Boundaries in relationships are a bit like the borders of our states they essentially define where one person ends and the next person begins. Imagine a chalk line drawn on the ground between you and another person: everything on your side of the line, including thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, values, words, opinions and your body, belong to you and are your responsibility; and everything on the other side of the line belongs to the other person.
We have boundaries in all of our relationships, but the flexibility and proximity of the boundaries depends on the nature of the relationship. For example, your boundary may be very close or even entwined with an intimate partner, but more distant with a work colleague. Our boundaries may also shift and change over time.
If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the questions below, it might be time to think about your relationship boundaries…
- Do you find it difficult to say ‘no’ to others or perhaps feel guilty when you do? Have you noticed you are a people pleaser? Or maybe you have been called a ‘doormat’ because others take you for granted? Do you have a reputation for putting everyone else’s needs first?
- Alternatively, have you ever been told you are indiscreet with other people’s information? Or are you nosey, gossipy or intrusive? Perhaps you’ve been called ‘needy’ and noticed that your happiness is dependent on the actions of others?
- Finally, are you considered cool or aloof? Do partners and friends complain it is hard to get close to you?
Our family background and past relationship experiences influence how we understand and set our boundaries. People who were parented or cared for by someone who didn’t set boundaries can often struggle with boundary setting as adults.
Learning how to set clear boundaries that meet our needs but also respectfully accommodate the needs of others is vital to forming healthy, respectful, happy and meaningful relationships.
So, how can you set healthy boundaries?
1) Firstly you need to reflect on yourself and be aware of your needs and preferences.
Pause and consider your needs, on your side of the boundary, without consideration for the needs of the other person. In reality, as a caring human being you will of course want to consider the needs of others. But for the purpose of working out what your needs actually are, try to imagine yourself separately.
2) Communicate your needs clearly and specifically to others.
When you clearly articulate your needs, limits and preferences, you reduce the risk that others will accidently over step your boundaries. It also means that others can help you keep your boundaries firm if you are someone who tends to take on too much and struggles to say ‘no’.
Clearly expressing your needs also means that those around you don’t have to read your mind in order to work out what you need. If you’ve noticed that you expect your partner (or family members, friends or colleagues) to ‘just know’ what you need or want, without having told them, you should examine your boundaries None of us can mind read, but when we are expected to do so we are actually being forced to breach the boundary between us and another person.
3) Take responsibility for your choices, words, feelings and opinions.
Remember, everything on your side of the boundary line, including thoughts, feelings, beliefs, memories, values, words, opinions and your body, belong to you and are your responsibility. Therefore, to keep your boundaries healthy you must own your decisions and the expression of your thoughts and feelings. Blaming others or deflecting responsibility for your choices and actions just compromises your boundaries. So if for example, you tend to blame your partner for how you feel, consider the possibility that you have blurred the line between yourself and them.
Setting healthy boundaries is a skill to be developed and can be practiced every time we interact with another human being. Good luck.
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