Keeping Healthy Boundaries in Relationships
It's important to implement and maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. Think of boundaries as invisible lines you draw around your feelings, wants, and needs in a relationship. Those limits delineate where your feelings and emotions end and your friend's or partner's feelings begin.
Healthy boundaries ensure that each of you are equally entitled to experience and express your own feelings in the relationship. When healthy boundaries exist, there's no fear of reprisal in openly and honestly expressing genuine feelings to the other. Regardless of the nature of the relationship - friendship or love - asserting and maintaining healthy boundaries can only deepen the connection between people.
Case Scenario: An Illustration of How Boundaries Develop in a New Relationship
Tina is newly single and had a date last week with Chris. She enjoyed his company. Chris said he'd call Tina in a week. The week went by with no call.
A few days later, there's a knock at Tina's door. It's Chris. He wants to come in. Tina detects a light odor of alcohol, which only multiplies the discomfort she feels about his surprise visit.
Tina doesn't know Chris very well and would prefer he not come in. What does Tina do? What would you do?
A. She lets him in.
B. She hesitates at first, but he convinces her to let him come in.
C. Tina tells him a "story" about how her parents are expecting her any minute and she has to leave now. Therefore, he can't come in, so he leaves abruptly.
D. She informs him that she's uncomfortable with his unannounced visit and isn't going to let him in. Tina uses a non-threatening tone and tells him she hopes he understands. He's disappointed but agrees to leave and says he'll call Tina tomorrow.
Choice A doesn't demonstrate healthy boundaries. Why? Because Tina felt uncomfortable and her preference was that Chris not come in. However, Tina ignored her feelings and accepted what Chris wanted instead.
Choice B also illustrates less-than-healthy boundaries. With B, Tina's in about the same situation as A. In essence, Tina noticed her own feelings (represented by her brief hesitance) but ultimately, she didn't make her decision based on them. Instead, she allowed another person - Chris - to "step over" her boundary and convince her to behave as he wanted.
Choosing C shows Tina was at least able to respect her own feelings of not wanting Chris to enter her home. Tina's boundaries could be stronger (lying is a breach of a boundary with self) but at least, she held firm and didn't let him in.
Choice D demonstrates firm and healthy boundaries. Tina was open and honest about how she felt and acted confidently on her feelings by making the decision not to invite Chris inside.
This example illustrates what can happen at the beginning of a relationship if poor boundaries exist. Choices A or B early can potentially set a pattern of weak or diffuse boundaries and could impact the overall pattern of the relationship if not addressed. In essence, how you express and enforce (or don't) your emotional boundaries will determine if and how a relationship progresses.
On the other hand, responding with Choices C or D shows healthier boundaries. Those choices show you acknowledge and act on your own feelings, even though doing so could make the other person a little uncomfortable or even angry. When you validate your own feelings and the other's as well, you are creating the tone so you can hopefully experience an honest, respectful relationship.
Examine Boundaries in Your Relationships
Take a moment to think about boundaries you have in your relationships. Do you tend to ignore your own feelings and go along with whatever the other person wants? Can you speak up about your feelings? Do you appropriately state when something will not "work" for you? Do you ask for what you need in a relationship and obey your own internal limits?
Keeping healthy boundaries in relationships is a positive step toward discovering the fulfilling relationships you want. Focus on making choices in relationships based on your genuine feelings. Doing so will bring you the passionate, sharing and caring relationships you seek.
If you feel like you could use some support to explore your boundaries or even to learn how to determine and enforce more healthy boundaries, we'd love to help!