I was pondering the interactions among families, couples, and friends today, and really wondered what is “normal” or “acceptable” in actions and reactions within the scope of relationships. How do we determine what’s ok and what’s not in our own heads?
The Professor and I had been chilling together while I shot a few college soccer games discussing open relationships. She is aware that her parents have one, and while she doesn’t care much for the details, she had a few generic, logistical questions. The first is one I hear a lot: Why be married if you’re going to date other people? The answer to this varies largely among other couples, I’m sure. For us, it’s the ability to recognize that the expectation of one person fulfilling all of our individual needs is a very tough thing. We all have other relationships in our lives as humans; in an open marriage, these relationships are just “allowed” to go beyond the boundary of “just friends.” We prioritize the primary relationship as the foundation, and if a conflict does arise, the primary relationship takes precedence. We also set “ground rules” for our peripheral involvements, which is why YES, you can have instances of infidelity in an open relationship.
If you think about it, there are unwritten “ground rules” in families and in our friendships as well.
The bottom line in all relationships is the boundaries you set. There are behavioral expectations within those relationships and if they clash inadvertently with someone else’s, conflicts arise. And please let be clear, as always: I am by no means judging the variances in boundaries that occur. I’m merely making observations and applying them to my own life.
One thing I know that can cause tension is the topic of cussing. There are definite rules and restrictions for its acceptance, and my kids are well aware of them. If my kid is upstairs in her room, stubs her toe, and I hear, “Shit!” I’m not going to blink. If my mother in law is in the kitchen and one of the kids cusses, their cell phone is automatically gone for 24hrs. No appeals process, no exceptions to the rule, no reduction in sentence. Gone. They are never to cuss in front of little kids, their grandparents, in public places. But if they’re at home, whatever. The profane is really not that much different than the sacred – different people find different things to fall under the category in question. No one is ever going to fully agree what is or is not. So in my house, when it’s just us, I really don’t care much about causal profanity. (I will say, however, that certain words are off limits around me, and they know not to use them!)
In our marriage, honesty is absolute. One of our major boundaries is the idea that we do not hide our partners from each other. Communication is key for us; it is only through open communication that we can avoid the pitfalls of jealousy, resentment, and betrayal.
In our family, physical aggression is unacceptable, period. Our friends and their kids have no problems “fighting” (ostensibly in jest) with each other. This does not make them any better or worse than us. It merely means that we have different perspectives and backgrounds. The Scientist and I both had abusive, alcoholic fathers. Therefore, punching and kicking among ourselves, the kids, or with the kids, is simply not tolerated. If the Ambassador is being really 16, I have been known to ask him to come over and sit closer to me so I can reach him to swat. This generally gets a laugh, as he knows that I truly am kidding.
Observing other families in which physical aggression is commonplace is kind of fascinating for me. As someone who is pretty incapable of separating that from violence, it’s interesting to me to be able to see how other people manage to function perfectly normally with it. And it isn’t like our kids have never gotten scrappy with each other. But first, it is stopped immediately, and second, it is never ever brought on either of their parents. If you suggested that my daughter (for example) swat, kick, wrestle, or what have you with me, she would look at you like you had lost your mind. The mere concept of coming at her parent in a physical manner is so foreign, so mind-blowing for her.
The same really could be said for boundaries among friends. Not so much in the physical sense, really, but in the sense that you allow certain levels of intimacy. There are certain things that you’ll take from some friends and not others, right? Your best friend can tell you that your latest relationship is a stupid move, but from a casual acquaintance, that same observation would probably result in a hissed warning to “back off.” Same words, but one person crossed a boundary that the other person didn’t need to consider.
So where do you set your own bell curve, with your own boundaries? What are your norms, your lines of what’s acceptable and what doesn’t get crossed?