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What's between letting things go and leaving over them?
July 14, 2012 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Needs and Boundaries: What is the space between "I suppose I can let this go" and "this is an utter dealbreaker; do this thing or I'll have to end this relationship" - and what do you do about negotiating things in that space?

I'm trying to improve my boundaries after a life of not being very good at them. I'm learning to speak up for myself and express my needs. But I have a question I hope you can help with. Sorry for the length - I want to include everything useful because this is anon.

I keep coming across situations where I state my needs and boundaries, the other person responds with empathy and agrees to do something and then... nothing. These happen frequently - including with my husband, who has been my biggest cheerleader in this boundary-development. I don't know what to do in these cases.

The things are not dealbreakers or ultimatum territory, but they're not small enough that I can just drop them either. Some of the are very immediate/short-term things, some draw out over years. I repeat my desires up to a point, but I don't want to nag constantly - especially when someone has already agreed to change something, but the change just doesn't happen.

Some people say that boundaries work best with clearly stated consequences, but I'm not sure that's true between adults. I don't want to treat my husband or other adults like wilful kids. Besides, often I don't know what leverage I have between "I need you to do this" and "I need you to do this or I have to step back/end this relationship"

I figure I can't be the only one who has this middle ground between things that can be compromised on and things that are worth ending a friendship or relationship over. So how do you handle them?

Examples:
Short-term: Last night my husband gave me a massage because I'm really achey from the flu. Despite my telling him what he was doing in some places was painful, telling him to stop or press more gently and even moving to block his access while I said again that he was hurting me, he continued to press too hard until I was literally crying from the pain. He acknowledged what I said every time, but actually moved my arms when I blocked him so that he could go back to pressing into the spot that was so tender. I let him, because I knew he'd heard me so I trusted him to be more gentle. His intentions were good, but I'm still sore the next morning.

When I started to cry, he stopped, apologised and comforted me. But then he said "I should have remembered that you wouldn't say anything until it was already too much." Still crying, I not-quite-yelled at him that I didn't know what could be clearer than "Ow! Stop! That really hurts. I need you to be much more gentle in that spot or not touch it!" He apologised again and said it wasn't that I'd been unclear, it was a failure of empathy on his part. I know he felt bad, but I'm still a bit annoyed by that.

Medium-term: I read this thread a few months ago, and it was an eye-opener for me. It gave me the nudge I needed to tell my husband that he was responsible for checking in front of the loo and cleaning up after himself. Well, now it's months later and I'm still getting damp toes or finding drips scattered around the toilet most nights. Mostly I ask him to stop what he's doing ASAP/get out of bed and come clean it, but sometimes I just tell him about it while I wipe things up myself because it seems like more trouble than it's worth to get him up for a job I can do in two seconds. He gets sad and self-critical about how he looked but didn't see anything to clean, but can see it when I'm standing there demanding he look again. I know noticing messes in the house is a learned skill and he isn't going to pick it up overnight, but I'm tired of nagging him about it. It can't be fun for him either.

Long-term: My husband snores. White noise generators and earplugs can't compete - I'm driven out of our bed by it regularly. More worryingly, he seems to stop breathing during the night, which often wakes me up if I've managed to fall asleep next to him. It's not just me who says this; the doctor friend who stayed with us more than a year ago told him that he was stopping breathing at night and he HAD to do a sleep study and get checked for sleep apnoea. (Please don't start with the apnoea horror stories - I know it can be awful and I'm worried enough!)

This is his own health I'm worried about, as well as my sleep. He's constantly tired, achey and fuzzy-brained. He never wants to go out or do anything more than watch a DVD or play video games when he gets home from work, because he's just so exhausted and has been for months, if not years. As I write he hasn't been up for sex for weeks. In the longer term, I know this could kill him.

But it's been over a year since the friend told him to get this checked and he still hasn't arranged a sleep study. He saw our doctor a few months back, who agreed he should get one, but that's as far as it's gone. In fairness he's tried the nasal flush the doc suggested - it helps, but it didn't stop the snoring. I've gotten him anti-snore devices to try, that he ignores.

He has actually given me a timeline for action on this one - once he's past a major project, he'll get a sleep study done. But it took my saying that if I didn't have proof that he was doing something about this soon, I was going to give up on trying to sleep next to him and move into the spare room. That's more of an ultimatum than I'm comfortable with, and this is his health on the line.

It took seven years to get him to see a counsellor about his low-grade depression issues - and that only happened because I pushed him about it and he left me, then realised that the depression had caused him to make what he called "possibly the worst mistake of my life." Even then it was him who dropped me, not the other way around.

None of these in themselves are things to end a 10-year marriage over, but they're not things I want to ignore either. I don't think I should have to deal with being hurt (even unintentionally) until I cry, with piss on the floor or with being unable to sleep in my own bed because the man I love is ignoring his own health. I don't want to be someone who threatens to leave over everydamnthing, but I don't know what to do in these scenarios.

So what do you do, MeFites? Is this middle ground something that exists for everyone, or should I re-evaluate? If it exists, how do you deal with it?

I feel like I've singled out my husband and made him look pretty awful in this post. Our relationship is good, even if it isn't perfect. This is not a question about whether I should leave him or not. Thank you for understanding that.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lack of sleep can cause problems with attention and memory which seems like they're really powering his other issues. He genuinely might not remember things you tell him.

Honestly, if he wouldn't get that fixed, I would seriously consider bailing--however, considering that he's running on extremely poor quality sleep, I would also make the appointment for him, remind him, and go with him/drive him if necessary.

I do want to say that the way you describe his behavior during the massage seriously worries me. Does he normally insist on things that are painful or uncomfortable for you? Does he usually lack empathy?
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:28 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


But it's been over a year since the friend told him to get this checked and he still hasn't arranged a sleep study. He saw our doctor a few months back, who agreed he should get one, but that's as far as it's gone. In fairness he's tried the nasal flush the doc suggested - it helps, but it didn't stop the snoring. I've gotten him anti-snore devices to try, that he ignores.


This, I can address as I have experience. My own husband dragged his feet till his boss at the time plus a coworker cornered him and insisted he get a sleep study done. (the coworker had apnea and a cpap machine so he knew whereof he spoke.)

As soon as my husband got his own cpap machine? It was like getting a whole new husband. I am not exaggerating. And he felt SOOOO much better.


If I were you I would do what it took to make him understand that this is not negotiable. And yes, please do move to the other bedroom if for no other reason that you need your sleep too, and I know from my own experience what fresh hell it is to be awake listening to your spouse stop breathing over and over and snorting and snoring so loud it could wake the dead.

I bet if you asked around you would have friends who have sleep apnea-or who are married to someone with it. Find a couple and let THEM talk to your husband. And bring on the scary stories. Because they aren't just stories. I am certain that I would be a widow by now if he hadn't finally taken care of this a decade ago.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:35 PM on July 14, 2012


PS-Sleep Apnea can and does cause depression too. It affects just about every aspect of your life. I cannot stress enough just how much better his life will be if he will take action!
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:36 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I tend to view everything in life as negotiable, and that applies to relationships too. If I want something out of a relationship that my partner doesn't want to give me, I need to offer them an incentive that I might not otherwise give. Likewise, if my partner wants something out of the relationship that I'm not interested in, they need to offer me an incentive. If the thing in question is really difficult for one person, then whomever wants it needs to make a good offer.

For example, seeing my significant other every day is something that I would rather not do, but it's not a big deal to me. For me to agree to something like this, I'd probably ask for something like my partner preparing a meal for me every other day, so that I have more time to fit them into my schedule. On the other hand, if it were something like asking for an open relationship (I'm naturally monogamous) I would ask for a ton of restrictions and rules to make sure I was getting a good deal and that my partner wasn't neglecting me or getting much more sex than I was.

The take-away from this is that before you ask for something, you need to think about how big a deal it is to your partner and what you might be able to offer in exchange. If you aren't prepared to offer something for it, then you're not negotiating, you're demanding - and your partner is fully within their rights to ignore demands.

Disclaimer - this is not meant to justify your husband's behavior: he sounds very insensitive and I can see why you'd be upset. My point is that your question came off to me as somewhat entitled because you are framing this as "How can I change him?" as opposed to "What can I offer him to get him to want to change?"
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:38 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


First of all, if someone id giving you a massage and it hurts, you do not sit there until you cry; you tell them to stop and then you get up and walk away.

Second of all, the thing between letting things go and leaving over them is getting pissed off. Stop asking nicely over and over and start shouting: "DUDE, your piss is on the floor and it's fucking gross, come deal with it!"

Alternatively, "I am sick of reminding you about the drips in front of the toilet and sick of stepping in them. Tell me what you are going to do to make this your problem and not mine." And then stand there until he comes up with an answer. The things he can do are not rocket science - you can keep flushable bleach wipes on the toilet tank, for example, and if he can't tell when he drips, he can wipe every. single. time. He's a grown-assed man, he should be able to figure that out, right?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:39 PM on July 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


You need to stop asking and just find a solution and do it. For example, move into the spare bedroom tonight. Inform him you will be happy to sleep in the same bed again just as soon as he has found a solution to the snoring. Do not be bitchy or mad. Do not withold sex. Vindictiveness is not going to solve anything. But stop asking and stop trying to manipulate his behavior. Instead, start taking action.

Next time he hurts you during a massage, the massage is simply over. Period.

If you have two bathrooms, declare one yours and one his. He can dribble on his floor all he likes and clean it up whenever he feels like it. You are no longer cleaning his bathroom and if you use his bathroom you won't complain about the mess. He cannot use your bathroom. If he does not respect this boundary, buy a lock with a key for your bathroom and install it yourself or pay someone else or get a friend to do it. Do not give him the key.

If physically enforcing your own boundaries causes him to push back and try all the harder to literally and figuratively piss on you, that's the time to seriously consider leaving. Some people have a very hard time changing. But if you can find a real solution that you can implement with minimal imposition on their poor memory or other weak area, they are fine with it. But abusive people aren't fine with it when you find a real solution. Once you know which kind of person you are married to, it makes it tons easier to decide what to do next.
posted by Michele in California at 1:41 PM on July 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ditto that the massage thing is worrisome.

It gave me the nudge I needed to tell my husband that he was responsible for checking in front of the loo and cleaning up after himself. Well, now it's months later and I'm still getting damp toes or finding drips scattered around the toilet most nights. Mostly I ask him to stop what he's doing ASAP/get out of bed and come clean it, but sometimes I just tell him about it while I wipe things up myself because it seems like more trouble than it's worth to get him up for a job I can do in two seconds. He gets sad and self-critical about how he looked but didn't see anything to clean, but can see it when I'm standing there demanding he look again. I know noticing messes in the house is a learned skill and he isn't going to pick it up overnight, but I'm tired of nagging him about it. It can't be fun for him either.

Okay... So, if you approach your husband with a problem and get an agreement out of him to take care of it, and then you wind up taking care of it yourself, you are undermining yourself in a big way because you're showing him that you're not entirely serious about the agreement you're asking him to make. You're showing him that the way to placate you is to tell you what you want to hear, and that the follow-through isn't that big of a deal.

The thing is that it ISN'T more trouble than it's worth for you to go to him and ask him to take care of it. That, in essence, is what he's agreeing to when he agrees to be responsible for it. He should be thinking that it's "more trouble than it's worth" to slack off when it comes to this after hearing you complain about it and recognizing that it's something that's clearly on his side of the line. The sadness and self-criticism strike me as manipulative.

Get at the root of whatever the problem is here. If he's "having trouble noticing," get him on a schedule, like cleaning every single time, or to sit when he does his business, or have him use a different bathroom, or trade you for a chore that you hate doing. And press him every time there continues to be a problem so that he knows you mean business when you come to him with an issue. This isn't you being nagging; it's you expecting him to follow up with his end of the agreements he makes with you; it's you merely insisting that he communicates honestly with you.

You might want to read Crucial Confrontations, to be sure that there isn't something about the way you're approaching the conversation that isn't making the problem worse.
posted by alphanerd at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your husband knows you won't do anything. He knows if he says the right words, makes it seem as if he's trying, he won't have to actually put forth the effort to change anything. In a way, he's calling your bluff.

Do what DarlingBri and Michele in California suggested. Stop asking nicely and put the consequences in action. Say you're fucking tired of dealing with X and until it's fixed, you're going to sleep in the spare/he can only use one of two bathrooms. (Also wtf if someone is hurting you during a massage and moving your arms when you try to shield yourself, you absolutely flip out and get up and walk away. Then you get angry at them. Don't accept an apology easily - he was willfully and knowingly hurting you!)

Dumping someone isn't the only consequence for boundary-violating behaviour. A good midpoint is removing yourself from their company until they shape up, saying that you don't want to be around them so long as they continue to do X. If they continue to do X, then they've just told you that they don't care about your wishes. Do with that what you will.
posted by buteo at 1:57 PM on July 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think you need to let go of the backrub issue. You explicitly told him he could keep pressing there if he did so more gently. He can't read your mind and understand exactly how hard is too hard. This is not a failure of empathy. He's guessing, and guesses are imperfect. Pain is sometimes a natural consequence of well-intended actions; that's just life. You're free to end the massage when it's no longer good for you, but it doesn't make sense to hold a grudge over this.

The piss and the sleep apnea seem like much more important issues to tackle, and they're not easy ones. All I can offer is that you should remember to say positive things about behaviors you like much more often than you complain about things you don't like. If he's ever going to do these things regularly it will because doing them makes him feel good, not because you've made him feel bad every time he didn't do them.
posted by jon1270 at 1:58 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's not boundaries, but assertiveness that you need to work on. Assertiveness is different from enforcing a point of view. When you are assertive, the other person takes you seriously, not because you will do something to them otherwise, but because of how you express yourself.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:15 PM on July 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


We can listen, empathize, and offer a bit of advice re specific issues, but we (I'm taking the liberty of speaking for the online masses) aren't qualified to do the serious couples therapy you all need. Find a therapist—if possible, ask friends and family for recommendations, rather than cold-calling ads in the yellow pages. If he won't go with you, go alone. A good therapist can (help you) change your life.
posted by she's not there at 2:35 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


With boundaries, take a few steps back and make some decisions about where you want to draw them. He may never stop pissing on the toilet seat. Is that a boundary, and if it is what is the consequence? Then always follow through.

If someone is 5 or 10 minutes late I wait for them. That's fine. If it's been over 10 minutes I call them. 20 minutes? I go home. Remember you can only control your reactions, you can't force another's actions. What is your limit and what will your reaction be?

I would also recommend you start shamu-ing him. He hurts you after you told him to stop? Get up and leave. Don't say anything. No negative or positive feedback. It's over.

Pissing on the toilet seat? Teach him a new habit. He gets to sit down to pee! You can't piss on the floor if you are seated, unless you are actively trying to.

The apnoea one is trickier. Where is your boundary on this one? If he refuses to get help, do you leave? Or does he get to sleep on the couch? Have you tried filming him at night, he may have no idea how bad it is.
posted by Dynex at 4:36 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will add that my above remarks are intended as examples of what might work, not a prescription for what to do next. I would suggest you start with one issue and try to work on that issue, then pick another one in a week or so to work on. It would likely be a bad idea to suddenly have hardline new rules for 27 different issues.

It sounds to me like you do not know how to enforce boundaries, that you operate on a victim-victimizer mental model and don't want to be the bad guy so you choose to be a professional victim. I suggest you view your marriage as your lab for doing experiments to figure out how on earth you enforce your own boundaries without stepping on someone else's. If you don't figure that out in this relationship before you leave, the next relationship is highly likely to be "new face, same old crapola".

Figuring out how to enforce my boundaries and not be a doormat and also not be an abusive jackass myself did not save my marriage. It did lay the groundwork for gently and amicably disentangling our lives. I hope your marriage has a very bright future. If not, it is best to at least learn something from the situation.

If you choose to seek professional help, let me suggest "life coach" instead of therapist. You may or may not benefit from digging up skeletons in the closets, figuring out how you feel and so on. Whether you need that or not, you need concrete specific implementable solutions that probably won't readily occur to you. You need someone to say "So lock it up" or "So hire a maid" or "Have you tried getting up and leaving when someone does that?" You need that a lot more than you need someone to feel your pain or ask why you hate your mother.

You might also try reading the book "Chore wars" which sets a good example of how to problem solve and happily and fairly divide up work responsibilities in a shared space without laying blame, screaming about gender expectations and so on. You need to focus on actions that work, not on how people feel, what they assume, etc. "Getting to yes" might also help you. It's a short paperback and it is research based, not merely someone's opinion.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:37 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can't piss on the floor if you are seated, unless you are actively trying to.

Not actually true.
posted by jon1270 at 4:57 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Husbunny had miserable depression and horrible snoring and sleep apnea. I moved into a spare bedroom because his sleep issues were disturbing my sleep, and I just can't have it. He got a sleep study and a CPAP, his depression has cleared and he's a ton more happy, healthy and active. Get this done yesterday!

If your husband was having a heart attack, would you let him wait until his project was over before dealing with it? Hell no!

Make the appointment for the sleep study yourself and MAKE him go. This is a big fucking deal and he's not in the frame of mind to do any thinking for himself.

As for the other stuff, separate bathrooms for the pee issue. (Really, what is he? Five?)

The massage thing, ask yourself, "why didn't I get up when he hurt me? Why did I let him keep doing it?"

You're responsible for some of this. Keep working on it, you'll get there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:52 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I started to cry, he stopped, apologised and comforted me. But then he said "I should have remembered that you wouldn't say anything until it was already too much." Still crying, I not-quite-yelled at him that I didn't know what could be clearer than "Ow! Stop! That really hurts. I need you to be much more gentle in that spot or not touch it!"

To be honest, there is something really weird and off to me about your husband's behavior here. In particular, his first "apology" struck me as extremely manipulative/gaslighting.

Maybe he's not intentionally being manipulative, maybe there is something else that's just off, maybe he has problems processing... something or other. But I don't know. Is this the only occasion where he's said something negative yet demonstrably false about you, to turn something that's his fault into your failing?

I also think jon1270 was totally right about this:

Your husband knows you won't do anything. He knows if he says the right words, makes it seem as if he's trying, he won't have to actually put forth the effort to change anything. In a way, he's calling your bluff.
posted by cairdeas at 8:17 PM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


The massage example is just weird. Why didn't you get up? Not in a huff, just to say "thanks anyway hon but I seem to be too tender for the level you're working at." Lying there and suffering to the point of tears is... I just don't understand what happened there.

Call the sleep clinic yourself, make the appointments, clear his calendar and drive him there. Just tell him it's crucial to your life together and you can't wait for him to do it anymore if he asks why.

Both of these aren't so much about boundaries as about taking the initiative to substitute your own judgment for his, when his has failed. And honestly if he's working on no sleep, his judgment may be less reliable than it otherwise would be.

The pee, ugh, I don't know what to tell you. Honestly? Not sure this is great advice, but me personally, I would pitch a screaming fit and maybe throw something at him, like a piss soaked rag maybe. What you're describing is disgusting enough that you need to highlight it as something very out of the ordinary, and very unacceptable. Screaming and throwing stuff is not generally acceptable adult behavior, but what he's doing there is even more bizarre, and I think it may require a stronger reaction than what you've provided up til now.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:58 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


actually moved my arms when I blocked him so that he could go back to pressing into the spot that was so tender

If I did that to ms. flabdablet she would punch me somewhere fragile, and quite rightly so.
posted by flabdablet at 6:56 AM on July 15, 2012


And if I recall correctly it was indeed she who lined up the appointment with the doctor who referred me to the sleep clinic.
posted by flabdablet at 6:58 AM on July 15, 2012


Not actually true

But a large, spreading puddle soaking into the trouser cuffs can't be accidentally ignored, so there's that to be said for it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:59 AM on July 15, 2012


From the OP:
Thank you for the replies so far.

I'd like to reiterate that I'm looking for answers to the general question, rather than the specific examples (two out of which are in a satisfactory state anyway). I gave those examples because they were fairly clear-cut and seemed to cover the range of stuff I have trouble with, but I'm looking for general tools and strategies here. "How to enforce boundaries" looks like the term I was looking for - I didn't even know how to phrase it. That's probably telling.

This is something that happens with other people as well as in my marriage, and as someone put it the question is basically "how to I enforce these boundaries without making them ultimatums?" The middle ground between "doormat" and "abusive jackass," as Michele in CA said - I don't want to start shouting at people.

The comments about not undermining what I'm saying by caving even occasionally (this is really useful - I think I've been doing it too often with people), the book recommendation and the examples of what to do to enforce boundaries have been great; I'm looking for things along those lines. And if counselling/coaching is what it takes, then at least now I know?

With regard to the specific examples, we don't have two bathrooms. This is not a big enough issue for me to change that - I wasn't specific, but we're talking about the drops that fly as a guy shakes off, not missing the bowl or puddles on the floor. But he doesn't like that they're there any more than I do.

The massage thing happened over a matter of seconds, to answer why I let it go on so long. I told him to stop and blocked him, he acknowledged that, moved my arms and then pressed back into that spot and tears sprang in my eyes before I could react any other way. It was over at that point, since I said so and he stopped to comfort me - if he hadn't I would have made him.

The "failure of empathy" was my husband reacting to what he would want, not to what I said. He explained that even if a massage or treatment was hurting and making him express that, he'd endure as much as he could in the hope of getting the benefit of it, so he assumed that was where I was coming from. I've had deep tissue massage and trigger point work, I know what he meant. But I dealt with the discomfort up until the level I needed it to stop or change, then said that.

To the commenters who worried, thank you for your concern, but this is not something I would put up with on a repeat basis. I don't hold a grudge over it, I'm just trying to learn what I can from it.

Also restating that really, I know how serious the sleep apnoea is. That's why I have been pushing hard about it. However, I understand his position and have accepted it - I kept things vague here for anonymity, but the project involves field work. He can't do a sleep
study when he's out of town, and can't put the field work off.

wolfdreams01, your take on this interests me, though I don't think about relationships in nearly such transactional terms. Is it entitled to ask someone to do what they have already made an agreement to do? Especially when that's things like cleaning up after themselves and looking after their own health? I'm not sure what I could offer in
exchange for those, though if my husband said "sure, I'll clean up, but while we're talking, this thing really bugs me, can you do that instead?" I'd certainly consider that. I consider it even without the tit-for-tat part, which may be why there's little I can offer when I'm asking for something.

Michele in California, you've given me something to think hard about. My last relationship was with a "professional victim." He said outright that he manipulated things so that someone else always had to be the villain and he could be the wounded one that got the sympathy. When he said he'd been doing that to me, I broke off the engagement and left him. I'd hate to think I was doing that to someone else!

Ruthless Bunny, that's just it. How DO you "MAKE someone go"? He's got the referral to the sleep centre, I don't. I can't drive for health reasons, so can't drive him there. Even if I marched him into the office, he gets to decide what to tell the doctors. This is what happened with the depression stuff for those seven years - I'd insist he went, he'd talk to the doctor and understate it all, they'd decide I was worrying too much and he was fine. I don't want to be his mother, making his appointments for him anyway, but even if I did that seems impractical. Is that really the way things have to go to enforce boundaries?
posted by restless_nomad at 1:18 PM on July 15, 2012


If the only paradigm you were ever taught is that someone has to be the victim and someone the victimizer, the first thing you need to do is recognize that there are other paradigms. One that comes to mind is that in Greece, India, and some other places, the honey bee was/is an important cultural idea, valued because it benefits the flowers and also benefits from them rather than killing them and eating them. It is a concept which helps foster trade and general civilized interactions.

With regards to your point about yelling, I am reminded of a favorite piece I read many years ago and have retold on the internet many times. In the eighties, a young woman went to assertiveness training. The teacher was some Nazi-like woman and the exercise involved yelling at people and being super pushy. At some point, it came the author's turn to yell and she politely declined, saying she liked being nice to people. The teacher berated her and insisted. She again quietly declined. The teacher eventually got tired of heaping abuse on her and moved on. The author decided she had enough of this class, quietly gathered her things and left. As she left, she overheard someone in the back row say about her "God, what a bitch".

The point: Being assertive does not require you to be ugly but is likely to still be viewed negatively by other people who don't approve, find it threatening, etc. Make your peace with that.

You could also watch "The devil wears Prada". Merryl Streep based her quietly played powerful character on actual powerful men she has known. I think the movie gets a lot of things wrong but I like how that role was handled.

Just quietly take action. Don't confuse style with substance. Yelling is not about assertivess. Real assertiveness is often done very quietly. You seem to think you are powerless. You keep asking other people to respect your boundaries while failing to respect them yourself. Don't ask. Let people know where your limit is and then stop when it has been reached. People who consistently and egregiously violate your boundaries can be quietly moved out of your life. But first learn to advocate for yourself. Repeat your stated intentions if necessary. If they are family or you otherwise really care, be willing to do so several times. But do it as a form of notification while you quietly take action, not begging.
posted by Michele in California at 2:18 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't want to be his mother, making his appointments for him anyway, but even if I did that seems impractical. Is that really the way things have to go to enforce boundaries?

The sleep apnea thing isn't about boundaries, it's the fact that from your description he sounds like he is so sleep deprived that he is making poor decisions and unable to control his actions and remember things. If that is the case then he will need more help than a person would normally need in a marriage, just like he drives because you're unable.

If he then goes to the doctor and underplays everything, then you have someone whose medical issue is literally wrecking your marriage but he is unwilling to do anything about it. That is something that no "boundaries" on your part can fix.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:27 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


In your examples, I don't see any boundaries, only needs. Boundaries are "if X happens, I will do Y." What makes that different than an ultimatum is that a ultimatum is "if YOU do/don't do X then I will do Y". Ultimatums give the power to someone other than you.

So with your sleep apnea example (I get that it's an example, but I'm using it for simplicity's sake):

Boundary: "I don't sleep in the same room with people who snore. If someone is snoring, I move to another room." Then, when he snores, move.

Ultimatum: "If you don't get a sleep apnea test, I'm moving to the spare bedroom."
posted by lyssabee at 4:17 PM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


A minor note on the sleep apnea thing - my parents have been together for thirtymumble years and get along great. But my dad has sleep apnea, and it got bad enough that mom finally kicked him out of bed. He slept on the living room couch for what I remember being a couple of years before he finally got a cpap machine, and they're still happily married. (He kind of hates the cpap, and now there are empty bedrooms in the house, so if he doesn't feel like using it he sleeps elsewhere. It seems a little weird, but it works for the two of them - dad gets to make decisions about how he sleeps, and mom gets to sleep.)
posted by restless_nomad at 4:29 PM on July 15, 2012


we're talking about the drops that fly as a guy shakes off, not missing the bowl or puddles on the floor. But he doesn't like that they're there any more than I do.

Civilized guys don't "shake off" unless there's no toilet paper available. Outdoors mostly.

Introduce your man to the quick squeeze and dab.
posted by flabdablet at 7:11 PM on July 15, 2012


You're not really giving us much room here, if you're not willing to draw a line yourself by stating whether or not thing x is a dealbreaker there simply isn't a line. You can give explicit instructions and offer practical support, you can explain the consequences of agreements being broken and you can provide space for the person to do what needs to be done on their own terms, but you CANNOT make someone do something if they ultimately don't see that remedying the situation will be better than maintaining the status quo FOR THEM. It isn't at all fair, but that's how it is.

If your husband fails to get the sleep study sorted when his project ends what will you do? Unless you are prepared to act in a way that demonstrates the degree to which this is something you are not prepared to put up with, his reluctance to engage with the process of sorting it out will always trump any consideration for your feelings. It doesn't mean he doesn't care, but realistically, it's easier for him to deal with your perpetual exasperation than it is to is deal with the discomfort of actually sorting the situation. You sleeping elsewhere on a permanent basis might tip the scales in the other direction, but until you draw the line and enforce the boundary, you're not giving him any reason to change.

And if really there is no boundary (because you won't enforce it) you're just going to have to reconcile your frustration and live with it.
posted by freya_lamb at 1:45 PM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


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