#SexColumn: How to create healthy relationship boundaries
By Sharon Gordon
I have never been a fan of the whole New Year whoop whoop. I’ve always wondered how we wake up in the New Year with resolutions and the belief that everything is different from the year before.
But then, I’m a cynic. I do wish you the best for 2021 especially now when the people dying around us have names and are no longer numbers. Keeping our relationships functional are becoming increasingly difficult but more important now than ever before.
Setting boundaries in your relationships defines how we allow others to treat us. Healthy boundaries allow trust and security and protect us from abuse. Unhealthy boundaries open us up to being used.
Some people find setting boundaries easy. They probably grew up in a functional family unit where it was safe to express their likes and dislikes. This allows them to be treated with respect and dignity and shows that there are some things they will tolerate and that there are other things they will not.
Some find it difficult, if not impossible to set and keep boundaries.
This is often due to an over- willingness to please. They lack a sense of identity and self worth and become a doormat in every relationship.
They cannot speak up for themselves and they lose their ability to communicate their thoughts and feelings. They then allow others to treat them badly and seldom speak out to protect themselves, becoming an accomplice to their bad treatment. They give up a large percentage of who they are in their relationship and will suffer from depression as a result.
Sam is a 36 year old, mother of two children. She has a history of physical abuse by her husband who was killed in a motor accident 5 years previously.
She now has a new partner but tells me that she is fearful that this relationship is going to be the same nightmare as before. There is every likelihood, that it will unless she learns to set boundaries.
She needs to communicate to her boyfriend her values and limits. She needs to set rigid boundaries. It is never OK to be violent with me or my children. It is not acceptable to cheat on me and it is not acceptable to swear at me or call me bad names.
Many of us are too afraid to have this conversation for fear of rejection because so many of us believe that any relationship is better than none! I do get it but at some stage you have to believe that you are worth more than that.
You can set these boundaries by saying, “If you do….. then, I will respond by...”
You need to be prepared to defend the boundary by following through with her consequences. If you allow the boundary to be crossed and your partner gets away with it – all the hard work and self esteem is out of the window.
There are also flexible boundaries that can be reached through negotiation. For example: it is Ok for your partner to go out once a week with friends but they need to be home before curfew and cannot drive under the influence of alcohol?
Setting boundaries is not a threat. It is communicating clearly your limits and the consequences, that will arise if the boundary is broken.
We all need to know our boundaries, what is acceptable and what is not. This is true in any relationship even those with our friends, family, children and at work. I recently crossed a boundary with a close friend and whilst I have apologized I know the damage is done and she may never trust me again.
Personal boundaries communicate to the other person that we have worth. This sense of self respect allows us to make our own decisions and have our own thoughts and feelings. Healthy boundaries make for trust and security and allow each person to live to their full potential. If you respect one another you don’t control the other person.
Often couples need help in negotiating boundaries. Many young couples find the Pre-marital counseling that most churches offer to be extremely valuable. In these sessions, they often give you each a questionnaire which you complete, and this helps to highlight your values, beliefs and limits. It doesn’t have to be through a church, there are many online versions available. The benefit of doing it with an independent third party acting as a mediator can be valuable.
You have the opportunity to discuss the various differences and come to agreement before problems arise. Many couple don’t do this work anymore and I think the relationship will suffer in the long run.
Boundaries help you to set limits on your time, your money, your physical body and your emotions and everyone understands the rules.
If you have difficulty setting you own personal boundaries and/or allowing people to treat you badly, perhaps you should seek some counseling from a Psychologist. We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Only you can stop the cycle of your own abuse.
I would love to hear your comments and suggestions on how you set boundaries or not – please email me on [email protected] or comment below.