Whenever I start talking about boundaries I can see and feel people mentally check out of the conversation. Boundaries get talked about all the time; everyone knows they’re supposed to set them, most people have a hard time figuring out what their boundaries are/ should be.
On top of that, setting them and holding them occurs as confronting and hard.
So why am I talking about them now? Because they’re the thing – THE thing – that will have your life and relationships work.
Boundaries are emotional and physical limits that tell other people how to treat you.
Boundaries tell the people around you what’s ok and what’s not ok in their relationship with you.
When you see it written out like that, it’s pretty simple right?
Why do we Struggle With Setting Boundaries so Much?
Most of the time it’s because we haven’t really gotten clear on what our boundaries are. Even if we do know what they are, telling other people about them is uncomfortable – especially the ones that occur as insignificant or small. The trouble is, those are the ones that get crossed all the time!
Those seemingly no-big-deal boundaries are the ones that we let people compromise most often. Every time they do we build up resentment towards them. When resentment starts building, the next thing to show up will be contempt and that’s really hard to recover from.
That’s why having conversations about boundaries is SO important!
According to Dr. John Gottman’s research(the guy who can predict the likelihood of divorce with a 90% accuracy rate) once contempt is present, recovering the connection in the relationship is very challenging.
Where to Start When Setting Boundaries in Your Relationship
Working on the assumption that you’ve already figured out what your boundaries are, creating the boundaries within your relationship will be easier.
If you’ve never spent time consciously thinking about what your boundaries are, you might be at a loss for where to start.
Examples to Consider When Setting Boundaries
Expectations of Each Other
People can get stuck here putting too much responsibility on the other person. Making it clear that you are not responsible for each other’s happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction etc. from life is important.
Of course you contribute to and influence each other’s experience of these things. That’s very different than being responsible for. If your partner is doing something that takes away from your happiness, fulfillment, etc. it is your responsibility to say something, and vice versa.
This can be a place where we assume common sense will prevail and everyone is on the same page. Unfortunately, this is an area of breakdown for couples because the basics haven’t been discussed and agreed to.
Behaviours to consider include lying, yelling, name-calling, swearing at, being late, ignoring, etc. These types of behaviours usually don’t show up to be discussed until they’re a problem. Being pro-active here can be helpful.
Extended Family Interaction
Determining ahead of time the type of influence and access your parents, in-laws, and ex’s will have to your relationship is important. If both of you have expectations and limits around this that differ, coming to an agreement together before problems arise will make a difference.
Time – Together and Alone
At the beginning of relationships, it can be easy to have inconsistencies here, as most of the time you want to spend all your time together. After the relationship starts to settle into a more normal pattern it’s important to discuss needs around time.
Understanding and agreement about the amount and type of quality time you spend together
Maintaining friendships outside of the relationship is really important for everyone. Friendships help build and create a sense of belonging and acceptance, self-esteem, and community. They can also be important for keeping your hobbies and leisure activities alive.
Discussing how much time with friends works for you both is important.
Additions to the Family
Bringing pets and children into the relationship deserves a conversation ahead of time. Alignment around how to parent (both human and fur) children can make a big difference in the added stress that comes with changing the dynamic of just you two.
This is also worth discussing ahead of time when combining households.
How will the ‘non-parent’ interact with, be responsible for, and discipline step-children and pets coming into a combined home? Collaborative conversations around this topic are vital.
Honouring C ommitments
Things to consider in this area include how you decide what to do if you have to break a date or agreement. If you want to cancel date night or rearrange picking up the kids, how do you work that out?
A pattern that can develop here is canceling or rearranging to accommodate a busy work schedule. What’s acceptable and what’s not in that arena?
External Emotional Connections
Having friends outside the relationship is important. Having people who have your best interests at heart to talk to when you need to vent or work something out is an invaluable resource.
Determining where the line is about sharing relationship details can circumvent potential betrayals ahead of time.
With the increased presence of technology and social media in our lives, blurred lines around emotional affairs are more prevalent than ever. Frank discussions about what’s ok and not ok in this area can help avoid serious breakdowns in the future.
Beyond date nights, looking at how you want to maintain the health of the relationship is really important. Couples can get into traps where they don’t want to discuss what’s not working for fear of causing a conflict.
Avoiding that conversation will inevitably make things worse in the long run. Discussing how each of you wants to manage this and if/when you’ll seek professional support, is important information for you both.
These are just a few of the key areas that blurry boundaries can make for
- How you handle money – spending and saving
- Sex… one that no one likes to talk about and can be a relationship killer if you avoid it
- Vacation and leisure time
- Career changes that require moving
Setting aside some time to have these conversations with your partner ahead of time will make all the difference in the level of satisfaction and connection in your relationship over the long-term.