Boundary Violations – Part 3October 29, 2008
My wife and I give one other “mad money” each month. I write her check and she writes mine. We do anything with that money our conscience allows. We don’t have to ask permission in how to use it and cannot be condemned if we spend frivolously. For instance, if I want to stock up on 20 pounds of licorice to eat in secret, hoarding against days of great licorice shortages in this country, I am within my “mad money” rights to purchase it.
We do this for a number of reasons. First, if we put a limit on what each of us spends on “wish list” type items, we don’t go fishing in our general fund for it. Second, it is liberating to know that you can buy things just because you want to. That little bit of freedom is very comforting. Third, there are things that my wife and I can’t agree we need. This way, we don’t have to. I advise every couple to practice madmoneying.
A couple of years ago, wife-of-mine got a phone call from someone we both know very well. This person complained about some financial struggles they were having. She sympathized with them and a couple of hours later wrote them a check to help out. When she told me of her decision that evening, I was angry. I accused her of enabling this person again. On and on I lectured her with the seeming ease of a preacher. She just sat there and took it. Finally, I ended my diatribe.
“Mike, it’s my mad money and I’ll spend it the way I want to.”
That was all she said about the subject. Every time I tried to get back into the discussion with her, she wouldn’t engage me. I could tell she was hurt and she knew I was angry. This went on for a couple of days and she finally had had enough. She looked me square in the eye and said “Do I ever question a single thing you buy with your mad money?”
“No” I replied.
“Then back off and let it go.”
She then explained that she didn’t mind me disagreeing with her choice. But she didn’t like how I was focusing my anger on her seemingly to will her to the “right” decision. She basically told me I needed to give her the space to come to her own conclusions. If she was wrong, it was her money and her decision.
I then realized I had treated her poorly; I had violated a boundary. I am not talking about a mad money rule as much as I am speaking of her right to be wrong. Or put another way, her right to grow at the pace she wants to grow in areas that don’t directly affect me.
We often get married knowing certain of our partner’s strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are fine – they attracted us to this person. And regarding the weaknesses, we are sure we can change the person eventually. But is that fair?
Let’s say a man bites his fingernails. His partner is sure she can change him, either by guilt or pleading. She then devotes time and emotional currency to making sure he changes. On his side of the ledger, he doesn’t see the need to change. He isn’t happy with biting his fingernails, but it isn’t the end of the world. Depending on what lengths she will go to in order to change him, this could end up being a major boundary violation. His nail-biting does not harm her or him. Therefore it is completely his choice what he will do.
All of us are allowed to change at the pace we choose. Others can help us in that process by holding us accountable for not changing. But no one can make us change. Not even God does that.
Someone in the cheap seats will protest: “But I can’t have him lying to me.” or “I won’t put up with her sleeping around on me.” or “If he watches basketball one more night, I might put arsenic in his coffee.” Do we have to tolerate bad behavior in order to stay within healthy boundaries? Of course not. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions. If one spouse cheats on the other, there is nothing wrong with saying to them, “If you do that again, I am out of here.” But there is a big difference between outlining consequences for behavior that affects others and simply wanting to get your way.
When I was angry at my wife for spending her money on things that did not affect me in any way, I was demanding change that I had no right to demand. She is allowed to change her life at the pace she wants, irrespective of how much I agree with her. But when her actions affect me, I am allowed to weigh in on them.
This is even more prevalent when it is a heart issue that we want to change. We might demand that our partner trust us more. Or we might want more adoration or affection or even respect. But those are all things that have to come from our partner’s decision. We cannot force them to feel or believe a certain way. Once again, God does not do this.
I admit this is a difficult one in marriage. There are times in many marriages where the “spark” seems to be gone. In times like love-making or dating, one person will notice their partner is not totally into the program. How do you handle this? Approach the issue and ask them if something has changed. If they acknowledge that it has, discuss the reasons. But don’t cross the Personal Change Boundary. That is, don’t demand they change inside. Rather, address all issues that may have contributed to the problem. Or, address the behavior that the bad attitude affects. This way, it makes each person in a relationship responsible for their own attitudes. That often creates an atmosphere where change can take place.
For instance, it has now been weeks since I bought computer gadgetry with my mad money. I have chosen to grow.