There may come a time, if it hasn’t already, when you want to set deadlines for your spouse. But when and how might you give that “deadline” to a reluctant spouse?

You may be thinking that setting that deadline constitutes as a boundary, when in actuality, it is setting criteria for your spouse. There is a big difference between the two though they do share similarities.

Boundaries VS. Criteria

If you are wanting to set a deadline, what you are considering is setting a criteria. While boundaries, on the other hand, are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, limits of sorts.

A boundary says “you must not do this” while a criteria says “you must do this.”

When a spouse is doing something destructive that must stop, you set a boundary. “If you do ____ again, then ____ is going to happen.”

When you want your spouse to do something that you feel is crucial (or at least extremely important) for the sake of your marriage, you set a criteria.

Boundaries and criteria are similar in that each requires a negative consequence if the spouse doesn’t do as demanded. They differ in that criteria also should include a positive consequence if the criteria is met. For example, “When you do what I ask, I will do this thing you want from me.”

Setting Criteria

Allow me to share an example of what some do that may be more intense than what you might have in mind when it comes to setting criteria along with its positive and negative consequences.

By (date) you must commit to attend the (date) workshop.

Positive Consequence:
If you attend and participate in the (date) workshop, I will sign the divorce papers after the workshop if you still want a divorce.

Negative Consequence:
If you do not commit to the (date) workshop by (date), I will instruct my attorney to litigate without mercy to get everything I deserve in the divorce, no matter how long it takes or how much it costs you.

Of course, positive and negative consequences may be less intense than the illustration above.

Setting Consequences

When it comes to setting consequences, NEVER set a negative consequence or a positive consequence unless you are willing and able to carry them out. Why?

Setting a negative consequence and then not doing it if the spouse fails to meet demands communicates to the spouse that you will not do what you say you will do. They typically then feel they can do anything with impunity.

Setting a positive consequence and then not doing it if the spouse meets the criteria is deceitful and tends to destroy any belief the spouse has in your honesty or integrity. That intensifies anger and bitterness and creates more problems.

Therefore, if you intend to set a criteria for your spouse, it requires more than choosing a deadline. Setting criteria needs to contain the following:

  1. Exactly what you want
  2. What you are willing to give to your spouse that s/he wants if s/he meets the criteria (positive consequence)
  3. What you will do if s/he chooses not to meet your deadline (negative consequence)

Until you can determine what those will be and whether you have the strength, ability, and will to bring about consequences, deadlines likely do more harm than good.

We have a lot more on boundaries and criteria over in The Definitive Guide to Boundaries Toolkit. Click the image below to learn more.