They say that good fences make good neighbors. Setting clear boundaries can help maintain healthy space and limits between two neighbors, while still allowing for interaction and friendship. The same is true about marriage. Healthy marriages establish proper boundaries where boundaries need to be set, while at the same time, allowing for vulnerable and transparent intimacy within the marriage. However, a healthy marriage depends on identifying where boundaries need to be drawn, and where boundaries need to be taken down. Let’s look at how healthy marriages maintain fences and open gates.
The fence around your yard is an important boundary. It marks where your property begins and ends—and moving that fence even six inches would likely stir up a conflict with your neighbor. Additionally, fences help keep strangers from wandering into your yard uninvited. Fences in marriage and in our families serve a similar purpose. Fences keep harmful or unwelcome influences out of our marriage, and they protect what is sacred within our marriage. In scripture, God establishes a fence for marriage:
“A man will leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”(Genesis 2:24).
God is showing us that in marriage, new boundaries are drawn—the husband and the wife now become the primary family unit, and if we fail to build careful fences between our family of origin, and our family of marriage, we may be inviting trouble into our home.
Imagine a newly-married couple in which a young husband shrugs off hurtful comments his father makes to his new wife. His loyalty remains with his parents, and by neglecting to build a wall here, he will likely invite conflict into his new home. Other fences are necessary in marriage—for example, sexual fences. The author of Hebrews urges us that “marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed be kept pure” (Heb. 13:4). Fences help us honor this commitment; we build healthy fences when we refuse to share our sexuality with those outside of our marriage, or when we ban influences of things like pornography from entering into our marriage. We build healthy fences when we don’t gossip about our husband or wife to others, or broadcast our marital woes over social media.
Perhaps the fences in your marriage are in need of some minor—or major—repair. Even the best fences show signs of wear and tear, and healthy marriages depend upon a husband and wife being intentional in establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Healthy communication enables us to mark out fences that will protect and honor our marriage in the long run. Perhaps you and your spouse would do well to discuss where you feel your walls need some repair, and work together at fixing the cracks. Where do boundaries need to be established? Have you agreed upon boundaries that you no longer honor? Talk with your spouse about the care of fences in your marriage.
In our backyard, we have a fence with a gate that opens up to our church’s parking lot. Our kids have always loved having a gate that gives easy access to the parking lot; frequently they will ride their bikes or scooters through it. A gate allows a border to be opened when it is healthy and necessary. Gates can serve a similar purpose in marriage.
Gates are places in your relationship where a boundary once necessary is no longer needed. Before marriage, for example, sexual intimacy between a couple is not pleasing to God. After marriage, however, sex is not only permissible; it delights God when we enjoy his gift. In fact, the Apostle Paul instructs married couples to cultivate healthy sexual intimacy in marriage:
“Do not deprive each other [sexually] except by mutual consent and for a time” (1 Cor. 7:5).
Yet, some of us have difficulty opening these gates. Perhaps we were raised with a negative view of sex, and so we feel guilty about sex, and we reject any effort at creativity or spontaneity with our spouse. Perhaps there are sexual activities which, though biblically permissible, are off the table for us because it didn’t appeal to us, or because it made us uncomfortable.
Others of us were told that “real men don’t cry,” and so we coped with our emotions by burying them deep beneath a facade and we refuse to be vulnerable with our spouse. In each of these cases, we have set limits for ourselves. Based on our past experiences, or personal preference, we keep these gates sealed shut. Unfortunately, by refusing to open the gates, we may be doing more harm to our marriage because we are avoiding the vulnerability and intimacy that is the hallmark of a healthy and happy marriage.
Perhaps your marriage would benefit from identifying gates that are shut, but that are ready to be opened. Are you letting an unhealthy view of sex from your past prevent you from enjoying sex in the present? Perhaps there is a sexual activity (again, within the sphere of what is biblically permissible) that was once not an option for you, but would be something your spouse would enjoy; is this a gate you would be willing to open? What other gates might you be keeping shut? Opening these gates begins with an open and honest conversation with your spouse. Where might your wife want you to let her in? What can you do to open yourself up to your husband?
Good fences may make good neighbors, but good fences and good gates make for good marriages. What will you do to promote healthy walls and gates in your marriage?