AITA for cutting the trip with my wife short
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AITA for cutting the trip with my wife short

I have a story for you. It happened to a friend of a friend of mine...

Well, really, it happened to a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine. I mean we all have 6 degrees of seperation from someone on Reddit's Am I the Asshole, right? It must be the truth.

In today's episode of Am I the Bleep!?!  The Jonathans (that's us) explore whether or not the people in the following stories are a**holes on the legendary scale of a**holery:

  1. AITA for cutting the trip with my wife short after I learned that my son's step-grandparents weren't feeding him properly?
  2. AITA for missing an actual emergency because I turned off my phone to avoid my wife's unnecessary contact attempts during my tech-free weekend?
  3. AITA for telling my girlfriend she's not allowed to tell my daughter what to do?

So, even if our R.L Stein intro threw you for a loop, we promise that this episode will leave you with Goosebumps.

Welcome to this week's brand new episode of Am I the Bleep!?!

How to set healthy boundaries in a relationship (and why you might not want to)

Are you having trouble setting boundaries with someone in your life? At some point, most of us end up in conflicts of interest with the people we care about. One of us wants one thing, and the other wants the opposite. What do you do in situations like these?

To answer that question, we looked at boundary setting moments between several couples, and we’ve done our best to provide expert coaching advice on how they could have resolved those situations without resorting to blowout fights or miscommunications. 

Let’s look at what boundaries are, how they function… and why the very idea of setting a boundary might not be the most helpful way to achieve the outcomes you want in the first place (hint: another tactic might help you get what you want a lot faster!). 

What are relationship boundaries?

Relationship boundaries are rules that we develop in order to avoid something from happening. When a boundary is established between friends, family members or partners, both parts of the relationship agree not to cross a certain line — or else consequences will occur. 

A lot of us are taught that boundaries are good, worthwhile and healthy. And, in some cases, a boundary can be an acceptable way of navigating conflict. However, while they’re created with good intent, boundaries can actually create longstanding relationship problems that prevent people from coexisting happily with one another.

What do we mean by that?

Why are boundaries problematic?

Boundaries become problematic because they alter how your brain thinks about conflict. Think about it this way: when you use a boundary to protect yourself from something, you’re focusing on the outcome you don’t want. If you tell your partner you don’t want them to smoke anymore, you’re saying: “Every time I think you might smoke, I’m going to be on watch to make sure that you don’t. And, the moment you do smoke, I’ll punish you.” 

Boundaries are like trying to keep people out of your room by closing your door and holding your weight against it. You’re keeping people out, sure, but when you’re focused entirely on keeping the door closed, you can’t sit down and relax in your room.

So how do we fix this? How do we set limits and prevent people from walking all over us without expending all our energy?

Simple: turn boundaries around, and make agreements instead. Boundaries focus on what you don’t want, whereas agreements focus on what you do want. 

Let’s look at our example about smoking again. Instead of telling your partner not to smoke, agree that they can smoke as they please — but you won’t be around for it. When they smoke, make the agreement that you’ll kindly get up and leave, and that you won’t see them until they don’t smell like smoke anymore. 

This isn’t a punishment. Instead, it lets your partner do as they please, but if they want to spend time around you, they’ll have to do it on your terms. It’s like a boundary, only it homes in on what you want — smoke-free time with your partner — instead of what you don’t (retroactively punishing your partner for their actions).  

To see this “agreements vs. boundaries” behavior in action, here’s a situation where partners could have done a better job setting boundaries. 

How to set boundaries: honeymoon vs. childcare

We recently read a post from a disgruntled spouse who was in an argument with their wife. The two of them were raising a child who had health issues that required a certain diet. While prepping for their honeymoon, the wife insisted the child stayed with her parents, who had a habit of not feeding the child the right meals. Despite this, the spouse reluctantly agreed. 

During the honeymoon, the spouse found out that their child had not been fed properly. Instead of the meals they told the wife’s parents to cook, the child was only eating snacks. The spouse grew angry and cut the honeymoon short to come home and tend to their child. In response, the wife told their spouse that they honeymoon was ruined, and a giant fight ensued. 

Who’s right here? And who’s wrong? The answer is… both partners. 

The wife is in the wrong for punishing their partner for tending to their child’s needs, of course. But the spouse also made the crucial mistake of not making an agreement with their partner before the honeymoon transpired. 

If the spouse had said, “I agree to leave my child with your grandparents, but he needs to be fed properly so that we can have an amazing trip,” things might’ve worked out differently. If the wife didn’t believe her parents would feed the child properly, then she might’ve agreed to let the child stay with another babysitter, because both she and the spouse wanted, above all, to have an amazing trip.

This is different than a boundary. A boundary says, “If your parents let my child eat snacks, I’ll come home from this honeymoon without you.” It’s a punishment for behavior that the wife can’t control. It’s focused on the negative, and not the positive. More than that, it’s retroactive punishment, rather than a goodwilled agreement. 

How to set boundaries: make agreements 

Learning to think about agreements instead of boundaries takes time and patience. It’s a nuanced subject, but focusing on what you do want instead of what you don’t will radically change the way you approach future conflict. 

But don’t just take our word for it… when you can hear our word for it! Listen to our podcast episode on boundaries and much, much more in this episode of Am I the Bleep!??!.