How do you teach boundaries and respect?
May 9, 2016 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to teach an adult how to be considerate and respect boundaries? If a child grows up without boundaries, is it impossible to learn?

I was trolling MeFi and came across this old question. It reminded me very much of my husband. He's done things like invite people over to our house without asking me, when our house looked like this, not understanding why I wasn't okay with it. I took a stand by staying somewhere else, ceding our home to my husband and his guest. His argument: "X is my friend! He's like a brother to me! How could you be uncomfortable with him staying with us?" Mine: "I have never met X before and he is some strange man to me, and our house doesn't have walls." Sadly, friends, this happened again, but I was notified in time. I told him to tell his friend he couldn't stay (a different one that I had met, but STILL), and explained why this was bad, and that he has to run guests by me first, and not even to tell them "maybe you can stay" until he'd asked me first.

Other things have happened, like people taking advantage of him, or him not articulating his boundaries and someone else making him feel uncomfortable. I've kind of felt like an ogre by having to put my foot down, even if we were both happier as a result. My attitude has been kind of a grudging "I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it," but I want to be with someone that has similar values! Things happen that I wouldn't even think to lay out as my boundaries (eg, "it's weird that you and your 'step-mother' walk around nude in her house, stop it") and it makes me feel uncomfortable and insecure. And I have to spend WAY more time than I think I should have to (0 seconds versus several hours and separate conversations) defending my position. What works often, but not always, is for me to flip it and say "how would you feel in this situation?"

After (long) discussions, we've come to understand each other, and there haven't been repeat incidents of the same nature, but I want pre-emptive trust! It seems like things keep coming up like whack-a-mole and I want to quit living like that. I trust him because his intentions are always innocent, as far as I can tell, but still. Is it possible to teach someone boundaries without being explicit and enumerating every possible instance that would make you uncomfortable? How can you teach someone to be considerate who isn't used to being around other people, or who wasn't taught to consider them? He's pretty naive and overly trusting by nature. I'm not interested in parenting him, though. We're in couple's counseling...the counselor is very helpful in some ways, but not quite "concrete" enough. He's more about emotions (valid!) than solutions. Husband is also kind of frustrated by this, too.

No recent incidents, the question just triggered that in me.

If it matters, my take on the above question: I thought it was pretty rude, but pardonable. The husband definitely should have asked the wife. The problem was almost equally that 2/3 of the people were strangers and that they were of the opposite sex, and a bit less that the wife wasn't there, and that it was their shared home. It wouldn't have been as egregious if they were boyfriend/girlfriend that didn't share a home, but same conclusion if they did. I doubt the people saying the wife was wrong would be cool with a woman hosting three men overnight in her home, two of whom were strangers, without asking if her out-of-town husband if he minded first.
posted by serenity_now to Human Relations (29 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I want to be with someone that has similar values!

You want what you want, but flat out you are not with someone who shares your values on this. So this is why the counselor is focusing on emotions, because at some level you and your husband have to meet partway here. You don't have someone who shares your values. But that doesn't mean (necessarily) that he doesn't respect you. The question is whether you can work out a good-to-great relationship with him despite this.

I'm in a partnership (we don't live together, we've been together eight years) with someone who is the same sort of loose-boundaries type of person as your husband. And he's not going to turn into a different person. But what he is able to do is understand that we are different, that I like things to go somewhat differently, and that our relationship may require more "checking in" than his last one because of that.

The important thing here is the understanding that you're not right and your husband isn't right. Working out how to live as a family and how to share space requires a lot of communication and adjustment. What I am hearing you say is that you sort of want your husband to internalize your values and work on them without everything turning into a huge conversation every time. But I think the way to do this is modeling what you want, not modeling your discontent.

I took a stand by staying somewhere else

So in this example, I don't see this as "taking a stand" I think if what you wanted to get across was "This is not okay" then you stay and tell your husband to have the uncomfortable conversation with the person he invited "I didn't check with my wife first and actually this isn't going to work, I'm sorry." It sounds like you did this the second time and that will set you guys up better for the next time.

At some level some relationships have a lot more frequent "checking in" than others. You expect more, your husband expects less. There are probably personality traits about him that you like that may roll into some of the things you dislike. My guy is incredibly warm and easygoing but sometimes this also means he can be clueless or forget to check in or whatever. We make it work. But I would never think I could spend "Zero seconds" talking about how I feel or my position. It's a constant conversation and I expect that and there are parts to it that make it all worth it. You could be with someone who you're more instantly compatible with, but there are probably reasons you didn't choose that. Maybe spend some time thinking about that aspect of your relationship?
posted by jessamyn at 8:32 AM on May 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

My husband and I definitely come from different places where boundaries are concerned. Something in Jessamyn's comment stood out to me. There are times when I would like to spend zero seconds on the emotional labor of enforcing boundaries, or, say, deciding what we're eating for dinner this week. And often, when my husband tries to accommodate that, it's almosy as though he has to read my mind. Then he makes the wrong choice (having not consulted me) and then I get annoyed by that. So consider how your expectations might come off as unfair to him.

Really, the solution to all of this is to have a conversation about it. That might mean several conversations.
posted by Brittanie at 8:51 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure that this is totally about boundaries versus just having different values and expectations. I consider myself pretty good about keeping and holding boundaries about things I think are important, but it would not phase me if I or my husband wanted a friend to crash on our couch, even if we lived in a studio apartment and even if I hadn't met the friend before. And although it's not total nudity, I definitely walk around my parents' house very semi-clothed because it's just not a big deal to me/my family (I would put on more if there were visitors or if I were making someone uncomfortable, obviously, but if it's just family around? I will probably be sitting around in my underwear if it is hot out! And I would be beyond annoyed if my husband told me I couldn't do this!)

Anyway, I guess my point is that I would try to clarify in your own mind what you specific values are that you want your husband to respect and that you feel he is not respecting, and then you should come to some compromise on those things (not necessarily that your way definitely is right). I'm not sure from your question, but it sounds like you maybe have a value of wanting to hold people at more of an arms distance until you get to know them better (and maybe permanently?). Which is fine, but not an inherently "correct"'s something that does need to be negotiated and that will be an ongoing negotiation. (Consider: someone else might have the value of "a friend of my partner's is a friend of mine, and vice versa", and so their personal boundary might be "my partner does not get to tell me that my friends don't get to stay in our home, absent some specific issue with a particular person" -- both boundaries, and I think both equally valid in a general sense, but very different values that would need to be hashed out and compromised on from both sides.)
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you are the one who needs to set boundaries with him.

If you feel uncomfortable having his-friends-who-are-strangers-to-you visit or stay over unannounced, you need to communicate that in no uncertain terms to your husband. "I really dislike it when we have unannounced houseguests. Please tell me in advance if someone is coming to stay. Even if it's someone who is practically family." If you need to go deeper than that (how much notice, whether it's a discussion between you or you just want notice, who is OK and who is not, etc), communicate that as well. You can also say, "We've been having so many visitors lately, I'd really like to have [period of time] where it's just us." Or whatever your actual needs are.

To me, inviting over a close friend to stay in my home is not a symptom of having no boundaries. While I would tell my partner in advance, it would be more of a telling, and less of an asking. I assume that since my partner trusts me and knows my friends tend to be good folks, and vice versa, that this wouldn't be a conversation we'd need to have from scratch every time. YMMV, but it's weird to me to start from a place where entertaining guests is heavily restricted. If that's the way you prefer to do things, you should have those boundaries in place with your spouse. But you can't just have a set of unspoken expectations and expect them to be conformed to, or your husband "lacks boundaries" with his close friends.
posted by Sara C. at 9:28 AM on May 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I know it's early yet in the thread, but all responses have been really interesting! I think one thing that's coming through (at least to me) is that I'm making assumptions, and that's why I'm so frustrated with him. I think I'm assuming "it's never okay/no spouse would think it's okay to invite people they don't know to sleep over in our small, new house without running it by them first." That's not the case! I think I thought he's "different," and I'm "normal" (which, I see is...a bad way to look at it). I have the right to not allow anyone in my home for any reason, so I don't think I need to justify it, but I don't like the feeling of having to look at them all the time/entertain them/not being able to go into a different room and close a door.

The nudity thing is more complex, because the person was unrelated, unknown to me, and not in his life for a very long time(<5>

Appreciating the responses so far, even the ones I don't agree with, and am feeling resigned to having a conversation each and every time a different thing comes up. It's disconcerting to me, b/c the volume and type of these mismatches are unfamiliar to me when compared to my past relationships. But he is a very different person to my past partners, and he's not a mind-reader, nor am I.

Oh and "zero seconds" meant, conversation isn't required because we're coming from the same place on the issue, like we share the same value in that case.
posted by serenity_now at 9:41 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

A part got cut off, twice, til I figured out it was formatting but ..."(less than 5 years) before I learned of it, which was also the first time I met her, and he never told me. She did.

And yes, totally nude. And I was the "guest." Our counselor agreed that this is abnormal and inappropriate behavior, especially because nude "mom" was a person who made him uncomfortable and repeatedly pushed (and even broke) his boundaries.

Also, I think maybe these are all separate issues- his lack of boundaries (which is real), and our different values and our communication are three separate things, that kind of made me wonder if something is up with how he's seeing the situations, or if he's lacking in common sense in general somehow. Which yes, is jerky of me to think, but in the interest of honesty, I think that's been a big concern for me.
posted by serenity_now at 9:50 AM on May 9, 2016

My attitude has been kind of a grudging "I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it," but I want to be with someone that has similar values!

Not to be super-harsh but...then why did you marry someone who so clearly does not, on any level, have similar values? As Jessamyn points out, there's probably a good reason. If there isn't, well...maybe you shouldn't be married to this guy?

I have the right to not allow anyone in my home for any reason, so I don't think I need to justify it.

Part one is a correct statement but part two is not, exactly, when you share your home with a spouse/permanent partner. I'm sorry--when you are married to a person and share your home and you want to forbid their friends from being in it, I do think you owe your spouse some justification. Now, I also think your spouse is obliged to accept that justification with very little questioning. But if you do not explain your reasoning he cannot predict your responses to future events, and that is exactly what you want him to do. From what you've said here:

but I don't like the feeling of having to look at them all the time/entertain them/not being able to go into a different room and close a door

it sounds like basically as long as you live in this home, you want no guests overnight ever of any stripe. Have you literally said this? If you haven't, then honestly, your husband's actions make total sense:
--"Oh, serenity_now doesn't like it when I have people over whom she doesn't know. But she knows [x person], so that should be fine!"
--"Oh I need to give her notice about guests. So I will! Oh crap, she's still mad at me because I said maybe before I spoke to her."

All easily avoided if instead you had said, the first time, "I do not want us to have any guests because we live in this house with no walls, not even friends, no, not even family-type people."

I mean, maybe you yourself didn't know where your boundaries were until they were pushed. That's how we learn them. But if that's the case, you can't blame your husband for failing to intuit something you yourself don't even consciously know! That's crazy-making.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:02 AM on May 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

You are not going to get your husband's comfort levels around personal space to align with yours by calling him a "spoiled child!" in the tags to your question. Are you that disrespectful to him in your interpersonal interactions or therapy sessions? You clearly STILL think you are normal and your husband is pathological, and that's an attitude you are going to need to shake if you want to save this relationship.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:21 AM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't like the feeling of having to look at them all the time/entertain them/not being able to go into a different room and close a door.

One solution to this might be to re-balance the emotional labor of entertaining guests, or simply adjusting your expectations for what kinds of entertaining needs to happen. My partner's mother (who I had not at that point met) came to visit about a week after we moved in together. I was worried about it in a similar way to what you said above. I've barely unpacked and now I'm being forced to MEET THE PARENTS in the most dramatic possible way, and I'm going to spend a ton of time feeling on the spot having to entertain his mother despite the fact that she's a stranger and blah blah blah blah. When what actually happened was that he was the one who spent time and mental energy doing the entertaining, and she was actually pretty self sufficient. Once I gave myself permission to leave the room and have some time for myself as needed, I was totally able to do that. And it was great!

So maybe remind yourself that it's OK not to be in Lady Of The Manor mode at all times? And while you're establishing a few more boundaries with your husband, also establish that when he brings people over, he's the one responsible for entertaining them?
posted by Sara C. at 10:29 AM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think you should probably get a different therapist. Or perhaps someone more like a life coach. You need more practical solutions for how to live peaceably with someone very different from you.

This will not be solved overnight. I will suggest that you see your own therapist and keep a private journal. Ask yourself: What are you getting out of this relationship? Why did you choose this person?

I once watched a movie with my ex (My Cousin Vinny) where he was obviously very taken with the character played by Marissa Tomei. Like me, she had curly brown hair and a lot of sass and was very argumentative. I turned to my husband and asked him "So, why is she hot but I am a bitch for being exactly the same way?" He had no answer, and, for once in the marriage, did not rebut that with "I never said you were a bitch." (Hint: The bf in the movie handled arguments differently from my husband.)

Consider the possibility that you were attracted to this person in part for the very things that make you crazy. If so, this is a case where you will both be healthier people if you learn to meet in the middle.
posted by Michele in California at 10:43 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Look, I agree that you're mostly right/normal and your husband is mostly wrong/abnormal. Metafilter can be very judgey about tone and how you're asking this question, but putting all of that aside, like 90% of everyone does not want their mother in law walking around nude, and does not want random overnight guests crashing on their couch when they have a one room house. I'm with you there. Both of those things are more inconsiderate than anything you've said about your husband. But approaching it that way isn't going to get him to change.

You're going to have to justify this, or approach it, in a way he understands. I have great success with my boyfriend by describing the problem, but not the solution. "Honey, I'm so tired and cranky tonight and I just want to be alone and relax. What can I do? How do I solve this?" Even if the answer is 100% obvious and you've already thought it out. Let him think it out. Give him the problem, and let him try to solve it until he comes to the same conclusion. This also ties into your therapist's "feelings first" approach. "Honey, I feel very embarrassed and ashamed when your mother in law in nude, and I can't handle being around that. What should we do?" Etc.
posted by quincunx at 11:04 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

To answer your actual question: you teach boundaries and respect by respecting both your boundaries and theirs. This is not something that involves zero effort. This is quite complicated and challenging, especially with someone so different who obviously has some issues with unhealthy boundaries.
posted by Michele in California at 11:14 AM on May 9, 2016

Also, I don't want to suggest stuff that is way outside your control, but if you live in a one-room yurt, and it causes this level of conflict about boundaries, why not look for a more workable living situation?

I lived in a "tiny home" type of setup for three years. It was great for one person! It was even kind of OK for two, though aspects of our lives as we actually live them meant that it was not feasible to live in a 300 sf one-room studio together. Because my parter works from home and likes to entertain, and I have out of town guests from time to time, we decided to get a bigger place that would enable us to do all of that stuff in a manner that wouldn't cause constant stress. We now live in a less desirable neighborhood, and I have a longer commute to work, but it means that we're not constantly bickering about basic space, privacy, and personal boundaries.

If you guys can't swing a move to a bigger/more private space, I think it's absolutely fine to establish the boundary that because of the whole yurt thing, you cannot ever have overnight guests. It's not about whether they're announced in advance, or who wears how much clothing, it simply won't be possible. That might enable you to move forward feeling like you don't have to do this from zero every time.
posted by Sara C. at 11:27 AM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

One thing that has helped me with learning to live with other people is to understand what I call the presumption of culpability. By this, I mean that I think there is a certain amount of lenience which I entertain for stuff he either didn't do on purpose, or can't help. And if I have to choose to invest the emotional labour into reconciling a situation, I'll chose to do it for things which fall outside that zone of cluelessness.

For example, he leaves his socks lying around. I truly don't think he does it on purpose just to annoy me. He takes them off, truly doesn't see where they land and then forgets about them. It's not that he consciously leaves them lying around just to bother me. It's that they just do not fall onto his radar in the same way they do for me, and that's just a different way of seeing the world. So what I do if I see his socks and it bothers me is I pick them up and leave them on top of his computer. Then he has to put them away by default before he can do his stuff. We have never had a fight about the socks, and he has never in five years together asked me why they were on his computer :-)

On the other hand, I have talked to him more than once about leaving his medication out on the counter. I am a pretty easy-going housekeeper, but this is a safety issue to me because there are small children in the family. So, if I see they are left out, there is a presumption of culpability here---I know he knows better because we have talked about this and I told him this is important to me. So that is something I will indeed make him go back and fix so that he learns to remember to do it.
posted by JoannaC at 12:19 PM on May 9, 2016 [14 favorites]

I actually stared at the picture of the yurt you linked to for many seconds, trying to figure out what was wrong with that house. (I was expecting a mess or maybe animal feces everywhere.) My husband and I share a similar sized space, and we don't have problems with having friends overnight, especially close friends. (We do have a system where we put up a curtain for minimal visual barrier.) We have friends who hosted many couch surfers in their loft studio space.

You are of course supposed to be comfortable in your own house, but your husband should be comfortable in his house too. For some people, home is a place their friends can come over and crash.

I think it's okay to have different expectations--that's just a cultural difference, essentially, but when you run into it, you have to articulate it. If you wanted someone who can just guess where your boundaries are, then you would've needed to marry someone who is the same as you, which is obviously not your husband.

If he is unable to draw boundaries, you can teach by drawing your own boundaries, but doing so in a respectful way. But I read a lot of frustration (and exclamation points!) and assumptions in your question, which makes me think maybe you are not enforcing your boundaries in a calm way.

If you just have different boundaries, then you need to talk every situation out. Get into the habit of checking in with each other for every decision. And make sure that when he wants something you're not okay with, that you treat that as a difference of opinion, and not that he's doing something "abnormal", but I don't think he is.
posted by ethidda at 12:40 PM on May 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

When you choose to live with another person, things like this always come up. Everyone has some internalized notion of what is normal, and everyone considers their normal to be "common sense." But common sense is just the collection of beliefs you have never really questioned. Even if you can get 99% of people on the internet to agree with you, it doesn't matter. The only people whose votes count are yours and his, so you're still 50-50.

So you think that it's common sense that you discuss ahead of time before either of you invites a guest over, and he thinks it's common sense that if someone needs a place to stay, you offer. You think it's weird to walk around naked with family, and he thinks it's weird to think that's weird. It's pretty likely that neither of you predicted those disagreements. The best you can probably do is talk, respectfully, and in general terms, about what your personal boundaries are, and both do your best to explain your positions clearly and respect each others' positions. You don't have to and probably can't fully empathize with or understand them, but you can still respect them.

And it's not really helpful to approach it from the angle of normal vs. abnormal. As long as something isn't harmful, your preferences should have equal weight and you should be able to discuss them and work out compromises that you're both OK with.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:49 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

I agree with moonlight on vermont wholeheartedly that the "spoiledchildren!" tag is pretty odd. It would definitely be worth your while to consider why that tag, of all tags, is what rises to your mind when you write about your husband.

Nothing you've mentioned here reflects behavior that I think of, personally, as "childish" or "spoiled." You kind of dance around his childhood and his family with a mention of him being "not used to being around other people" and "not taught to consider them" but TBH that sounds more like the result of a mostly neglected or even abusive childhood. (And uh, the nudist step? mom? that is somehow not someone HE knows? Or someone YOU know? story was pretty vague and baffling but definitely seems to reflect that as well.)

Are you perhaps coming from a background in which rules were unspoken but severely enforced? I can see how from that kind of perspective, a life of sort of laissez-faire neglect looks like being spoiled but I assure you, it's far from an indulgent way to grow up.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:52 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good points, especially on the space. The night friend X came to stay was literally the day we moved into the yurt. I did not know about it until around 3pm, and I had to work 4pm to midnight so I didn't have time to prepare. Honestly, I didn't want to come home from a night of work and the first night at my new place and have some stranger there, and wake up in the morning tired and have the same stranger RIGHT THERE. I don't see why that's not okay. Of course I explained to my husband, but it didn't reach him the way I meant it to.

The next two invitations I had a heads-up about and cancelled were the same month, friend Y. Hubs and I talked and I said it wasn't okay with me, but could be once we got the loft/walls up, don't even ask until we have some kind of divider system. A month or so later, we had stuff cleaned up and most boxes unpacked and compromised with a solid room divider. I guess I'll just never think it's okay to ask people to stay without checking with your spouse first, even if others do. My husband understands that that's my boundary and the issue hasn't recurred after those three times. I had thought I'd explained sufficiently, but hadn't. It was a communication issue more than anything. Of course he has wonderful qualities, and his generosity and open heart are part of the reason that I love him.

Also, yes, pretty much exactly everything that ernielundquist said because it's so hard to get your (collective everyone) head out of your ass and understand that people are different. I'm (OBVIOUSLY!!) guilty of this head-assery, but I think also I spend a lot of time around people with similar values so I'm surprised and sometimes angered to find that someone has different ("deviant") values. I took it personally, like he was failing to do something everyone knows to do (like covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze) because of a lack of respect, when it was just a different mindset, and I'll try to do better, overcommunicate, and be more open-minded in the future.
posted by serenity_now at 12:57 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't like the feeling of having to look at them all the time/entertain them/not being able to go into a different room and close a door

It's normal for people to invite their friends over to stay. It's common, though wrong and annoying, for spouses to spontaneously invite their close friends over without running it by their spouse first. This is kind of a basic social skill when dealing with you that your husband has to learn.

However, unless you are a Mongolian farmer, it is definitely not normal to live in a yurt. I can't help but think you have set yourself up to put yourself into difficult social situations because you want to live in a one room small house. Your husband is placing burdens on you by spontaneously inviting over people you don't know into a tight space, but your choice of living situation has placed big burdens on him by making it more difficult for him to maintain a "normal" social life.
posted by deanc at 12:58 PM on May 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think the tags you've chosen for this Q and the problem explained within are way off, and I think that might be part of the problem. There doesn't seem to be any disrespect, certainly nothing worth throwing insults ("spoiled children!") around over, and it doesn't sound like your husband has inappropriate boundaries. They just don't happen to be the same as yours.

I too looked at the photo completely baffled; I'd be pleased to show off a neat space like that.

I guess I'll just never think it's okay to ask people to stay without checking with your spouse first, even if others do.

Well, he lives there; it's his house. I think most couples run it by the other when somebody is coming with packed bags, but inviting somebody over to your house is not what most adults solicit permission for. This comes off a bit as you wanting him to request permission rather than to give you a heads-up, which I think is, for normal visiting situations with normal friends and family, somewhat odd.

"I took a stand by staying somewhere else" does not sound productive; it sounds more "spoiled child!" Walking out on your partner is a pretty big deal. Where do you think his boundaries on that might lie; does he have appropriate/not appropriate boundaries for when it's kosher for you to take off in anger and not come back for a night?
posted by kmennie at 1:12 PM on May 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Talking through expectations and figuring out how to make both people in a small living situation happy is NOT "over communicating". It's appropriately communicating. Living together takes work. Living together romantically takes work. Living romantically in a small space takes even more work.

You are coming in to this thinking that you should somehow have magically aligned values and expectations without ever laying out what they are. Talking through something three times is actually pretty good! They were disaparate situations that to you were obviously part of the same pattern, but they aren't necessarily.

Instead of thinking "UGH why doesn't he get this already?!" Reframe it and ask yourself "What assumptions am I making that I should be checking in with him about?" Because you assume that your objection is both obvious and natural and right. So, take a step back and be ready to talk things through.

All of this sounds like normal learning to live with another person, except for the fact that you think of him as a child or someone who needs to shape up and get with your program already. There's just a lot of give and take with working out how to be good mates. Work on managing your own expectations for how much work is required to be clear and careful in your boundaries.

It sounds like he's pretty easy to talk to and accommodating once you get on the same page. That's fabulous and you should be incredibly grateful for how easy it is to work with him! Don't focus on having to have conversations, focus on how productive those conversations are and notice what makes them go more smoothly.

Adapt your communication as much as you're asking him to adapt his living style. Meet in the middle.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:31 PM on May 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

Yep, I think compromise is important here, and I think that thinking of your spouse as this damaged poorly-brought-up person is extremely dangerous. Have some faith in this person that you married, your relationship, and the notion that you are not by default the perfect one because you see flaws in the other.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:36 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

My mom and dad had different friends and tended to not bring them home too much. They tended to see them elsewhere. Over time, my marriage also went in that direction.

Some people think you need to do everything together all the time in order to have a good marriage and also have a full life. This is not true. You need to spend about 15 to 20 hours a week together to establish and maintain an intimate relationship. As long as going out to see friends doesn't leave with too little time together, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with seeing friends elsewhere and not bringing them home.

Maybe he doesn't make enough money to have the kind of social life he would like to have and also keep those boundaries. It's fine to say "Yeah, sure, when you can afford a mansion such that you can have guests over and they can stay in the guest house, then you can invite people over at will, no problem. Until then, no, you can't do that. I live here too."

We all tend to have weird ideas about The Right And Proper Way To Do Things from our childhood. They are often not realistic. Our parents did things that way because they grew up in a different era from us, with different social norms and they were older than we are now and their careers were more established and yadda yadda. Everyone has some adjusting to do between their unquestioned assumptions about life and actual reality once they move away from home. Adding another person from a different background to the mix then ups the need for adjusting. This is totally normal.
posted by Michele in California at 2:19 PM on May 9, 2016

I was like you, my husband was like your guy. It has been a work-in-progress to get my husband to abandon his single-guy ways, and instead include me in decisions, keep me in the loop, and generally being considerate of my needs and limitations. It's taken a lot of self-reflection to understand my needs and perspective, and then be able to explain them to him, and explain why it is really in our mutual best interests for being happy if he's considerate.

Regarding house-guests, I've laid out the following for him:
- When he lived alone, that was his place. But this is our place together, we both have a say. This is a major part of being in a relationship and living together.
- I am not as outgoing as he is, and I need my privacy, my alone time within my own space. We are different that way.
- I want to accommodate him, I really do. I want to make him happy.
- But I also have my limits - I can't go beyond my comfort zone, it gives me anxiety attacks and makes me very upset and violated. I need him to respect that, though it might not be rational to him, my limits are much lower than his.
- My comfort zone regarding house guests is generally this: overnight - will most likely be fine, even last-minute, but still need to be asked before saying yes to the person. A few days - I need advance notice, but will likely be fine. A week or two, really depends on the person. Three weeks or more? Would definitely stress me out, would really have to discuss this.
- I promise to do my best to accommodate him, but in return he must accommodate me and be respectful of my limits.
- This is how my mind works: If he ASKS me in advance, honestly I will most likely say yes, unless there are conflicts or I am really not doing well. GIVING MY CONSENT gives me a moment to process things, enables me to feel in control, and thereby enables me to feel good about accepting the situation willingly. If he TELLS me the decision has been made without me, I will take it very poorly because I feel like control has been taken away, and frankly will hate the guest staying the whole time and be miserable feeling really put out. Therefore it is really best for both of us if he just ASKS.

It took some time to get it through to him that his asking is indeed necessary for my happiness, and no it's not just a formality he should be able to skip if I'm going to say yes anyway. This is how I work. And really, it's not that big a deal or inconvenience for him to simply ask so we can both be happy.

That's been the big part of it - really, how much does it inconvenience you to do these little things that make me so much happier and willing??? Very little, exactly.
posted by lizbunny at 2:22 PM on May 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I have similar boundary issues (my mother in law has been naked in my bedroom and everyone calls me a prude for having objections). If I lived in a yurt, sleepovers would only be for emergency and out-of-town guests for limited time and certainly not the first night we were there, Jesus Christ.

That said, my partner has absolutely come to adjust to some of my boundaries that he doesn't share. I don't insist he shuts the door when he goes to the bathroom at his siblings' houses, but I am done with him coming in while I pee and expecting me to be okay with it. I'm okay with houseguests but I absolutely need advance warning and he needs to take seriously and help me when it comes to guest prep (like - vacuum the couch before the guest sleeps on it, things like that). I no longer have to deal with his family as much when I made it clear that their disrespect of my boundaries was going to do (and had done) damage to our relationship.

We did need to have multiple conversations about it - I also had to state very clearly what I needed. I need to be able to have my own space after work, it's non-negotiable, and having his mother wander into my bedroom while I sleep/dress is not okay (neither is him leaving doors open while I do those things). He needs to have social time and needs to help people, so I try and make that happen as much as I can, but we are not going to entertain guests for more than two days if they need to interact with me at every moment or who pout if I have alone time.

Ground rules help, in terms of making it clear what the expectation is and making it clear what we are okay with. So no overnight guests without warning, unless it's an actual emergency. I'm allowed to not interact with people in my own house when necessary and my need for space and privacy is to be respected (that's been a big one - I still get needled about my prudery and it's irritating because quite frankly, my mother in law planted her naked arse on my bed and *I* am the weird one here?). I don't have to socialise just because he is. I also pointed out that if he's gonna expect me to spend all this emotional energy and time on dealing with his family and with all these boundary violations (from hugs to intrusive questions to colonising my house) then it obviously has an effect on our own relationship; in essence I pointed out one time that we had a hotel for the night, no kid, were spending the rest of the time with his family, why is it this horrible thing that I'd want to have a private meal with my husband? And why is it so hard to understand that if I have to spend a meal with them defending myself, I wouldn't be in the mood for sex afterwards?

A lot of this has been fairly recent and a lot has also been about making it clear that when my partner prioritises 'helping' others over me and our child, it's upsetting. That's the problem with the 'first night in the yurt we have a guest'. Showing the patterns of behaviour to my husband, and calling them that, has helped. Pointing out the deleterious effects on us has also helped (aka 'we have houseguests and the chances of sex are infinitesimal' and 'of course I'm grumpy and tired, your siblings have been in my face asking me about our sex life/reproductive choices/finances').
posted by geek anachronism at 5:41 PM on May 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think part of the problem here is framing this in terms of values, which means it's hard to get away from Right and Wrong. I think it's much more useful to thing of this as simple incompatibilities, rather than incompatible values. Incompatible values seems about a half a step away from irreconcilable differences. Take some of the moral load away from the issues, don't think of his point of view as deviant, don't worry about what percent of the civilized world would back you up on this. He wants A, you want B. You're both grown ups, you can figure this out.
posted by instamatic at 6:38 PM on May 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm just going to link you to this MeFi classic and let you digest...
posted by fritillary at 1:11 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Coming back to this today I think one of the things that was so tricky for me and my guy was the difference between me understanding that he could have looser boundaries with his friends (and family, and that was okay) but that TEAM US (which included him) had stronger boundaries and he was going to have to adjust to that. For some people, maintaining different interaction styles with different types of people is fine ("we act THIS way around my boss but THAT way around my sister") and for some people they just want to know the way to act and have a hard time with nuance.

So my guy is a mellow hippie type and he literally doesn't care about a lot of things that I have opinions about. It makes doing things with him easy, but it does often mean that we do things "my way" as a default and so it's easy for me to get the idea that doing things "my way" is actually doing things "our way" a way we both agree on. But left totally to his own devices he wouldn't do things that way. No big deal, but it makes determining what he specifically wants difficult because he's a go with the flow type. What he wants has a lot to do with the ambient mood. What I want rarely has anything to do with the ambient mood.

But when it's me and him and his friends, they're also used to doing things "their way" with him and so there's friction between different ways of doing things (as a basic example... how late to stay up playing music when other people are trying to sleep) and my guy doesn't always pick up on cues or make decisions for himself about how things should go and so I have to be like "Welp, time to wrap things up here, I have to work in the morning" (or whatever). It took a while and a lot of conversations for me to be able to get across that I really needed a bit more initiative from him in understanding the types of things I wanted (not specifically but in general) so that everything didn't turn into some version of him being like "I wanted this, but jessamyn says no" a bit of pre-filtering if you will. This was a necessary step in me not feeling like I was in the "parent" role (amusingly my guy is n actual parent, I am not) and it was also important that he not make me play the heavy all the time.

So part of it may be both of you understanding that the TEAM US way is a little different than what either of you want but you do it because that's the way to optimal happiness for both of you.
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 AM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I didn't want to come home from a night of work and the first night at my new place and have some stranger there, and wake up in the morning tired and have the same stranger RIGHT THERE. I don't see why that's not okay. Of course I explained to my husband, but it didn't reach him the way I meant it to.

That's pretty ok. It's perfectly ok to feel the opposite way too. That's why this is a problem. Neither of you is 'wrong' to have a certain comfort level with guests. You just need to communicate those feeling and attendant expectations.

My husband has stricter privacy boundaries than I do on certain issues. I was surprised by this. I don't have one rules in my head. I can put them there after we have a conversation about it, but I can't accurately predict how he will react to certain things. So I ask. Sometimes he says, no, please don't do that. Sometimes he says, I have no problem with that. But I have to ask to find out: I do not have a complete functional model of him in my head.

I doubt the people saying the wife was wrong would be cool with a woman hosting three men overnight in her home, two of whom were strangers, without asking if her out-of-town husband if he minded first.

I would be perfectly fine with both scenarios btw.
posted by bq at 8:31 PM on May 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

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