Saturday, March 14, 2009


something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent

3: something immaterial that impedes or separates : obstacle

I've been thinking a lot lately about the subtle differences between boundaries and barriers in relationships. This line of thought has been prompted both by examining my own needs and observing how others manage setting boundaries (or erecting barriers, as the case may be).

In my own life, this has been prompted by a conversation with J the night after I returned from my retreat. He was sharing what he and the girls did in my absence and how it went. He said that they were all (himself included) in a really good mood and he attributed that partly to the fact that he kept music playing all weekend. It was striking how opposite his experience was from mine because, unbeknown to him, I had blogged that day about silence heightened my enjoyment of my retreat. In my post, I had concluded that maybe a key to experiencing solitude without a retreat was for me to buy earplugs. So when J shared his experience about the music, I blurted out, "That's great! I can buy earplugs and you can play all the music you want!"

While this had seemed like a great idea before it left my mouth, J's face fell the minute I said it. Because if I had let him finish, he would have explained that what he wanted was to share that with me. I certainly didn't mean to hurt him. It was, in fact, the furthest thing from my mind. But the thought of music constantly playing makes me a little ill. When music is playing, I can't let it linger in the background. My mind tunes in to hear the words and I can't think. I end up feeling exhausted if music has been playing for a long time because it's like an unending barrage on my senses. Music is more draining for me than conversation with someone because there is no ebb and flow, no give and take. The music just keeps coming, filtering through my ears, circling in my mind and clouding my inner voice. I know many (most?) people do not experience music this way, but it is the best way I have to describe how it effects me.

So is not wanting to share music a boundary (indicating my own limit) or a barrier (a separation from my family, an obstacle to a shared relationship)?

I've also just started reading a book recommended by a friend called The Introvert Advantage. The subtitle is "How to Thrive in an Extrovert World." I am hopeful that this book will help me understand why I crave some of the things that I do (quiet, for example). I'm also hopeful that it will help me accept the introverted things about me and see their value. But I want to be careful to not use a need for quiet to shut out my husband. I do want to be aware of my limits, but I don't want to separate myself needlessly.

J has been incredibly understanding. He understands that I did not mean to offend and he has taken a real interest in noise canceling headphones, a high tech alternative to my low tech idea of earplugs. More than anyone else, J gets me. So while he doesn't share my need for silence, he respects it.

I'm trying to respect his need for music as well and I've suggested we start by playing music during dinner. That way, we're sharing it as a family and just adding another layer of stimulation to our dinner conversation. We're going to try it and see how it goes. I don't think it's exactly what he had in mind, nor is it exactly what I had in mind. But it's a step towards each other instead of just retreating to our own corners.

I think that may, in fact, be the difference between a boundary and a barrier. A barrier is a way to keep others out, but a boundary is a way to preserve your true self so that you can let others in.


RBM said...

You are not alone in experiencing constant music this way. This might sound strange as the daughter of two ‘professional’ musicians and an avocational musician myself, but I cannot stand to have music playing in the background--I can't even study with it. It is much too distracting and draining on my senses also. I will sometimes play Christmas carols around that time of year, or listen to loud music while I am exercising or cleaning, but only for short periods of time. Otherwise if I am listening to music it’s a purposeful, active listening and that is all I am doing (like going to the symphony, opera, or ballet). Even a few days at my in-laws over Christmas one year involved non-stop various renditions of Christmas music, and I had to respectfully and politely request a break after nearly 2 solid days of it. (I definitely felt like I was going crazy.) But some folks it doesn't bother at all. I do REALLY think it depends upon your personality, but don't feel like it means you don't appreciate music or that you can’t share it at times with your husband and family. It just means that you do know yourself and have good boundaries. :)

Variations On A Theme said...

David and I quite often find ways around and through what we need vs. what the other person needs. David has taught me a lot about boundaries...which I've typically lacked in most areas of life. It's nice to be understood by the one who knows you best. You and I are lucky in that way.

aimee said...

Matt and I have the same barrier(we'll call it a barrier for now when I seriously crave quiet). He would have music playing every minute he's awake. He loves to listen to it while he's working, he's talked before about how the beats/rhythms help him organize his thoughts. I am so far from that! When he's in charge of the kids and has the music blaring and the kids screaming(with fun from tackling and tickling)-oh my goodness, I walk in and make a beeline for volume control. Yesterday is a good example. All of the kids had guitars out along with digital drumsticks(a lovely present, ahem, for our four year old) and they had been marching through the house for hours creating music. Now I'm all about supporting their artistic endeavors-but after a night of no sleeping and almost 3 weeks into babyhood-my senses were on overload. Just when I was ready to call it quits to them, matt got out his guitar and joined them!

In this one area, music, I really do think his brain receives and processes differently than mine-and I think the kids have his musical ear as well.

We try to find a balance. However, right now my balance is eliminate all extra noise!