When I ask couples about their boundaries, both personally and within their relationship, they often say they don’t have any. Boundaries are not something that most of us think about frequently. Whether we are aware of them or not, we all have numerous boundaries. When we don’t consciously choose them, chances are that some of them turn out to be healthy and some can be potentially detrimental. That’s why it’s important to spend time thinking about our current boundaries and any adjustments we may want to make.
What is a boundary?
Simply put, a boundary is a set of parameters that we put in place to protect one of our values or needs. We set boundaries for ourselves as well as the other people in our lives. Boundaries can be about how others treat you, behaviors, things you say, or even what you think. No two people have the same boundaries, and often times people’s boundaries are conflicting. A simple example of this is a person’s boundary around physical touch. If you are someone who is more reserved about touching others, and hugs, kisses, pats on the arm are reserved for the people you are close to, then a very touchy feely person who hugs you every time you run into them would make you uncomfortable.
How can I set healthy boundaries?
Because it impacts all areas of a person’s life, learning to set and maintain boundaries is a focus in couples counseling, premarital therapy, and individual therapy. If you have determined that this is an area that needs to be addressed for yourself and/or your relationship, we will walk through the steps together to reach your goals. There are several steps to setting boundaries in your personal life and relationship. You need to figure out what your current boundaries are, both healthy and unhealthy, determine what you value, set boundaries around all of your values/priorities, and learn how to enforce those boundaries.
It may sound complicated or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. I can help you break down each step and get the results you want. Everyone deserves to be treated well and have the things that matter most to them respected by others. We can work together to find out what’s getting in your way, and determine how you can start setting boundaries for yourself.
Why are boundaries in my marriage/relationship important?
Every relationship naturally seeks out boundaries and parameters, and when you don’t choose them consciously, you don’t usually get what you need. Even if you have never discussed the chores, you both have a pattern of doing or not doing certain ones. When you don’t talk about how often you want to have sex, you still end up with a pretty predictable pattern; even if you don’t like it. You both have daily routines that you stick to most of the time. You have things you prioritize and things that usually get ignored. So if you are going to have all of these boundaries, why not make sure they are ones you both like and can live with for a while.
If boundaries are not discussed and enforced, you will typically find many inequalities within a relationship. Whichever person values a particular thing more will end up taking responsibility for it. One of you will be the one asking for more quality time together. One person will be the one to initiate sex every time. One person will take care of most of the chores and organizing. One of you may even start trying to take care of the other person if you see that they aren’t doing it for themselves. This is a problem because it is not sustainable. The inequality leads to resentment. That’s why you need to talk about, decide on, and enforce your boundaries as a couple. The longer you let unhealthy or undefined boundaries continue, the harder it is to repair the damage.
Why don’t I enforce my boundaries or stand up for myself?
Perhaps you are one of those people who is very aware of the boundaries you would like to have in place, but you struggle with enforcing them. Do you often say yes when you want to say no? Do you say no and then feel guilty? There are several reasons we don’t enforce our boundaries, or let others push them. If you are struggling with enforcing boundaries in your personal life or relationship, chances are that it is because of one of these issues:
Why is it important to set healthy boundaries?
Unhealthy or undefined boundaries can lead to all kinds of personal and relational problems. The two most common are a pattern of codependent relationships and a lack of self-care. All people need to know what is right for them and how they want others to treat them. Healthy boundaries allow you to maintain your sense of self at all times. When you are unable to maintain a desirable level of autonomy in relationships with others you will fall into a pattern of being taken advantage of, or develop an unsustainable codependent relationship.
- When you have unclear or unhealthy boundaries you will notice:
- You struggle with decisions
- You try to make others happy
- You worry about what others think of you
- You feel out of control of your own life
- You feel taken advantage of by others
- You never know what to expect from yourself or others
- You feel drained most days
- You feel like you have nothing left over for yourself
- You feel uncomfortable in social situations or when you are around certain people
- You don’t feel like you can stand up for yourself
Healthy boundaries give you a sense of safety, comfort, and a feeling of being in control of your life. It allows you to be the person you want to be without worrying about people pleasing, over committing yourself, feeling stuck/put upon, or frustrated with how other people treat you. You will notice that if you have a healthy boundary in place that you enforce, you feel much more confident when making decisions. Healthy boundaries allow you to take care of yourself, and provide a consistent framework for others to know how to treat you. Clear expectations for yourself and the others in your life really simplify things for everyone.