“Good fences make good neighbors”-Robert Frost
What exactly is a boundary, when it comes to relationships? Simply put, a boundary is a limit or space between you and the other person; a clear place where you begin and the other person ends. Think of it as a fence in your backyard. You are the gate keeper and get to decide who you let in and who you keep out, who you let into the whole back yard, or who you let just inside the gate. You may still be keeping a distance, but you are giving them a chance to prove their trustworthiness both physically and emotionally. The purpose of setting a healthy boundary is, of course, to protect and take good care of you.
Healthy boundaries do not always come naturally or easily. We learn to “be” in all kinds of relationships by modeling. In other words, by watching how others handle relationships. In early childhood, it is our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, babysitters, and who ever else we were around on a regular basis. As we grow into adolescents, we rely less on parents and more on our friends to help us define ourselves and our boundaries or limits in relationships. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, then chances are you have not learned how to set a boundary or even really know what it is. Learning to set our own healthy boundaries is an exercise in personal freedom. It means getting to know ourselves and increasing our awareness of where we stand and what we stand for. It means letting go of the unhealthy people in our lives so that we can grow into the healthy person that we were meant to be.
Here are a few tips to help you get started establishing boundaries with your partner in your relationship:
- Communicate your thoughts with one another. Be honest, but respectful when sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner. It’s totally normal and okay to need time to gather your thoughts and feelings, but don’t use that approach to avoid the conversation.
- Never assume or guess your partner’s feelings. Making assumptions can create a lot of misunderstandings in a relationship. You may feel like you know your partner very well that you feel you’re entitled to assume what they want or need without asking them, but it is always your best bet to ask rather than assume.
- Follow through on what you say. Setting boundaries and not executing them lets the other person think they have an excuse to continue to overstep your boundaries. You shouldn’t make any exceptions to your own boundaries without careful consideration because you may soon find yourself on compromising things that aren’t acceptable to you.
- Take responsibility for your actions. Instead of immediately blaming your partner for the situation or how you’re feeling, take a step back and think about the choices you’ve made in the relationship and see if they may have contributed to the situation. Both partners should be doing this!
- Know when it’s time to move on. You can only share how you desire to be treated in the relationship, and you can’t be responsible for your partner’s feelings or communication. Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and fairness. If your partner can’t respect your boundaries, then it may be time to end the relationship.
Setting and establishing healthy boundaries is a skill, and it takes time! Remember, healthy boundaries don’t come easy, but if you trust your instincts, be open, and practice with your partner, the relationship will only get stronger over time.