Establishing Boundaries


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One of the main premises behind my blog is, when it comes to relationships most of us have NO IDEA what we are doing.

Sure, we learn some simple things like the golden rule when we are kids.

Beyond that though?

What do we really learn?

Most of us don’t learn how to deal with conflict.  In fact, we’re taught that conflict is bad and something to be avoided.  Because conflict means there are problems, and problems aren’t good, right?

So most of us spend our whole lives avoiding conflict even when that means the problems we have in our relationships go unresolved (including the ones that could often easily be resolved if we would just face them).

Thing is, conflict isn’t actually bad it’s simply the collision of two differing viewpoints.  Often neither of those viewpoints is right or wrong – they are just different approaches to things.  And taking the time to understand and accept each other’s viewpoints is a part of learning to love and accept each other for who we are (instead of focusing on who we aren’t).

Sadly, we don’t learn that – no one teaches it to us.  And if/when we DO learn it it’s often through trial and error, and only after a considerable amount of pain and heartache.

Another thing we commonly don’t learn about is how to say no.

 

Giving and Taking

In my last post I talked a bit about the end of my marriage, and how one of the most important things I learned about was the importance of boundaries.

Boundaries are a difficult concept.  What exactly are they, and how do we learn them?

Unfortunately, similar to how I came to the realization that conflict was positive and healthy (when done right), learning about boundaries often involves a lot of pain and heartache too.

Growing up, my one rule on relationships was the golden rule.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

I think I learned it somewhere around grade two, and it became the foundation of all relationships.

I like it when people are kind to me, so it made sense that I needed to try and be kind to them.  Being kind or nice is a good thing.  Being giving to other people is a good thing.  So it seemed clear that that was the right way to live your life.

But there was one problem here.

When you are willing to give, you will ALWAYS find people who are willing to take.

Being nice and kind is good, but unfortunately it opens you up to being taken advantage of.  And commonly we aren’t taught how to deal with being taken advantage of.

We aren’t taught how to say no.

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Learning To Say No

As children all we understand is our needs.  We want something, and we either get it or we don’t.  Hopefully we learn that we won’t always get what we want, and that’s alright.

I’m a parent, and trying to teach that can be a challenge.  There are times that my kids have tantrums (which are really just a form of trying to get control), and those tantrums can be emotionally draining.  Sometimes during those moments it can be tempting to just give in and give my child what he wants.  When we do that, part of us knows we are showing them that tantrums work.  That if they make a big enough fuss they will get what they want.  But we know that with children we NEED to say no to them because that’s how they learn.

We set down rules and we expect our children to follow them.  After all, we are the parent and they are the child, and we know those rules will benefit them in the long run, and in fact are important to their development.

For some reason we don’t do this in adult relationships (both friendships and romantic relationships).  In adult relationships, people are adults and we expect them to behave as such.  So we don’t create rules, because we don’t think we should have to.  And further, we probably don’t even know what the rules should be.

We don’t know what our own boundaries are.

We only start to learn them when they are violated.

 

We only start to understand our boundaries when someone says or does something that hurts us.  When we feel belittled, or disrespected, or even just ignored.  When we don’t feel valued, or heard.

These are the moments that we start to learn what our boundaries are.

These are the moments when we need to start to push back and say no, or say hey, you’re hurting me here.

But often we don’t.

 

For many years I didn’t know what my own boundaries were.  I didn’t learn to say no.  And I suspect I’m not alone in this.

I was taught to give, and to treat others well (how well I succeed in that is a fair question). Because of this when I was hurt by someone I loved I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know how to deal with it.

I saw conflict as bad, so I would just accept certain things.  Or I would make excuses for them.  Things like “oh, he/she did this – but they were having a bad day so it’s alright”.  I would let things go, rather than having them turn into a fight.  Because it wasn’t worth a fight, right?  And when you loved someone, did the little things really matter?

That’s what I believed, but I was wrong.

In allowing certain things, I was saying these things were alright.  In trying to be kind, I was enabling poor behavior.

And I wasn’t respecting myself.

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Boundaries are hard; and when you haven’t being enforcing them and you start to, people can accuse you of being selfish.  That accusation can sting, because at first it DOES feel selfish.  When you’ve spent a long time focusing more on the needs of others, trying to understand and enforce your own boundaries them and enforce them doesn’t feel right.

Saying “No” to someone isn’t easy.  Saying “hey, when you did this you hurt me” isn’t easy.

But sometimes, it’s necessary.

It’s important to remember that standing up for you isn’t selfish.  I think this sums it up well:

selfish

To me it’s about balance.  If you always put yourself first, then yeah, you are probably selfish.

If you are in a relationship the other person HAS to be important.  Their needs have to be important to you.  It can’t ever be just about one person, both people always need to matter.

 

Discovering You

Understanding your own boundaries is about learning what your core values are.

What TRULY matters to you?  What are your NEEDS, and not just your wants (at first the line between this things can seem very blurry)?  How do you need other people to treat you and interact with you?  What do you need to feel valued, and respected?

Once you understand this, how do you go about enforcing them and ensuring they are being respected?

I think understanding this is a long process, and is part of our own personal journey.  It’s part of defining who exactly we are as a person, and I don’t think we learn this easily.

Further, I think not understanding it or enforcing it is a large part of why many people find themselves in unhealthy relationships.

Often marriages or long term relationships start in our twenties, before we really know who we are yet.  We don’t know our boundaries, and we don’t know how to enforce them.

If we are lucky, we have sufficient communication skills that we are able to grow together as a couple.  Learning who we are, establishing and communicating boundaries and, and continuing to accept and still love each other as we grow.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

In learning yourself and your boundaries you may find that your partner doesn’t respect them, and isn’t interested in doing so.

When this happens you face a difficult decision.

Because sometimes, as difficult as it may be the only way to respect yourself is to accept that the relationship you are in no longer works.

Relationships require reciprocity.  And if someone is unable to respect your boundaries, then they don’t respect you.  At that point you need to ask, does that person really want to share their life with you or are they primarily interested in having someone take care of them and meet their needs?

Both people need to be respected.

Both people need to be valued, and heard.

Both peoples boundaries matter.

If they don’t?  Then it’s not a relationship.

 

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11 thoughts on “Establishing Boundaries

  1. I think the boundary issue has always been the hardest both for me and my ex. As I didn’t build boundaries in our relationship when we had one, he is perpetually surprised that I have them now, occasionally accusing me of personal attacks. I keep having to explain boundaries are the things I need to function in the new paradigm of my life. Just because I always was a doormat doesn’t mean I always will be a doormat.

    On a side note, it’s good to see a post from you. — Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lisa,

      posting has been a bit sporadic lately as there is a lot going on right now. But hopefully things will be a bit more regular in the next bit.

      I do agree that boundaries are one of the hardest things to have in a relationship – especially when you don’t build them in at the start. But to me they are SOOOO important to continued success. Hopefully you’re seeing acceptance and respect for your boundaries as you build them in.

      Like

      • I can relate. I am now almost a week overdue on my own blog with two somewhat started posts and limited time. The boundary thing? Half-hearted acceptance at best. He seems to think my need for boundaries relates to him rather than me, and I’m not sure I will ever be able to convince him otherwise.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things biggest battles I have personally is with boundaries.
    Boundaries that help me be who I am. Sometimes I am the worst betrayer of myself.
    And its in little things. For me its in abandoning who I really am in order to win the approval of someone else- it’s in wishing I were thinner, or that I were more this way or that way. Wishing I were somebody who I’m not. When you look to the outside for approval from others you automatically let go, drop, abandon the things that you are.
    This is a perspective of an individual interacting with the world.

    Its a little different when two individuals interact with one another. …I sincerely do believe that your identity does change when you are in a relationship, and as the relationship grows and matures the individuals grow and mature within the context of that relationship. So boundaries can be much murkier to navigate.

    The line of distinction that I have drawn has been knowing the difference between giving/giving up (?) parts of yourself to make a better relationship, or is it just giving/giving up parts of yourself.

    It’s still hard to decipher in the middle of a close relationship, and especially when it just seems to be a hard time.

    But, that is a question that can be asked, and it can be a boundary that you can establish.
    “I cant keep giving if it isn’t to build a better relationship” sort of thing.

    This is something I fail at, then feel empowered by, then forget and fail again…
    Persistence, leads to gradual progress.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Lindsey,

      As I said in the post, I suspect you aren’t alone when you say boundaries are a big struggle. At the same time, I think our boundaries help us protect our core values, so in order to be true to ourselves we need to identify and enforce them.

      When you talk about abandoning who you are in order to win the approval of someone else, I’m not sure if that’s really boundaries. Maybe it is, but I see that more as identity, and maybe struggles with accepting yourself as you are now, and believing you are “enough” (a big concept for me, and one I have another post on coming soon).

      One of the Brene Brown books I have read is “the gifts of imperfection”, and it talks about accepting yourself for who you are, imperfections and all. Accepting that the idea that “things would be better if…” (I were thinner, had more money, had a more fulfulling job, had a better relationship, etc) is really just a way of avoiding things and not accepting ourselves. Changing those things is often seen as the holy grail to happiness, but it’s a never ending battle because once you change one nothing really changes, and there is just more stuff to change. Instead we need to say “yeah, I’m not perfect. But that’s alright, because I accept myself as I am. Who I am TODAY is enough”.

      I do agree when you say your identity does change when you are in a relationship. The outside parts in any case. The core values shouldn’t change, but beyond that? Yeah, for sure we change as we learn more about the other person and try to find things we can share and do together. Some see that as “losing themselves” in the relationship. I don’t. I see that as a form of personal growth and the building of connection between two people. The key is not giving up the things that make you “you”, whatever they are.

      If someone wanted me to stop playing/watching basketball in order to be with them, that’s a problem. If they don’t enjoy basketball and want me to find a better balance between the time I invest in basketball and the time i invest in them, then that’s perfectly fine (and is part of being a caring/considerate partner in my opinion).

      Basically, no one should try to change their partner – they need to accept them for who they are. One thing I see happening sometimes though is someone BELIEVES they need to change to fit a role (even though their partner isn’t pushing the change). So they make changes that are against their core values. Then they become resentful, and hold this *change* against their partner – even when they are the ones who did it themselves and their partners never wanted it. When that happens, it’s BS. You can’t hold your own choices against your partner (or at least you shouldn’t).

      Like

      • Hey Drew!
        When I said I feel like I am abandoning myself for the approval of someone else- maybe approval isn’t the best word, though its part of it.
        I was thinking more along the lines of if my focus is outside of my the things in my own boundaries, I am not taking responsibility for myself. “I” get dropped…and this may be more gender specific. Women have a tendency towards caregiving, and we gladly forget about our own needs to meet the needs (or perceived needs) of others around them (or the ones they care about). So that is what I meant by I get dropped. I do. I forget about me, to please someone else. I think that has a lot to do with boundaries. (and so does core values, too).

        I too expect people to change, so it only makes sense to change in a way that is sort of molded in response and to your partner. I always believe there is room for being an individual and other interests.. and certainly your own thoughts, and values and beliefs (but hopefully those would be aligned fairly close, anyway).

        “Basically, no one should try to change their partner – they need to accept them for who they are. One thing I see happening sometimes though is someone BELIEVES they need to change to fit a role (even though their partner isn’t pushing the change). So they make changes that are against their core values. Then they become resentful, and hold this *change* against their partner – even when they are the ones who did it themselves and their partners never wanted it. When that happens, it’s BS. You can’t hold your own choices against your partner (or at least you shouldn’t).”.

        ..I think this happens, too. But, usually it is because a lack of understanding and not communicating their real feelings.

        Instead of saying “I don’t think you find me attractive anymore”, someone may go workout excessively, buy new clothes, and whatever to try to attract their mate again.
        All the while their mate just thinks its something they picked up because they enjoy and doesn’t think anything of it. …Hence the resentment.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I really love this post. I read a lot about people and their thoughts on how to do better in relationships, be better for their partners, and sometimes it boils down to being a little bit of an asshole.
    I whole heartedly agree that people need to consider other people’s feelings. I am pro kindness in many ways and I feel it’s always best to give people the benefit of the doubt. However there is a line, and it is especially important with personal relationships. You can’t let people stomp all over your boundaries. It is a recipe for disaster. As you said above there are always people that will be happy to take most of the time and they will continue to push it farther and farther. The crazy thing is the person that is doing the giving thinks they’re doing good for the relationship when actually they’re also making themselves less and less attractive to the other person.

    I have always tended to be on the side that says what I think and hurts others feelings. It’s never ever intentional but I sometimes don’t know how to word things so that I’m being honest but kind. Im not talking about yelling and cussing just more like “hey, you said you were going to help with x, y, and z but you’ve been sitting on the couch playing with your phone for hours so I was wondering when this help was coming”. All I said was true but I don’t think people appreciate blunt truth most of the time. Gotta sugar coat it I suppose. Do they have a blog that focuses on sugar coating?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Natasha,

      I’m not sure if it’s necessarily being a bit of an asshole, though I can understand how honesty can come off that way. Personally, I’ve come to believe that the hardest things to talk about are actually the most important. Finances, the kids (parenting approaches), sexual needs/expectations, and the times that someone hurts you or you feel like you aren’t being heard or valued. These are really important things to get on the same page on, and although you may not always agree with each other you need to at least UNDERSTAND each other, and why you each take the approaches you do.

      Sadly, I think most couples don’t talk about these things. Mostly because they aren’t easy conversations, and they make us uncomfortable. But not talking leads to these things becoming bigger issues than they need to be, and allows resentment to set in. I see resentment as the kryptonite for healthy relationships, and once it’s there people NEED to find ways to address the problem and be able to let go, or it will just poison things and grow.

      A sugar coating course would be nice. But maybe an even better thing would be for people to start to understand that there is a difference between criticism and constructive criticism – which has an end goal of actually making things better. Instead, people often become defensive and shut down. Delivery plays a role, as if you approach someone in an aggressive way then shutting down is to be expected. But sometimes it doesn’t matter how carefully you approach something, people will still shut down. That’s why I think avoidance is one of THE biggest killers of relationships. Nothing can ever improve if people refuse to face things.

      Like

      • You’re right about all of that. Unfortunately sometimes even being honest in a kind way can still make others perceive you as being an asshole. However, I too think that resentment is an absolute poison to relationships.
        Great post.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: What do you bring IN to your Relationship? | thezombieshuffle

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