Relationships can be confusing, especially our closest and most intimate ones. Sometimes it’s hard to know where you end and the other person begins – or where you begin and the other person ends. It’s easy to lose oneself a little (or a lot) in an adored partner.
While it’s only natural to experience this melding of emotions and desires, when that melding becomes co-dependency – if it creates guilt, shame, anger, resentment or unhappiness – it means that it’s time to get back in touch with yourself and establish some healthy personal boundaries.
Types of boundaries
Our boundaries range from the physical, emotional and mental to the sexual, spiritual and financial. Setting boundaries is a way of taking care of oneself, of reclaiming power and being one’s own best friend. When you set personal boundaries, you assume responsibility to protect and love yourself. Because this responsibility is yours alone, it’s not an easy thing to do. You might have to contend with the fear of hurting, angering or even losing a loved one. But if you want to reclaim personal power and improve the health of all your relationships, boundaries must be put in place.
What are your needs?
If you’re the type of person who always likes to do for others, it’s sometimes hard to acknowledge that you have needs of your own – the need to be respected, and treated with love and dignity. Acknowledging these needs is the first step in setting boundaries. When you acknowledge that you have needs of your own, you begin to see yourself as an independent entity. Only when you see yourself as having your own needs can you begin to think clearly about what types of boundaries you need respected and make informed decisions.
Often, the first boundaries we set exist only for ourselves. You might choose to stop frequenting a particular place, to steer clear of a certain person or to avoid situations that affect you negatively. Setting boundaries for yourself is a good first step toward reclaiming your personal power – and taking care of you.
The next step is learning to voice your needs. This helps others become aware that you are not there to be used or manipulated, but to be treated with love and thoughtfulness. When you effectively communicate to your partner what your boundaries are, you, in fact, let them know the types of treatment that you find unacceptable. By owning, loving and respecting yourself, you create a new awareness in those who trespass against your boundaries, and attract those who love and respect you back.
Boundaries are not there to seal us off from the world or to control others. They are there to foster healthy communication and encourage others to act with caring and consideration. This is why we need to make sure that the boundaries we set come from a place of self-love and are not motivated by fear or controlling desires. One of the important things to remember when setting personal boundaries is that you do them for yourself and let go of the outcome. Setting boundaries is about learning and loving, rather than putting up preventative walls and trying to control others.
The soul-searching part of the work is thinking about your needs and determining healthy boundaries. The more skillful part of the work is setting and defending them. The key skill is a communication style that avoids blame. When you let a partner know their behavior is unacceptable to you, it’s often all about how you frame the situation. Using the non-accusatory “I feel” approach should always be your rule of thumb. The following is an excellent frame to help you organize your thoughts and approach your loved one:
When you… don’t introduce me to your friends and avoid eye contact with me in social situations I feel… disrespected, unloved and as though you are ashamed of me. Or, I want… you to acknowledge me in the presence of your friends by introducing me to them as your fiancée and showing signs of affection toward me
Since I cannot control your behavior, I will protect myself… by not being your date at business gatherings… if you behave in this way again.
It’s important to be honest, direct and specific when you talk about the behavior that upsets you. Remember, talk about the behavior itself and not just what you think it implies. Even if a partner denies any wrongdoing, you are still planting the seeds of awareness. Later, you might notice their behavior changing for the better. Lastly, you must be willing to enforce the consequences that you set. If, as in the above example, you aren’t ready to forgo accompanying your partner in business situations, don’t say that you won’t. Boundaries are not meant to be set in order to make your life more difficult.
Your loved ones can have free access to you, but they must respect your borders. California is still California even when friends from Texas come to visit! Setting boundaries is not about cutting people off from your life, but welcoming them into it in more positive ways. If you set boundaries that come from a place of self-love, then life will actually become fuller, more livable and more rewarding!
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