I remember being a young teenager listening to “old” people talk about the need for boundaries. My younger self didn’t appreciate or understand what they were talking about. But now I am in my early thirties, the age of those people I thought were old, and I realize the importance of what they were saying.
Boundaries are necessary and healthy for us. Think about it. Healthy boundaries look like: eating one cupcake instead of four. Getting a good night sleep instead of watching Netflix until the wee morning hours. Cutting back on spending instead of whipping out the plastic to make purchases we can’t afford.
One area that boundaries are absolutely necessary is in our relationships. We often don’t like to put them into place or we don’t know how to set them, so here are my suggestions. These action steps are critical when setting boundaries in relationships. I will use the example of romantic relationship, but the same things apply for any relationship.
Take time to think.
If you want to set boundaries, it all starts with taking time to think. Thinking time can be hard to come by, or for some of us, something to avoid. But if you are needing to put boundaries in place, you should make time to reflect on what is important to you.
Consider the following:
- what kind of person you want to become
- what kind of relationship you want to have with a significant other
- what kind of home environment you want to raise a family
- what goals you have
When you think about these deeper questions, you are establishing your values, those things that matter most to you. Once you nail down your values, you can see when your significant other is saying or doing things that don’t line up with them.
It is equally important to think about what happens if your boundaries are not respected. Think about these things:
- What would be the next step or plan?
- How would you handle it?
- Would you be willing to end the relationship?
- How would you resolve the differences, or could they be resolved?
One of the main causes of relationship problems is unmet expectations. We expect something from our boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife, and he or she is not doing it. Recently, I was challenged to think about why this happens. One reason is because we don’t clearly communicate what we expect. We assume that other people know what we want. Secondly, even if we do communicate our expectation clearly, others have the freedom to not agree with it.
I bring this up because the same is true for boundaries. Boundaries are a form of expectations. We need to accept something: other people cannot read our mind. Only we know what is circulating in these brains of ours. We cannot assume that our significant other knows our values and boundaries, so we need to communicate them.
If boundaries are going to be effective in a relationship, then both parties must agree to them. This is where it gets hard for us. People can choose to agree or disagree with us. If they agree with our boundaries and we agree with their boundaries, wonderful! If there is strong disagreement about the boundaries, it can mean that the two people are on different pages. It is much harder to have a healthy relationship when we hold different values and can’t find agreement on boundaries.
Communicating clearly requires conversation. Not just one conversation, but several of them over the course of the relationship. If our significant other isn’t interested in having conversations like this, it can be a red flag indicating the relationship is not right for us.
We all can struggle with consistency, but when it comes to boundaries, consistency is extremely important. It is a problem when something is a boundary one week, and then the next week, it is not. This happens all the time. When we put the boundary in place, maybe it feels like the relationship is getting worse rather than better. Or maybe we fear our significant other will pull away from us, get angry, or break up with us. This is a hard place to be in. Because it can get hard (even if both people agree to the boundaries), we back away from the boundaries we put in place.
These wishy-washy boundaries will not result in the change you want to see. You can expect new boundaries to be a little rocky at first, but stick to them. When you practice that consistency, you will begin to see a change in your relationship.
If you need some boundaries in your relationship, I hope these suggestions are a starting point for you. Establishing boundaries is not the easiest thing to do, but they are necessary. Setting healthy boundaries will keep you on track for the relationships you desire!
Mary Needham, Operations Manager