This is the fifth blog post in a series on how to declutter your relationship. If you haven't already read it, start with the introduction to provide some context on the rest of the steps.
Do friends or family negatively impact your relationship? Do you feel like others are too involved? Have you felt like your partner is not on your side when interacting with friends/family? It’s not a good feeling. I’m sure we all, myself included, can think of a time when we thought our relationship would be so much better if a particular
friend/family member would butt out.
Learning how to interact and engage in healthy ways with others as a couple is an important component to building a strong relationship. There is no exact formula for how involved others should be in your relationship, but when something is off you will know. You need to decide as a couple what works and doesn’t work for you. If this isn’t something you have considered or discussed before, don’t worry, you can adjust and work on it until it feels right to you both.
Maintain a United Front You and your partner need to feel like a team all of the time. You are on their side and they are on yours; even if you disagree. If you show each other unwavering support when you are interacting with others, it will strengthen your bond. Words cannot describe how much I value it when my partner says that he supports whatever I decide when others are trying to cause problems by asking his opinion on something I’ve said or done.
If one or both of you have a tendency to side with someone else against your partner, disagree or criticize them in front of others, or let others criticize them, it will significantly damage the foundation of your relationship. It could be something small like correcting their grammar or a detail of a story, or something bigger like putting them down or arguing with them in public. This applies to everyone outside of the two of you; friends, family, kids, coworkers, etc. Show your support for one another and there won’t be an opening for others to interfere. You can still disagree or have relationship discussions, but do it when you are alone and it will be most effective.
Limit Others’ Influence It’s important for partners to accept each other’s influence, on both big and small topics. It shows that you care and respect one another’s opinions. However, you, both as individuals and as a couple, need to decide how much influence others are going to have upon you and your relationship. We all have varying tolerance levels for the amount and type of influence we let impact us. We all have feelings about what others think of us and how much effort we put into pleasing those in our lives. Some of us cave at the first sign of a guilt trip, while others are totally oblivious or unaffected. My partner and I have very different responses to types of influence. Many of the things such as guilt trips or passive aggressive comments that I instinctively dislike, he handles very differently. We don’t respond the same way, but we choose to respect each other’s approach since both approaches result in limiting the outside person’s attempt.
Outside influence shows up in our lives in many areas; who to spend holidays with, where to live, what car to drive, what to do about daily decisions, how often to spend time with particular friends/family members. There is always going to be at least one person in your life that is trying to influence you. So you need to agree on what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Maybe you both decide that you will accept a parent’s influence on a few small things, but have some topics be off limits. Maybe you will decide to support each other in not responding to guilt trips. Perhaps you will choose to postpone all major decisions until you have time to discuss it together in order to minimize or negate the outside influence. Whatever you choose, just make sure it fits for you both. Otherwise it becomes an ongoing problem that strengthens over time.
Set Boundaries Boundaries are an important component to being healthy and happy. We set boundaries in all areas of our lives, both with ourselves and others. However, if we are not intentional about it, we will unknowingly set unhealthy boundaries or let ones we care about slide. I, like most people, struggle daily with maintaining my self-care boundaries. I know that when I do maintain them, I, and everyone in my life, benefits, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy to do.
There are boundaries that you need to have within your relationship which help guide your decisions and fulfill your need for stability. These are unique to each couple, and should be based on your own personalities. My partner and I both value strong communication and spending quality time together, so we have several boundaries that protect those values. Your values may be different, and that’s good. You just need to decide what’s most important to you and set boundaries around what matters most.
Although they are linked, in addition to boundaries within the relationship, you also need to set separate boundaries regarding others outside the relationship. These you can develop preemptively or set them as concerns arise. There often need to be boundaries that you agree upon regarding each other’s families. We all have different experiences and grew up in different environments. What we learned to adapt to or cope with regarding our own families may be difficult for our partner to adjust to. There are numerous ways to handle this, so you should discuss it and be open to problem solving something that works for you both. Very early on, my partner and I decided that we would trust each other’s opinions regarding our own family of origin. My opinion carries more weight when making decisions about my own family and vice versa. We still discuss things before making decisions, but we choose to trust each other’s opinions and know that they will always choose what is best for us.
When we are talking about setting new boundaries with other people outside the relationship, it is your choice whether you discuss those boundaries with them or not. Most times, it is more effective for you and your partner to decide on your boundaries independently and simply start implementing them. No discussion has to happen with the outside influencers unless you feel that it will be more effective to handle it that way. You simply have to agree on how you are going to maintain your new boundaries and be consistent. Others will eventually start to pick up on your new pattern.
If you feel like other people are having too much impact, it’s time to take back control of yourself and your relationship. You get to choose how much others affect you. Start by discussing where you would like to make changes. Do you need to start with the boundaries? Are your opinions on limiting influence at opposite ends of the spectrum? What’s most important? It doesn’t matter which step is first as long as you get started.
Check out the book Boundaries in Marriage for more information on how to set healthy boundaries in your relationship.
How is outside influence impacting your relationship? Share with us below.