Marriage Counseling Advice: Give Your Spouse Space to Breathe and Grow

When you're married, the boundaries between yourself and your spouse aren't always clear. For some people, marriage brings the expectation of spending as much time as possible with a spouse and doing most things together. In this model of marriage, the two people generally function as a single unit in thought and actions.

In other cases, individuals may not have learned healthy boundaries as children, and they may have been exposed to negative control on the part of adults in their life. In her book Facing Codependence, Pia Melody lists negative control as one of the secondary symptoms of codependence that affects your relationships with others. She defines negative control as giving yourself permission to determine someone else's reality for your own comfort.

According to Melody, negative control "happens whenever I give myself permission to determine for another person what he or she should look like (including dress and body size), or think, feel, and do or not dol" There is also a flip side to negative control, which is "allowing someone else to control me." Melody continues by stating, "Whenever I fail to determine for myself what I look like, what I think, what I feel, and what I do or don't do, and allow someone else to control any of those things for me, I am participating in negative control."

When you do not have healthy, distinct personal boundaries, you may try to change your spouse to be more like you want him/her to be to meet your needs and expectations. In so doing, you are dishonoring your partner and are not respecting his/her unique individuality and right to make choices. You are also failing to provide protected space so that your spouse's individual growth and potential can flourish.

Couples who do everything together miss putting important spaces in their togetherness so that new, separate growth can occur. Without new growth and fresh input from each person, a relationship can stagnate and lack vitality.

It's important for each spouse to have some time alone to pursue individual interests or enjoy being in solitude. Anne Morrow Lindberg, in her classic book, Gift from the Sea, states that "Only when one is connected to one's own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And, for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude." Solitude and time to "just be" can help each partner replenish energy and a sense of well-being.

Kahlil Gibran's words about marriage in The Prophet have been quoted often through the years, but they keep their wisdom and meaning: "...let there be spaces in your togetherness. And let the winds of the heavens dance between you." He continues by saying, "...And stand together, yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

When you crowd your partner and don't give him or her breathing room, you run the risk of smothering the very relationship that is most important to you. Enjoy your togetherness, but also honor your individuality.

Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says "I don't love you anymore!" This is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com ,where you can also sign up for the free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine to get ideas and support for improving your marriage.

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