“Why buy the cow when you’re already getting the milk?”
My friends and I have reached the age where we are starting to seriously think about our futures and taking our careers and relationships with the opposite sex seriously. Marriage has become a regular topic of conversation. Okay, so maybe the marriage has always been a topic of conversation. During one such conversation I got really upset thinking about how some of my intelligent, beautiful and intelligent (yes, I said that twice) friends were finding themselves stuck in dead-end relationships where she wanted a higher level of commitment that he was not willing to give.
And in every case the woman had a justification for why she stayed. Things along the lines of:
We’ve been together for six years, he’s my best friend.
We basically live together, I can’t leave.
He was my first.
In spite of her efforts to get the guy to start calling her a serious girlfriend not a “frienefit” or to propose or to turn the three years of engagement into a walk down the aisle, he seems comfortable with keeping things as they are. A lot of women are counseling, cooking, doing the housework, even having babies for men who have never committed themselves to anything beyond : “Ooh girl, you know I’m down for you.”
Keep your cookies in the cookie jar.
The logic is simple: if he has free access to the cookies, why should he offer to pay for them? When a woman gives gives a man the full benefits of relationship with her (emotionally, physically, spiritually), it’s illogical for her to expect him to alter the terms so that he has to give something up to get those benefits which he already has access to.
It’s illogical for you to think that giving him milk for free will convince him that he should buy the cow. That tactic may have worked for some but are you willing to keep giving and potentially suffer years of unhappiness in the hope that he gets the message?
Surely there’s a better way?
What we need is: boundaries.
“Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence”. We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside… They guard our treasures (Matt 7:6) so that people will not steal them. They keep the pearls inside and the pigs outside.” Boundaries, Cloud & Townsend
Every relationship needs boundaries and the key to healthy relationships is establishing where you begin and where the other person ends. Without boundaries, you’ll often feel used or unappreciated.
I. Physical boundaries.
Your body is not a form of currency but it is valuable. Treat it is as such. Your body is a temple where the presence of God lives. You don’t have to give everything up to a man just because he asks you to or even because you yourself want to. You can exercise self control. Practically : if he wants it he should put a ring on it and actually marry you; stop giving up everything else short of sex, make out sessions included, stop sleeping over.
II. Emotional boundaries.
These are often so much harder to define than physical ones because they are invisible. Also, I think that women tend to get emotionally involved more easily than men do (although that’s not always the case). When you get emotionally involved in an unhealthy way you develop what’s called counterfeit oneness. You know you’re there when: you can’t separate your emotions from his; you’ve become dependent on him for your sense of self worth or identity; and you literally feel like you cannot live without him.
Practically : be careful about how much one on one time you spend together, when you spend it together and what you talk about. I do go on breakfast or lunch dates with my guy friends and we can spend hours talking, but I’m careful not to make it an everyday thing. Also, in general, I avoid having deep conversations late at night and, depending on who I’m talking to, I’m careful about not sharing very intimate details about my feelings or issues.
III. Spiritual boundaries.
I had a friend who prayed and read the Bible with her boyfriend regularly, she thought it was cute. I thought it was weird and dangerous. In that particular instance. Firstly, at that stage in their relationship it seemed premature – they barely knew each other and did not even know where their relationship was going. Secondly, neither of them had a solid, healthy, individual relationship with God.
Practically: invest time in growing your relationship with God outside of the other person, check your motives for wanting to spend time in prayer (refer to II.). If you want to grow spiritually as a couple, seek mentorship from a couple that is further than you along the road, a couple that you trust.
Let the level of intimacy deepen with the level of commitment. Don’t be afraid of asserting your boundaries in a relationship, you’re not being selfish, you’re being wise.
Question: In what area do you need to put up some fences, physical, emotional, spiritual?
What I’m reading:
H Cloud and J Townsend, Boundaries (2006) Strand Publishing: Sydney.