Good boundaries make good relationships - how good are yours?
I often see couples who are frustrated with each other because their expectations are not being met. But what is a reasonable expectation and what is not? Its hard if we are working from different assumptions about what we can legitimately expect in a relationship. Apart from defining your vision, your expectations and your rules of engagement its usually very important in all relationships to have a clear sense of boundaries - what belongs with the individual and what belongs in the relationship.
Its vital to know what “belongs” to you and what “belongs” to your partner. The word “belong” here we means “is the responsibility of”. An adult love relationship is an association between two individuals who are both equally responsible for their actions, regardless of what thoughts and felling occur within them. It gets very messy if we confuse who is responsible for what.
Boundaries come from having a solid sense of your self, as an individual. From that base we can share, be intimate and caring for another person. Ultimately the strongest relationships are made up of two strong individuals who are willing to give, to share, to care and to love from their position of individual strength.
Where there is excessive “neediness”, jealousy or control in a relationship there is a breakdown in boundaries. Boundary issues are reflected in the experience of “walking on eggshells”, “being an emotional dumping ground”, “being a doormat” and/or always “being in the dog house”. Having good boundaries should lead to a greater feeling of security and emotional “safety”.
Challenging common misunderstood beliefs
Someone can make you feel something
The misguided belief here is that “Someone can Make you feel something” If you believe this you are more likely to believe that you are not responsible for the actions that follow (because its his/her fault).
On this its important to know that no one can not make you feel a certain way, although you may feel a certain thing when around a certain person or when someone does something – there is always a bit of our own self in how we react to something (that’s what it means to say someone “pushes my buttons”).
2. Everything would be OK if he/she would change in this or that way
It is easy to forget that our partner is not our “project”. Change is a tricky process. The temptation is to want others to change. We certainly have the right/obligation to point out if certain behavious are resulting in distress so the other can be informed of this. There might even be a suggestion as to what behaviours would be less distressing. However the choice as to whether to act in a certain way lies with your partner. You can’t control another’s actions – only your own. For example if a certain action was extremely distressing you can choose to leave the relationship. Many people however put much effort into trying to change their partner rather than themselves.
3. If I felt this I would do this, so if he/she feels that way they would also
The logic here is faulty because we are not all wired the same. The pathway between feelings and actions is not the same in every individual. Indeed the “five love languages” is very much about how we all experience and express love in different ways and we shouldn’t assume that what works for me will work for you.
How to know if you have healthy boundaries in your relationship
The following questions are answered “yes” to by people who have healthy boundaries. If and where you answer “no” then that points to where work needs to be done.
I take responsibility for my actions and my happiness
Although I love my partner, I don’t need him/her to feel complete
I have as much space as I need in this relationship
I don’t demand or expect my partner to always be available when I want
I can stand up for myself with my partner when I need to and my partner can stand up to me when he/she needs to
I don’t feel like I’m “walking on eggshells”
I don’t feel constantly responsible for what is happening for my partner
I have a firm sense of commitment to our relationship
I respect that my partner has different preferences from me in a range of matters
I feel free to mention things that don’t work well for me in the relationship
I have friends I spend time with outside the relationship
I trust my partner
We have a good sense of what issues should be kept private between us and what can be shared with others.