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How to Tell the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries in Marriage

How to Tell the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Boundaries in Marriage

Question: What are examples of healthy boundaries in marriage? How do I love my spouse, but still express my own voice and needs? (Barbara G.)

Examples of healthy boundaries in marriage can be hard to identify. When things are working—whether in your marriage or in someone else’s—it just seems natural. On the other hand, examples of unhealthy boundaries in marriage are usually painfully obvious, not only to you, but to the people around you.

To answer your question, let’s first examine what healthy and unhealthy boundaries in marriage look like. I’ll then provide a framework for gauging the health of the boundaries in your marriage. You can share these with your spouse. Plus, I’ll cover the six key categories of marriage where boundaries matter the most.


In general, there are two ways that problems tend to surface with boundaries in marriages:

Example of Unhealthy Boundaries in Marriage: Being Consumed

In the first way, you let your spouse consume or overwhelm you. In this instance, the other person may have a loud, strong presence. They state their needs clearly and don’t pick up on your needs. You may have deferred to their preferences or changed yourself to be what they need.

As you can see from the diagram, “you” are barely showing. When you are “consumed” by someone else, you might feel like:

  • My needs don’t matter.
  • I have to do it his way.
  • I can’t be myself.
  • When decisions are made, I don’t have a say.

Example of Unhealthy Boundaries in Marriage: Being Too Distant

On the other hand, perhaps you’ve grown far away from your spouse. You live separate lives and give each other plenty of space. The problem is that you can grow too far apart. You are no longer connected nor operating as a team. You lose the intimacy that once brought you together.

unhealthy boundaries in marriage distant

As you can see from the diagram, you and your spouse have no areas of overlap. You are disconnected from each other and living separate lives. If you’ve grown distant, you might feel like:

  • I don’t even know who he is anymore.
  • He doesn’t know what I want or need.
  • I am on my own emotionally and spiritually.
  • We are more like roommates.

Example of Healthy Boundaries in Marriage

Healthy boundaries in marriage are somewhere in the middle. It’s learning how to say “yes” to yourself AND stay connected to your spouse. Using another visual illustration, healthy boundaries look like this:

healthy boundaries in marriage

In this diagram, you and your spouse share interests that overlap, and you remain connected to each other.

However, you also have a sense of autonomy. You each have your own interests. You don’t have to be on the same page about every single thing. Plus, both you and your spouse have other friendships, and you might even share a few. There’s connection and intimacy, yet there’s still space for individuality. Healthy boundaries in marriage feels like:

  • We maximize our strengths and focus on the things we like to do together.
  • We don’t agree on everything, but we seek to understand our differences.
  • I feel encouraged by my spouse to pursue my God-given talents. I also support him.
  • My spouse supports me emotionally. I also support him in his times of need.

Try this exercise at home:

As you consider your own marriage, review the three previous diagrams and ask yourself which type reflects how you feel. If possible, use the diagrams as a springboard to have a conversation with your spouse.

Oftentimes, couples are doing well in some areas, but struggling in another. Consider breaking down your relationship into the following categories. Then, notice whether you feel “consumed,” “distant,” or “healthy” within each category:

Boundaries in Marriage Categories:

  1. Parenting
  2. Vocation/Work
  3. Spiritual practices
  4. Hobbies
  5. Money
  6. Sex

On a scale of 1 to 10, how true is the following statement for each category? (1 = not true at all; 10 = completely true)

When it comes to [parenting/work/spiritual practices/money/sex/hobbies], we understand and respect each other. We cherish what we agree on, and we seek to understand and respect each other where we differ.

As you understand your strengths and your areas of growth, you will gain clarity. You stop “catastrophizing” the issues, slow down, and identify your specific challenges. You don’t have to fix that problem right away. Sometimes, simply naming the issue together as a couple can help bring more calm.

You might even decide to work on a specific challenge with a counselor, take my online course, or you can continue to work through solutions together. However, allow me to emphasize this point:

The more you understand what YOU want and need, the healthier your relationship will be. As you can communicate on behalf of what you are feeling, you stop fighting and move toward solving problems together, as a TEAM.

Together, this is how you express your own voice and experience healthy boundaries in marriage.

This article originally appeared here.