Boundaries – I Am Responsible for 5 Things
Taking Responsibility Can Build Connection
In our marriage mentoring, I like to talk about what each one of us is responsible for. Couples are often confused about this. When we are married for a long time it’s very easy to blame our spouse for our actions. We try to take responsibility for our spouse and fix them.
Nancy was home alone one evening when she received an invitation from a friend to join her at a local pizza place. Nancy thought that sounded great, so she left a note for her husband and went to the restaurant. When her husband, Gary, came home he expected her to be there. He was angry that she wasn’t at home.
So, Gary drove to the pizza place and marched in, yelling at his wife. He was very loud and confrontational. The restaurant called the police. The police came and calmed him down. When Gary got back in his car and started to drive away, the police stopped him. They pulled him out of his car and arrested him for driving under the influence.
As he was being handcuffed and put into the back of the squad car, he looked at Nancy and shouted, “This is all your fault.”
What was Gary responsible for? What was Nancy responsible for?
Here are 5 things for which I’m responsible.
1. I Am Responsible For My Body
I am responsible for my body. I’m responsible for the clothes I wear. I am responsible for what I eat and what I put in my body.
I am responsible for how I allow people to touch me. In marriage, I am responsible for how I want to be touched. I can ask my spouse to touch in a certain way, but I am responsible to communicate this.
Sometimes, my wife will make a suggestion to me. She’ll say, “You had better put some sun screen on if you’re going to be outside in the sun all day.” I am responsible for whether I take her suggestion or not. (More than once I’ve come home with a terrible sun burn because I didn’t listen.)
My body can also communicate. Research shows that between 70-90% of communication is non-verbal. I can communicate in a threatening way or in a partnering way.
If I want to communicate love to my wife when she is talking to me, I can stop what I’m doing and listening to my wife. If I sit and stare at my cell phone while she’s talking, I am communicating that I’m not interested in her.
2. I Am Responsible For My Words
“Speaking recklessly is like the thrusts of a sword, but the words of the wise bring healing.” Proverbs 12:18 (NET Bible)
What I say and how I say it can wound and hurt others. I am responsible for what I say and how I say it.
I am responsible for my tone, my volume and my intensity. No one makes me raise my voice.
This one becomes difficult with couples. It’s easy for us to lash out when we are hurt.
I am responsible for when apologizing when I’ve said something poorly.
3. I Am Responsible for My Thoughts
No one makes me think the way I do.
The reality is that past relationships and experiences have taught me to follow patterns of thought that shape my thinking about myself and others.
I am not bound by the negative messages I hear or that others believe about me.
My wife and I went out for a walk this last weekend. We were crossing the street and I looked both ways and checked for traffic. This is automatic. I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it. I thought about my three-year-old grandson and how we are teaching him to do the same thing. I want this thought to be deeply engrained in his mind to keep him safe. This is a healthy thought process that protects us from danger.
We learn other thoughts in childhood that might not be very healthy.
“You’re not important.”
“You’re not worthy.”
“You can’t rely on others to be there for you, so build walls to keep them out.”
These negative messages can automatically run through our heads so fast we may not be aware of them. We react to others based upon these thoughts.
4. I Am Responsible for My Emotions
This one is tougher to hear.
“You make me so mad.” That phrase is an example of not taking responsibility for your own emotions. No one makes you feel a certain way.
My wife and I were walking on the beach once. We saw two kids playing in the surf with their father. A big wave came in and knocked them both down. One kid laughed and one kid cried. What was the difference?
It was how they thought about the wave. It caused an emotional reaction.
My feelings are not right or wrong.
How I express what I feel can be either hurtful or helpful. I am responsible for how I express my emotions.
5. I Am Responsible for My Behavior
There are several possible responses to another person’s actions. I can manage my behavior IF I can identify my thoughts and feelings.
I told you the story about Gary and Nancy. No one made Gary get angry. No one made Gary get in his car and drive. No one made Gary yell in the restaurant so that the police were called.
Gary was angry because he expected Nancy to be home. No one made him think this. He could have thought, “I’m glad that she is meeting with a friend. She deserves some time out. I’m sad she’s not here and I look forward to seeing her.”
The good news is that we can retrain our brains. If we can identify these thoughts, we can choose to think something else.
Honestly, this can take some work. It can take some self-reflection. This may be a lifelong process.
The Bible encourages us to think different thoughts. The Holy Spirit can help to guide and lead us into how to think.
In Romans 12:2 is says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8
We can be transformed and chose what our thoughts are.
My prayer is, “God, align my thoughts with your thoughts!”
Tips for Marriage Mentors:
- Encourage people to take responsibility – When we are talking with couples we will explain that they are responsible for their actions, thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
- Explore the thought beneath the emotion – What’s the thought? Is there something that is triggering you to react in a certain way?
- Be patient – This can take some time and reflection to see our assumptions and how they are impacting us. Give grace to couples.