Boundaries: Distraction in Relationships
So, the other morning while heading into the office, I drove by a 3 car crash. It looked just like most car crashes I see on the road these days. Car #1 rear-ended car #2 which then rear-ended car #3. Since I am reading Boundaries in Marriage, I decided to use this as my next blog. Hope you can follow it, feel free to leave the blog, get three matchbox cars or 3 objects and label them 1, 2, 3. Place them in a line. Got the visual, now slam car #1 into car #2 forcing it to crash into car #3.
This is just a dramatization, probably not how it actually happened, thankfully I may have been eating breakfast.
Car #2, the middle car, had good boundaries in place. It was stopped a safe distance from #3, and waiting patiently for the light to change to green. Distracted Car #1 busted through the boundaries of car #2, therefore causing car #2 not only to sustain back end damages but also to suffer front end as well, and hurting another innocent bystander (#3). Let me unpack this for you. Car #1 chose to be distracted while engaging with other drivers on the road. Nothing accidental about being on a cell phone while driving. Application: being on your phone while someone is trying to engage with you.
Because of car #1’s choice to distract while driving, there must be a consequence or it most likely will continue to behave the same way. Sadly, car #2 was hurt because of the choices of #1. Application: when on your phone others may be hurt. Car #1 needs to receive consequences. These may come from the law, car #2 and #3, work place for being late, and even the owner’s body (it looked like a bad accident). If car #1 had a crystal ball and could have seen the damage the distraction would cause to others on the highway, hopefully it would have made a safer and healthier choice. Application: To engage, drop the devices at the door when you enter your home. Leave them in the car when you go out to dinner. Turn them off while you sleep. There are consequences for your distraction. You may not see them or feel them like a crash, but the ones who want to engage with you are being hurt. Although you may not want to look at the damage you are inflicting on others, it doesn’t mean the fender benders don’t exist. You can try to rationalize and minimize the damage, but the rear-ended car can’t be denied.
Now let’s go to car #2, the middle one, stopped in the road minding its own business. While listening to a good song and humming along being respectful to the car in front mindfully obeying the laws of engagement, then wham! Day ruined, peace gone, connection gone. Rear-end looks like aluminum foil and the front end of this car is now lodged into car #3’s rear-end. The front-end (#2) did not respect car #3’s rear-end. Application: when another hurts us (#1), we often take it out on others (#3) instead of going to the source of our pain (#1).
Real life marriage example: The husband (#2) has had a bad day and wants to discuss it with wife. She is half listening because social media is lit up over the next Bachelorette or the Kardashian’s (still don’t understand it). Her brain can’t possibly be in two places at the same time and give the attention both places need. His brain knows this. He feels unheard, not cared about, and ultimately disconnected from the one person in the entire world who is supposed to hear him till his dying days, at least that is what they agreed to, right?. Pretty soon, one of the children need his attention and he snaps at the child. Instead of going to the source (#1 car) and letting his wife know how her distraction feels to him, and setting boundaries of what he is okay with and what he is not, the child (#3) is rear-ended by dad. Conversation could go like this, husband to wife: “Honey, I would like you to respect my feelings (my rear-end) and engage with me when we have conversations. I want to connect and feel safe around you, but when you are on your phone I feel the disconnect between us which doesn’t really feel so good. Next time I need to connect and communicate with you, and you choose (pointing out she has a choice) to distract, I will need to distance myself (he has a choice) from you”. Distancing may be either physical or emotional. Examples could be engaging in a book, going for a walk, talking with family and friends. The distance does not injure the wife, only causes her to feel slight emotional pain, like loneliness. The intent of the consequence is not to cause the pain, but a byproduct of her choice. Revenge and punishment are not healthy motives, boundaries are to protect love. When there is no pain from the consequences of our actions, we are likely to repeat the behavior. Consequences help us to grow up while giving others the opportunity to grow up as well as becoming emotionally mature. This is what boundaries in relationships look like. Instead of the husband commanding his wife to not get on the phone when we talk, he is letting her know what the consequences will be if she distracts. She then can see what her choices are and make whichever choice is best for her. Hopefully, she will choose to connect, ultimately that is up to her. We are responsible for our own choices not the choices of others.
I am sure you are wondering what about the child, or car #2 and 3, the true innocents. Because of the hurt, no fault of their own, they will most likely organically develop protection. Be more cautious, walk on egg shells, and basically look in the rear view mirror scanning for danger. Disconnection can lead to unhealthy protection such as rage, withdrawn, and criticism to name a few.
Back to the car crash. Healthy boundaries conversation between cars would sound like this, from #2 to #1. “I want to drive with you, I enjoy it, but until you can engage on the highway respecting my boundaries I will have a rubber bumper installed, wear a crash helmet and I will keep my distance from you. When I have seen over time with consistency that you are able to be responsible, then I will remove from my protection.” Car #1 decides whether to engage or not.
The effects of boundaries are felt every day of our lives. If you speed, overspend, miss a deadline, yell, oversleep, etc. you feel the pain of your behavior and others. We often do not want the consequences and wish they didn’t happen but they are a wonderful tool to help up grow up and be responsible adults. Embrace them, learn, and live a more grown up life.
If you need help establishing healthy boundaries, contact Elizabeth Evans, LMFT, at firstname.lastname@example.org.