked several kilometers a day, down Shaw Boulevard, up at A. Bonifacio, then a left turn either at Hagdang Bato or A. Luna, and then finally down the road between the San Felipe Neri church and the school (from where I graduated in 1969).

My older sisters went to either Jose Rizal College in Mandaluyong or in EARIST Nagtahan, Manila for their high school studies. But the 4-year scholarship that my elementary school awarded me sent me to the Rizal High School in Pasig. Back then, the school was better known as the “Rizal Provincial High School.” I remember the first time I traveled alone to this school. What kept turning in my young mind was that I was going to a province and I didn’t know what the language there was! I remember passing by the “Rizal Provincial Hospital” and I took that as the boundary between the province of Rizal and wherever I lived (San Juan or Mandaluyong).

Boundaries in law and in the Bible

Boundaries are important, not only for a confused grade schooler, but for society at large. There are numerous court cases where the point of contention is where one property begins and where another ends. Blood feuds begin and lives are lost, when one party encroaches upon another person’s property.

Our Revised Penal Code, for example in Article 313 penalizes altering boundaries or landmarks. The law says, “Any person who shall alter the boundary marks or monuments of towns, provinces, or estates, or any other marks intended to designate the boundaries of the same, shall be punished by arresto menor or a fine not exceeding 100 pesos, or both.” The term "arresto menor" refers to a penalty of imprisonment for 30 days.

The word “boundaries” can take on meanings other than the physical. For example, Proverbs 22: 28, in relation to Deuteronomy 19:14, states, to wit, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” The primary meaning of course here is respecting the boundaries of each person’s property. But preachers have oftentimes used this verse to refer to values or beliefs that ought to be followed, not because they’re ancient, but because time and events have proved their efficacy.

Boundaries in marriage

Several years ago, while browsing at National Bookstore in Shangri-la Crossing, my attention was caught by a book entitled “Boundaries in Marriage.” The title intrigued me so much. I thought, “Doesn’t the Bible teach that when a man and a woman marry, they become one flesh? Doesn’t creating boundaries in marriage pander to a person’s self-interest and self-centeredness, thus creating not unity but conflicts and divergence between a husband and a wife?” (Now you know growing up confused whether I lived in San Juan or Mandaluyong has really messed up my mind about boundaries!)

Anyway, I bought the book. Curiosity got the better of me and since the book was a Philippine reprint by Christian Literature Crusade (20 Karuhatan Road, Karuhatan, 1469 Valenzuela City, Metro Manila), it cost only around one hundred eighty pesos, if I remember correctly. (I’m not only confused about boundaries, I’m also a cheapskate!)

“Boundaries in Marriage” (copyright 1999; Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan) was co-authored by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, marriage counselors and popular seminar speakers in the US. They define “boundary” as a property line that defines where something ends and something else begins.

Since this book was written after their “Boundaries: How To Say Yes, How To Say No, To Take Control of Your Life,” Cloud and Townsend spend the first chapter of this book reviewing their concepts and teachings about boundaries. For example, in page 17, Cloud and Townsend state the importance of boundaries:

While many dynamics go into producing and maintaining love, over and over again one issue is at the top of the list: boundaries. When boundaries are not established in the beginning of a marriage, or when they break down, marriages break down as well. Or such marriages don’t grow past the initial attractions and transform into real intimacy. They never reach the true “knowing” of each other and the ongoing ability to abide in love and to grow as individuals and as a couple – the long-term fulfillment that was God’s design. For this intimacy to develop and grow, there must be boundaries.
(I remember reading something Dr. James Dobson wrote in “Love Must Be Tough” ascribing the strength and longevity of his marriage to him and his wife always “defending the line of respect” between them.)

Ten Laws of Boundaries

In Chapter 2, Cloud and Townsend enumerate and elucidate on what they call as the “Ten Laws of Boundaries.” These laws, discussed in pages 37 to 59, are the following:
[1] The Law of Sowing and Reaping: Our actions have consequences.

[2] The Law of Responsibility: We are responsible to each other, but not for each other.

[3] The Law of Power: We have power over some things; we don’t have power over others (including changing people).

[4] The Law of Respect: If we wish for others to respect our boundaries, we need to respect theirs.

[5] The Law of Motivation: We must be free to say no before we can wholeheartedly say yes.

[6] The Law of Evaluation: We need to evaluate the pain our boundaries cause others.

[7] The Law of Proactivity: We take action to solve problems based on our values, wants and needs.

[8] The Law of Envy: We will never get what we want if we focus outside our boundaries onto what others have.

[9] The Law of Activity: We need to take the initiative in setting our limits rather than be passive.

[10] The Law of Exposure: We need to communicate our boundaries to each other.
Core values in setting boundaries in marriage

What takes up the bulk of the book (which is replete with real-life examples of couples in crisis due to the lack of boundaries) is Cloud and Townsend’s discussion of values. In page 108, the authors clarify the importance of values:
Your values are the ultimate boundaries of your marriage. They form it, protect it, and give it a place to grow. They dictate what the nature of the relationship is going to be, what it is not going to be allowed to grow there, as well as what is going to be c\sought after and maintained. The values of your relationship become like the frame of a house; they give it shape. What you value determines the kind of relationship you most likely will have in the end. For if you will hold these things up high, esteem them and pursue them as a couple, we believe you will be building your relationship on solid ground.
The “values” that Cloud and Townsend value the most are the following:
[1] Love of God

[2] Love of Your Spouse

[3] Honesty

[4] Faithfulness

[5] Compassion and Forgiveness

[6] Holiness
Further on in their book, Cloud and Townsend state the importance of values in setting boundaries and in building a good marriage. They say,
In marriage, if you focus on what you want and desire and just stay angry and disappointed that you are not getting it, you will remain there. But if you focus on cultivating the garden instead of demanding the fruit, then your garden will yield a huge harvest.

So it is with values …. Work on them. Stand against anything in yourself or your spouse that would destroy them. This is righteous indignation, and your marriage may depend on it. But also, do everything to increase the presence of these things. Give time, money, energy, focus, and other resources to developing the love of God and each other, honesty, faithfulness, compassion, forgiveness, and holiness. Pursue them with everything the two of you can muster. They will not fail you in the end.
Part of the graphic design on the back cover of Cloud and Townsend’s book states, “It takes two individuals to become one flesh.” Remember my question about boundaries and two persons becoming one flesh? Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot perhaps explain best what this quotation means in their book “Relationships.” They say that the fundamental principle in finding fulfillment in relationships is this “If you try to find intimacy with another person before achieving a sense of identity on your own, all your relationships become an attempt to complete yourself.”

You can read more about “boundaries” in Cloud and Townsend's website, and if you want to go directly to their articles, click here. They have also written "Boundaries in Dating" and "Boundaries with Kids."

Boundaries and a friend’s broken romance

For about fourteen years, I worked as a journalism teacher and schoolpaper adviser, first in Quezon City Science High School and then in Rizal High School. In my work as a teacher, I had the privilege and pleasure of working with teenagers on the verge of adulthood, and because press work demanded a lot of time, work and effort together, I became close with several of my staffers. I became friends with one female staffer, in particular, and all throughout her college years and even when she started working, we kept in touch by letters and phone calls.

Several years ago, she called me up and said that she and her boyfriend were already contemplating marriage, since they were both in the middle 20’s already. She asked me to shoot her wedding pictures which she said would be in a garden setting. I said yes and asked her when the wedding would be. She said she will just contact me again and say when and where.

Several months after that call however, she called me up again, and said that she had broken up with her boyfriend. She then told me about how their relationship of several years had been like. Whenever they would have an argument or misunderstanding, her boyfriend would remain aloof and uncommunicative for weeks. They would meet in church, or the guy would escort her home, but remain silent all the time. After a lengthy period of time, her boyfriend would then say that everything’s now okay, and they would have good times again. She said that she tried to understand and bear with her boyfriend’s ways and moods. But as time went by, she said, the question that gnawed upon her mind was that, “If this is the way we are as girlfriend and boyfriend, how would our life be as husband and wife?”

Needless to say, my friend endured the heartache of a romance and a relationship she had deliberately ended. I don’t know if she had ever read Cloud and Townsend’s book but I would say that she may have intuitively known what boundaries are and that she had failed to establish them in her relationship. I don’t know what’s happening to my friend now. We just keep in touch by text messages three or four times a year. But I would dare say that she can look back to her broken relationship and say that she had become a better person because she established the right boundary.

Well, well, well, boundaries. I wish I could say that decades after my grade school days, I’m no longer confused about boundaries. But now I live in a corner of Pasig that’s only a stone’s throw away from Cainta. In fact, the first three numbers of our telephone are for homes and offices in the Cainta area. So where am I residing – Pasig or Cainta? Help!

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