Chances are, if you’ve been to therapy, you’ve heard the word “boundaries.” We therapists LOVE to talk about boundaries and they are especially important in romantic relationships.
First, what exactly are boundaries? According to Google, who knows all, “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards him or her and how he/she will respond when someone passes those limits.”
Okay, let’s look at a practical example. Let’s say you and your partner want to order carry-out from your favorite Chinese restaurant. Your partner asks you to make the phone call, but then hovers over you, reminding you of exactly what to order. “don’t forget the dumplings. Remember the egg drop soup.” Setting a boundary in this case would sound something like, “You asked me to order. I will handle it. Please don’t talk to me while I am on the phone.”
Yes, but that doesn’t mean easy. Some of us have a hard time setting boundaries because we fear being rude, or hurting the other person’s feelings. What’s funny is, more feelings will get hurt if you don’t set any boundaries than if you do.
Take the couple above. What will happen if he never asks her not to talk while he’s on the phone? Chances are he will get annoyed and resentful toward her, and she won’t ever know what she did wrong. That’s not fair to either person in the relationship.
Now, let’s say he does ask her to give him space while he’s on the phone. What could happen there? Sure, she might still feel hurt, but it opens up the lines of communication so that the two of them can explore why she feels the need to control what he is doing. As for him, he may feel guilty at first, but the guilt will soon fade, and he will rest easy knowing he has been open and honest about what he needs.
Some common boundary issues in relationships are:
- Spending too much time together
- Invading each other’s privacy (reading texts, emails, etc.)
- Trying to control one another’s behavior
- Forbidding your partner to attend social activities without you
- Not having hobbies or interests of your own
- Not having friends of your own that you spend time with without your partner
- Putting your partner’s needs before your own on a consistent basis (yes, that is a problem!)
People who are codependent, or addicted to relationships, usually have the hardest time setting boundaries. You may be codependent if you:
- Blame others for your feelings
- Need to be with your partner at all times
- Want to control your partner’s feelings
- Try to control the outcome of many situations
- Don’t feel whole without the other person
- Lack self-love
- Grew up with an addict in your family
They say that when a codependent person sets a boundary, the guilt that she feels is similar to the withdrawal symptoms that addicts experience when they give up their substance of choice. The good news is that over time, and with practice, this feeling goes away and gives rise to healthier feelings. If you think you might be co-dependent or just want some more help with setting healthy boundaries, a great book to read is Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie.
In the end, setting appropriate boundaries ends up being good for everyone in the relationship, because each partner knows exactly where he/she stands, is able to get the respect that he/she deserves, and knows how to make the other person happy.
So, the next time you are hesitant to ask for something that you need, remember that you are doing it for the good of your relationship.
If you would like to talk more about setting boundaries in relationships, contact me. I’m here to help!
P.S. Since boundary issues are so common in relationships and there is so much to talk about on this topic, I’ll be publishing another article on this topic next week. In that article, I’ll be covering the topics of trust, privacy, and the need for alone time in a relationship.
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