How do I set boundaries around my partner's boundaries?

people-pleasers perspective relationship advice self-improvement Nov 10, 2023
How do I set boundaries around my partner's boundaries?

Dear Dr. Julie: My husband of 43 yrs has worked most of our marriage away from home: here for 2 weeks and gone for 2-3 months. I pretty much raised our 3 children alone. He retired in 2018 and has gone from being away from home most of the time to being home almost ALL the time. Has prioritized self care: goes to bed at 7, up at 6. Exercise M, W, Th and Sat. Eats dinner at 3 pm ( he does most of the cooking now ). Has set up these very rigid boundaries and doesn’t care about much else. Will reluctantly socialize but is just as happy home doing nothing. At this point, I don’t want to get divorced but this relationship is ridiculous. He’s a nice guy but I can’t say I care about him all that much.

My problem is since he has these rigid boundaries, how can I establish my own if they collide with his. For example, I’d love to go out and see a show in the evening or meet a friend or whatever. But if he goes to bed at 7, we have an anxious dog and he will reluctantly stay up with the dog til I get home (even tho I’ve told him to put the dog in his crate). So I can never really relax and enjoy myself because I feel guilty . So I guess my question is how can I practice my own self care when it collided with his self care? Thanks.

--Playing Boundary Bumper Cars


Dear Playing: I'm always amazed at how clearly we "get" other people's expectations of us. You seem to "get" that your husband expects you to accommodate his schedule. 

But does he?

Even if he does, do you need to accommodate his expectations?

If he feels he needs to stay up with the dog, that's his choice. That's clear given that there is another option available (put the dog in the crate). This falls squarely in the category of "not your problem."

Let's talk about your feelings of guilt. I'd suggest that your guilt feeling is not the same guilt as when you do something clearly offensive to another person, something you'd typically apologize for.

A feeling of guilt follows the thought, "I shouldn't have done that." In addition to the situations when we REALLY shouldn't have done a thing, this thought can also comes after we've done something we aren't used to doing. For you, that's doing something that doesn't neatly fit into your husband's schedule.

It goes like this:

Do something new, different, or scary --> Feel uncomfortable --> Think, "I shouldn't have done that" --> Feel guilty

The thought, "I shouldn't have done that" comes because you feel uncomfortable and since we are always trying to feel good, this thought is telling you this behavior doesn't result in feeling good and is something to avoid. Not because you should avoid going out, but because it's new, different or a little scary.

Your feeling of guilt is simply a sign that you are doing something uncomfortable. If you do uncomfortable things enough, with enough encouraging self-talk, these things will stop being so new, different, or scary and your uncomfortableness and guilt a will go away.


Anything worth doing is worth doing awkwardly at first.

You've got this.

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