crime scene yellow and black tape

The whole subject of boundaries in relationships has been the big topic on Baggage Reclaim recently (Do you have boundaries in relationships? and Building Boundaries for Healthier Relationships), and rightly so – Hard as it may be for some to accept, boundaries whether it’s an absence of them or not enough are the core thread of issues in relationships, especially where you find yourself lamenting the behaviour of the other party…but still taking it…

Based on reading comments and speaking with some readers either by phone or email (through consultations for example), here are the first four (of ten) fundamentals for understanding and establishing boundaries in relationships:

1. Boundaries in relationships are necessities

I noted that some people have a real problem with this as if the idea of having some boundaries is an opportunity to cut off every guy before they’ve even been given a chance. It’s the whole ‘oh everybody makes mistakes’ mentality which is too narrow a view and also completely missing the point. Every relationship requires that you have boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed. It’s not about making mistakes, which everyone does – it’s about understanding what is and isn’t acceptable in your relationships, and reflecting it in your relationships and your behaviour.

Also…it may be time to evaluate what your idea of a ‘mistake’ is because repetitive sums of actions which show a disrespect of you and the relationship, are not mistakes; they’re his character.

If you don’t believe in boundaries, you accept everything, and that’s your prerogative but it means that the problems that may arise are yours, not theirs and you don’t get to be ‘right’ and complain in an act of closing the door after the horse has bolted. Oh and when you have no boundaries, you tend to fish from murky assclown pools so the incidence of being on the receiving end of ‘mistakes’ rises even higher…

2. Communication is not all verbal – boundaries are actually mostly taught through actions

As women, we often think that the solution to issues in our relationships lies in communicating through talking, which leads to Women Who Talk and Think Too Much syndromeovertalking and overthinking to actually mask inaction.

One of the common concerns when people look at establishing boundaries is ‘But I don’t know what to say!’ If you have no boundaries, it’s likely that ‘saying’ something is not the sole answer to establishing boundaries – you need to be a woman of action. Likewise, we need to recognise that when we’re worrying about what we should have said, we miss the point of what the action teaches the other party.

I spoke with a reader this week who had rebuffed the advances of a male friend after a friendly dinner. She was still concerned about what she should have said at the time or beforehand in a preventative measure, but what she didn’t realise is that by turning him down, she established her boundary with him which is, you are my friend, I’m not interested in you romantically, please step back over the boundary lines. For the many that don’t have boundaries and who have found themselves in the same situation, not taking action has led to snogs and shags which are more often than not regretted. Which brings me to…

3. If you consistently act out of a healthy level of self love for yourself, you will naturally have boundaries – we teach people how to treat us

Boundaries are a difficult concept for some because it is unnatural to have boundaries because it is unnatural to treat themselves decently. What many women in relationships fail to realise is that you don’t treat yourself badly, think of yourself badly, and have lots of unhealthy ideas about relationships and then expect some guy to come blazing in on his horse and treat you decently and fill some gaping hole in your life.

If you don’t have decent levels of self-esteem, with positive attitudes about yourself, love, and relationships, you will welcome men that not only reflect the negatives, but who will use how you treat yourself and how you accept their behaviour as a guiding light on how to treat you.

There’s no point in saying ‘I am a woman of high self-esteem’ as you bemoan the behaviour of a man who is crossing your boundaries because if you’ve been letting poor relationship behaviour slide, it is an indicator that something is very wrong. If you were a woman of high self-esteem, or even average levels, you’d have shown the guy the door when it became apparent that the only way a relationship was going to happen with him is if he was allowed to cross the boundary lines on a permanent basis.

If you start treating yourself decently, it will not only become more natural to have boundaries, but it won’t kill you to act upon situations when they are crossed because you are connected with yourself and recognise when you feel good and bad. You’re not going to put yourself in an ongoing situation where someone detracts from your life and your self-esteem levels.

4. The core thread of boundaries and human behaviour within relationships is acceptance and rejection of behaviour

I have said many times before that establishing patterns of behaviour in relationships comes down to acceptance and rejection. If you don’t do one, you do the other.

When something happens in your relationship that crosses the boundary lines or nudges it, this acts as a warning signal.

At this point, what you do with this warning signal is pivotal because it teaches the other party about how you will handle the situation and them in this instance, and it is likely to give an indicator of other things that you’re likely to accept.

If you reject the behaviour, the other party has 3 options:

Respect your boundaries and the fact that you don’t feel what they have done is appropriate and not repeat it again.

Opt out because it is apparent to them that if they can’t cross this boundary, the relationship is not going to work for them because you’re not the type of person that accepts poor behaviour – you have to realise that certain types of men NEED an all accepting woman and they move on to someone with lower self-esteem.

Pretend that they respect your boundaries…and then attempt to cross the boundary at a later point. You need to reject the behaviour every single time although the fact that they keep doing it is a signal that you need to opt out.

If you accept the behaviour that has crossed your boundaries (and keep accepting it and others that no doubt follow), regardless of what comes out of your mouth, you tell them that you’re OK with this behaviour and the boundary is not worth the mental piece of paper that is written on.

We spend too much time being obsessed with the overall act of being accepted as a person and avoiding rejection that we don’t see the wood for the trees because you’re more worried about him rejecting you and choosing someone else, than you are about what type of behaviour you’ve been deeming acceptable in your relationships.

What we also fail to realise, is that particularly with Mr Unavailable’s and assclowns where many a woman has found herself feeling rejected by their failure to treat them decently and what that does and doesn’t mean, is that in the end, if you let your self-esteem prevail and reject their crappy offerings and boundary crossings, it’s YOU doing the rejecting, NOT them. Don’t get things twisted!

Look out for parts 2 and 3.

Your thoughts?

Get ahead on understanding waste of space men and relationships with my ebook, Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl. Find out more and download.

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20 Responses to 10 Fundamental Lessons on Boundaries in Relationships Part 1

  1. RulesGirl2theEnd. says:

    NML this is an excellent post. In some ways having the most terrible relationship was a catylist of how low I’d sunk. I mean it. I was doing pot, excepting the crappiest behaviour imaginable, in the sake of being an understanding and loving person! In some ways I was lucky tho, because somewhere in this god awful mess my BF made a small effort to right the errors of his wrongs, in that his life was to going round in circles, he had nothing, and somewhere in this shite of a mess he decided he would try and get clean. The turning point for me was not however his behaviour, I was still excusing that, it was, and I thank god for the 12 steps, because in my obsession for himto get clean, errr yeah my obsession for him to get clean not his, I did a lot of studying for him???? yeah crazy, And I came round to the idea that I to was sufering the disease of addiction. Now Im not lamenting that this is everyones problem or am I saying it is the only theory of why we put up with some terrible behavior. But this theory struck a massive chord with me and I then sat back and though Oh Dear Lord look at the mess Im in. And to be honest I was, I had become him, I no longer did any of the things I loved, I comfort ate, and to be honest I could not hold a job down, look after my son, manage my house, pay my bills, He left me, yes he did, he didnt love me!!! But the hardest thing was looking at myself and seeing why, I was a freakin mess an addict in the full throes of her addiction, I could’nt get my shite together. In keeping with what NML said the problem, becomes yours, hits it on the head. I took it seriously, as though I had just been diagnosed with a life threating disease, and I was fighting for my life to. I was. Thats how serious all this can become, and after working my steps hard and really dealing with all of my issues, I went into recovery, Im an addict I know it, I takeit seriously, I had to build my self esteem, and do everything in my power to keep it, thats where the Me Club really became significant in my life, because I was fighting for my life, not trying to save every other tom dick and harry. This is an extreme perspective I know and for alot of people, hard to even imagine that they come anywhere near this, I to god not. Dont question yourself, kickthem into touch as if your life depends on it, in my case it truly did.

  2. RulesGirl2theEnd. says:

    I’d like to add, that it is so very easy as NML says to sit lamenting about anothers behaviour, and no, I do not believe anyone has the right to abuse the lack of them. Im sure we know a million and one ‘really, sweet, and nice people’ but we dont take the piss, do we? if you do, errr Houston we a have a problem. Take responsibility, these guys may have said they love you, they may have done, but they have no concious personal insight to the crap they dish out, some may even have chinck of guilt and take a good hard look at themselves and think Ive made a terrible mistake, I do love her, and yes Im afraid of commitemnt, even so thats no excuse to take someone back, they have to live with those consquences, then maybe they will be better people, and some are just plain evil. Its not our job to sit around figuring all this out, the easy solution is to take the line they dont love me, and sure as hell make sure you dont do it to yourselves again. KatyB under strick instructions to hate her ex, drink wine, smile, and eat cake.

  3. lisaq says:

    I’ve really been thinking about boundaries lately. Up until recently I simply had none. At least none that were firmly in place or that I enforced. I gave them lip service. That is, I said over and over that I wouldn’t accept certain behaviors when, in reality, I did accept them by letting them slide.

    In two very recent situations, I finally ‘walked the walk.’ I rejected behavior that crossed those boundary lines. I recognized the behavior as unacceptable and rejected it. One of the assclowns, as you said, recognized that I wasn’t going to accept his behavior and opted out. Good riddance! The other has pretended to accept the boundaries (though I think he thinks he has respected them) and, I have no doubt, will try again. There is no relationship here though there was at one point. He will learn eventually that I refuse to go back there and that I have moved on as I will not accept his shoddy behavior ever again.

  4. Loving Annie says:

    Very good post. I understand it all now in theory, have practiced it pretty easily with minor behaviors – and even ended a 2 year friendship with a woman friend who was being disrespectful of my boundaries by not returning phone calls in 24 hours.

    Now the big test will be IF and WHEN I am in a relationship with someone I sstrongly care about, if he starts violating boundaries when he didn’t in the first few months.

    Loving myself feels good right now. It’s narrowed my circle of freinds and dates somewhat to eliminate the assclowns (can’t say that I mind that – quality is better than quantity).

    Hope that I can hold strong with my boundaries if I am really tested in a serious future relationship.

    Right now some people are already telling me that I am too picky and must not want a relationship because I have a reason for not liking everyone.
    I think the reasons are valid, and I’m not sorry I’m not involved with men I’m not attracted to, or who are players or liars or party animals when I don’t share that lifestyle/interests.

    Hope I’m being healthy and not unavailable myself.

    I think what having healthy boundaries WILL do is eventually bring someone healthy in, and then my fears will be groundless.

  5. finallyseenthelight says:

    NML…thank you for this wonderful post. I realize that I needed clarification on how your boundaries are your actions and reactions to behaviors of others…what you will and will not accept. I know in my last relationship I did a good job of “talking boundaries” but accepting the crap behavior and he did a good job of pretending that he wouldn’t cross them again…Another point you made that struck home was that when you have healthy levels of self esteem, the boundaries will come naturally. Also, when you said, “We spend too much time being obsessed with the overall act of being accepted as a person and avoiding rejection that we don’t see the wood for the trees because you’re more worried about him rejecting you and choosing someone else, than you are about what type of behaviour you’ve been deeming acceptable in your relationships,” I realized that was exactly what I had been doing. Thank you so much for putting words to how I was feeling and really explaining it!

  6. RulesGirl2theEnd. says:

    Loving Annie : I dont think you have to worry about not picking certain guys, because these are your boundaries, ie no guy who goes to the pub everyday, no smokers, no gamblers, no drunks, espcially those who say they like a few drinks to unwind!!! habitually unwinding with drink, LOL. Im gonna let you into a lil secret, when I met my hubby, I was’nt instantly attracted to him, he made me smile and chatted to me calmly, he didnt have his head down my cleavage, although he was probably checking me out subtly. I thought he was ok, we went out a few times, slowly he picked up the pace, I think that because the instant attraction was’nt there staight away helped me alot, I was calm and not obsessing about the phone ringing, dunno it was just a totally different experience, he didnt cross boundaries, he was respectful, he walked beside me, not jumped my bones, he was calm to, it was cool, love just blossomed, and when he came and talked to me about the relationship, I knew I had a keeper. I’d changed so I attracted and was attracted to different guys, all those losers, and chancers, addicts, womanisers didnt even come onto my rader and any that chanced it with me knew I could just see straight through the BS. Im lucky, Oh I know that, but it took a lifetime of heartache, broken ribs, womens refuges, affairs drugs, alcohol and a change of tact and a different perspective as to where the responsibilty lay to get here. But my boundaries where always intact and even if john had started to act up after I fell in love, I knew that I had to get rid, because as Ive said above my life truly depended on me being able to do it.

  7. Gaynor says:


    is Katy in a better place this weekend?

  8. ph2072 says:

    Great post NML. RulesGirl2TheEnd also keeps nailing it every time. :-)

    As I mentioned in “Building Boundaries For Healtheir Relationships”, my partner and I have bumped heads quite a few times because of boundary testing. He’s used to doing whatever he wants with women and he’s met his match with me. But guess what? He’s learned and still learning. Things with us are much easier now; he respects me and knows not to cross my boundaries.

    And to a certain extent, I think that it’s normal for people to try to test boundaries in the beginning to see what they can get away with. When it’s nipped in the bud from the very beginning, they’ll either respect you and chase after you to keep you, or they’ll reveal themselves to be a true assclown and make their exit. (And this goes for non-romantic relationships too – family, friends, colleagues, etc.)

    He says I’m difficult LOL, but his friends and family know that a woman with boundaries is exactly what he needs. And honestly, he knows it too.

  9. ph2072 says:

    I apologize for cluttering up the comments section. I just want to say that I’m glad that my friend introduced me to this site a few weeks ago. It helps me to keep my head on straight and be mindful of assclown behavior and EUMs. It also helps me to learn about healthy relationships and behaviors. Although I’ve had fairly strong boundaries throughout my life due to having trust issues, there have been times where I’ve slipped and I build up my wall even higher as a result. Now that I’m in a different situation, I know that he’s not an asscloswn but I’m in the process of learning how to accept that he’s not an assclown and how to be in a healthy loving relationship.

    Ther’s nothing wrong with counseling and/or medication; if you think that you need both, please consider it.

    Once again, thank you and I wish everyone the best. :-)

  10. finallyseenthelight says:

    I woke up this morning so much clearer about how I allowed by not having strong boundaries, I fell into the last EUM relationship. I realize that by the third date, if I had proper boundaries, I would have trusted my feelings that he was blowing me off when he blew cold and emailed me to cancel a date. I called him and should not have. It had been so long that I had met anyone that I had “chemistry” with, that I put up with the crappy behavior, because I didn’t want to see that his character was not “up to par,” or he wouldn’t have done that. Then next red flag was after dating two months…I noticed that he was rigid about the number of times we would see each other and I felt and thought…he’s not that into me…he was managing down my expectations…next red flag (I could go on and on) was at three months…he agreed to go to an event with me and then he backed out of it…poor character, disappointed me again. Well, two and a half years later, I could have avoided all of that if I would have had stronger boundaries on date 3, before I slept with him and before I was emotionally invested. Well, this relationship is the epiphany one that will teach me to love myself, My future seems so much brighter now…knowing that I can love myself, trust myself and listen to my gut!!! I think we all know when our boundaries are being crossed, sometimes, we don’t have the confidence and self-esteem to tell these guys to take a running jump…and I know it was hard for me because I had such a strong chemistry with this guy…now I know I can do that…and I have done it since him with guys that have tried to dish out crappy behavior in the first few dates or phone calls. I’m growing and changing…THANK YOU AGAIN Natalie for this post…it clarified things for me so much that I needed to see!

  11. nysharon says:

    We don’t trust our gut, that is the issue. Having any man, not a good man, is what has been taught to us by our family and society. It takes some of us until our 40’s to realize being alone is better than being disrespected. I am seeing woman my age opting out of marriages because they start to have understandings that they do deserve to have their needs met. However, it is a very hard notion to change. I was recently faced with dating a man who smoked but hid it and ommitted it on his online profile. My friends said–oh maybe he will quit for you. I replied, and maybe he will sneak it and after I’m emotionally invested he will start back again. That is one of my boundry/deal breakers. Another is that if I don’t hear from him for 4 days in the intial throws of dating–I will let it go. I am starting a list of these deal breakers for myself–so I don’t surcome to the pressures of couple-dom. Or should I say couple-dumb.

  12. metsgurl says:

    Great post NML as always. I’m glad to finally grasp that boundaries are not a finite set of rules but instead, a reflection of how we feel about ourselves, how well we trust ourselves and how certain behaviors make us feel.

    I think you’re right ph2072 ~ others (and particularly men) will push to see how far they can get. The fact that they try is not a reflection of how they think about me BUT…how I react and what I allow certainly will (good or bad).

    I’m very glad I found this site…it’s definitely a life changer =)

  13. JuJu says:

    Or couple-doom! :-)

  14. annied says:

    Thank you for yet another great article and smack upside the head for me! 😉 Totally me – accepting my ex’s lack of respect, etc. because I was afraid I was going to lose him to some other chick.

    Because of my low self-esteem, I felt that the reason he didnt treat me like I wanted was because I, myself, was not GOOD enough for him! I kept thinking … what is wrong with me that he doesnt love me? what is wrong with me that he has committed to other girls and not me? And, of course, I thought that if I didnt just “take it”, he’d move on to someone else and treat her better … ugh.

    It has been incredibly hard for me to accept completely that this guy is not good enough for me! Finding value in myself has been the hardest lesson learned from this. It is so painful. I am a work in progress.

    But, this time (day 13 of NC) my resolve is solid and my boundary is a freakin steel wall. I will be true to what I told him (and myself) after this last email-breakup … “I will never be a part of your life in any way. Stay away from me.”


  15. Loving Annie says:

    Thank you RulesGirl !!!

  16. RulesGirl2theEnd. says:

    Thats ok Annie. Another thing Ive learnt is that we women always say ‘its/it’ll be ok’ I try to live a life thats honest, and thats includes being honest to myself. So if something happens and we’re not on the ball, and we think about it later, and think it’ll be ok, I conciously stop and gather myself and asked myself HONESTLY IS IT OK FOR ME? and that waful voice that we try so hard, and at times learnt to ignore says no, then its time to act!

    • NML says:

      Hi Everyone. Due to a technical fault with the previous service which notifies you by email when I publish a new post, I have had to move to a new provider. The error means you will now need to sign up to the Feedblitz service if you want to start receiving emails again. Apologies for any inconvenience caused. Thanks Natalie/NML

  17. Meems says:

    So I’ve been referencing this site for a while. In my most recent attempt at dating the guy came on strong for about 3 weeks, and then I felt an obvious shift in behaviour. I’m assuming it was the blow hot/cold effect. Anyway, after a couple of weeks of feeling super insecure/beginning to overanalyze and finding out some information (basically that he was an EUM), which in hindsight may or may not have been true, but shady none the less, I decided to end things.

    At the time I felt really good about making the decision myself rather than letting it drag out until I was beating a dead horse. However, I recently found out that he is no longer single, and am feeling down about it. Mostly the whole “why does he get to move on and be happy and I’m alone?” syndrome.

    I set my boundaries, I was honest with myself yet I still feel like crap because things seem to work out for these asshats, but not me. Any advice?

  18. Hurt guy says:

    Very good site and info on boundaries. I am a male in my late 50’s and just had a three week involvement with a woman, aged 61, that ended badly. We were drawn to each other and had a sexual relationship along with a hearfelt connection. We saw each other maybe two times a week–for three weeks. it was very intense. During our last visit together I put a slight boundary on a conversation that my partner wanted me to hear about—involving the domestic abuse of her daughter and a possible suicide. I felt it was a bit much to hear and said that I really didn’t want to hear all the detail at that particular time. I was calm, respectful, and did not raise my voice. I am a sensitive person. The woman berated me for not wanting to listen and was ready to end the relationship because i interrupted her when she was telling me this grusome story. I tried to do some confilct resolution (again camly) but to no avail. She completely cut me off. Our beautiful relationship ended in that moment. She told me not to contact her again. The beautiful dinners, lovemaking, conversations, and sharing all went out the window and added up to nothing. I never felt so hurt—like someone punched me in the stomach. Still trying to heal.

  19. Gaynor says:

    Hurt Guy,

    This was very important to her. I’m sorry but if you were lovemaking, sharing, and have long conversations with her why couldn’t you share something so significant. This is her child, probably the most important person in her life, it must have been difficult for her to broach the subject, and you were unwilling to listen. I hate to say it but I would have been equally offended and wondered if your feelings were sincere.

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