This is the second post in my series on BOUNDARIES. You can find the first series post, an Introduction to Boundaries, through this link.
I’m not lying to you in saying that I have been historically TERRIBLE with boundaries. Setting them, maintaining them, heck- even understanding them. I spent most of my life and definitely all of my 20s thinking that boundaries were “rules” for someone else. That may be one big factor in why I had such a hard time with them.
The first thing anyone needs to know about boundaries is they are YOUR boundaries. Let me say that again. Boundaries are for you. Set by you. About YOUR behavior. They are not someone else’s boundaries. They are not your rules for someone else. They are your boundaries for YOU. They are rules for you, set based on your values. They are to protect and structure you, and only secondarily to motivate your partner. They are for your own spiritual and emotional well-being.
Boundaries are the rules or invisible walls or fences that divide people and keep the physical, emotional, and mental elements of life separate from those of the others around you.
Boundaries are the rules by which we let people know what we will accept and what we will not accept. When we fail to set boundaries for ourselves, we automatically and by default allow others to set those boundaries.
Just like you wouldn’t go to a car dealership and let another customer pick out the car you’re going to buy, neither should you allow another person to set your boundaries. Other people are not you. They don’t know whether you want leather or cloth seats, an SUV or minivan or sedan, or red or black or blue exterior paint. Other people don’t know what makes you happy or what you are willing to tolerate. In fact, boundaries are different than parameters or rules in a relationship because each person’s tolerance may not be the same. What makes one person upset may not bother the other person at all. Boundaries are not rules for each other. Boundaries are guidelines for yourself.
As codependents, we are too often willing to compromise our own values and personal happiness because we are afraid of not being loved, not being worthy, being alone, or any other number of things. That means we are bad at setting boundaries, and especially at enforcing them.
WHY ARE BOUNDARIES IMPORTANT?
Contrary to what most people think, boundaries are not about the loss of freedom of one person in a relationship. Nor are they about punishing someone for their transgressions. Boundaries are crucial because they prevent partners from becoming enmeshed. Relationships are healthier and more sustainable when each person maintains their own identity, and boundaries help each partner stay true to their most authentic self.
Margery Boucher, a psychologist based in Texas, opines: “I see that most relationships are successful when each person is still very much an independent entity. Couples can come alongside each other and support each other in who they are.”
So how do boundaries help couples maintain their individual identities? The answer to that question depends much on understanding the purpose. Boundaries help signal to others how we want to be treated.
The intention of a boundary is to create discomfort in response to irresponsibility, immaturity, or broken promises. Boundaries are proactive, deliberate and intentional and not set in anger or impulsive. They protect the love in a relationship; they’re not about changing others, beating them up, punishing them, or showing them the evil of their ways.
How are boundaries different than ultimatums?
It has taken me a lot of work to understand the difference between boundaries and ultimatums. So much so that I’m dedicating an entire post in this series to it. But the high level overview for now is that boundaries keep your self worth and sense of security in place by allowing each person to make their own choices, whereas ultimatums are about forcing things to be your way (or the highway).
TYPES OF BOUNDARIES
There are many different kinds of boundaries that you may choose to have as you go about life relating to other people. It is important to remember as you establish these boundaries that you can be responsible to another person, but not for another person.
Language Boundaries– “I am willing to talk to you, but not when you’re insulting me. I’m not going to engage in conversation with you until we can both be cooperative with healthier ways to discuss things.”
Financial Boundaries– Financial boundaries are a bit confusing in marriage, particularly because what’s one spouse’s is inherently and legally the other spouse’s as well. If one person has an overspending problem, your financial boundary might be that you will not be responsible for payment of their purchases. That might mean that you have to separate all your money from your spouse and handle things separately.
“I think we should agree on an amount of money that each of us can spend however we please on any given month.
Emotional Boundaries– There may be times in your relationships with other people that you need to put some emotional distance. Perhaps a family member regularly mistreats you- you may need to put some distance between yourself and that family member so that you remove the possibility of them continuing to hurt you. Emotional distance is also a common boundary when some type of betrayal is involved- whether an affair, a lie or series of lies, or breaking confidence- these are examples of some
Physical Boundaries– There are times that physical boundaries may be necessary as well. A physical boundary of mine in the past was that I would remove myself from the house when my ex had been smoking or drinking. That did not prevent him from smoking or drinking, but simply told him that I would not be physically present if he was engaging in those behaviors.
Sexual Boundaries– Removing sexual intimacy from a relationship is a controversial, but sometimes necessary, boundary. The most common time I’ve understood sexual boundaries to be relevant are when infidelity or abuse is involved and the cheating or abusive person is not committing to reforming his or her ways.
Boundaries in some ways are consequences, but they are not something you do to control another person, they are reactions to their choices. You can only control your actions and reactions, not the other person’s.
It’s also important to understand that a boundary without consequence is nagging. Follow through with the limits you set. I certainly understand the problems that arise in following through with enforcement. I have been terrible at it. Not because I didn’t want to, but because like many codependents and empaths, I just wanted to give the person another chance. I genuinely believed that behaviors or patterns of behaviors were because of that person’s pain (“Hurt People Hurt People,” right?) and not indicative of who they really were.
But that is just not true, friends.
What that does is teach that person that it’s okay to not keep up to their end of the deal. You teach them how to treat you by rescuing them from their own destructive ways or caretaking them when there’s things they should be doing. That is not your job. You are responsible TO other people, not FOR other people.
Stay tuned as I continue our discussion of boundaries later this week! As always, I welcome your feedback!