barbed wire

On Monday I explained about how we teach people how to treat us and what to expect from us, and this in turn, threw up some more questions, namely, how do you teach someone, who incidentally has already been disrespecting your boundaries, what your boundaries are for a healthy relationship? There was also the question of how we deal with “small offences” and other things where it’s felt that telling them to get lost is a ‘bit’ harsh.

I’m not going to go over old ground and do chapter and verse on the fundamentals of boundaries here, as there has been extensive posts about them, however, let’s remember:

A boundary is about knowing fundamentally what you are not prepared to accept. Period.

A red flag is something that alerts you to a danger in the relationship that needs to be dealt with. The likelihood is that if it is a red flag, it’s going to deal a fatal blow to your relationship unless you 1) confront the red flag and deal with it and 2) the person who presents the red flag deals with the issue to remove the threat.

Now, let’s be real – we all make mistakes and sometimes we do things that p*ss off our partners but there is a big difference between making a mistake and doing something annoying, to doing something that is inappropriate to conducting a healthy relationship.

Again, let’s say your boundary is that you don’t stay with people who cheat, but he cheats and you take him back – you can easily chalk that up to giving him the benefit of the doubt and having faith that now that he knows that this will not be acceptable again and how wrong it is, that he will not do it again. But what if he does ? And again?

Cheat on you once, shame on him. Cheat on you again and again, and it becomes shame on you.

He can call it a mistake but how many times does his penis accidentally on purpose fall out of his pants and into another woman before it becomes clear that being respectful and committed is not on his agenda?

If people have their opportunity to have their cake and eat it too, they do both.

When they have become used to maintaining a relationship in one particular way and being allowed to ‘break the rules’, their noses are bound to feel very out of joint if you then put your foot down and say play by the rules.

At this point, they have the choice to 1) walk away, 2) respect the rules, or 3) do what a lot of these guys do and either make the right noises but continue to break the rules, or just carry on regardless.

The onus continues to rest on you to take decisive action because people who habitually break boundaries do so because they do things on their terms, have no regard for your feelings or what you want (or don’t want), and they lack in empathy.

When people are respectful of other people’s boundaries it’s because they are conscientious people who behave with respect, trust, love, and care, and have some fundamental understanding about what is and isn’t appropriate.

You shouldn’t have to keep spelling it out that it’s inappropriate! It’s not rocket science – these men are not pets or children!

Trying to set rules with someone who has no regard for things that most people with a true desire for a healthy relationship consider basics, is like closing the door after the horse has bolted.

It is our responsibility that if we want to be treated with true love, care, respect, and trust, that from the outset we not only behave that way towards ourselves but that we also have clear boundaries in place that don’t allow us to continue to spend our time around people, investing our emotions in them whilst they abuse our boundaries.

It’s not to say that you can’t say or behave in a way that reflects your new found self-love and self-respect – it’s just that you have to be prepared for the fact that they may not want to play by the new rules. You, if you are truly behind you and are truly putting boundaries in place, have to be prepared to walk away when they won’t be respectful of them.

This is how you set boundaries. You make clear that it’s unacceptable, you don’t accept it, and if they don’t adjust their behaviour, you go. In fact, you also need to recognise, that the fact that someone would cross these boundaries in the first place is a major indicator that something is seriously wrong.

When you decide that you want to have boundaries, all you can do in a current relationship is understand what your own boundaries are, and either communicate what is not acceptable and then opt out when they cross them again.

This is about being a person of action and showing that there are consequences. If they learn that to continue to behave in the way that they do means that they can’t have the relationship with you, they figure out that you are now a new person with higher self-esteem and adjust their behaviour, or they go and find a new accepting target.

This is really the only way that you teach someone about your boundaries although it does beg the question – wouldn’t it be better to be involved with someone who has a fundamental grasp of decent human behaviour and is respectful by nature?

If you keep trying to set boundaries with someone who basically refuses to respect them, that tells you that the relationship cannot work unless you are prepared to have little or no boundaries, and we all know that this leads to misery.

As for the small offences mallarky – it depends on what is perceived as ‘small offences’. What most people who are engaging in relatively healthy relationships consider unacceptable is what most women who love assclowns and Mr Unavailable’s let them get away with!

Define your boundaries and don’t keep company with men that have no respect for them. When they do “small offences” make clear that you are not happy and it’s not acceptable – obviously repeatedly doing these “small offences” may be indicative of larger problems.

Every relationship, whether it’s a romantic one, family, friends, co-workers, whatever, requires boundaries. Period.

You want to make yourself a sacrificial lamb to be put on the slaughter again and again? Keep having little or no boundaries.

When you have no boundaries, or have them but are not a person of your word and use them to pretend it’s over and then take them back anyway, you convey that you’re inconsistent and a prime candidate for a relationship that is absent of respect, trust, love, and care. You convey that they are free to do as they like.

You think: When you do something inappropriate, I’m going to shout my head off, say that I can’t take this anymore and then tell you it’s over in the hope that you will see the light. I realise I can’t wait that long for you to see the light as I may be dead in my grave by then, so I take you back because I’m too scared to tell you to bog off, I’m caught up in a cycle of drama, and despite the fact that you have repeatedly demonstrated that you don’t get it, I am hoping that this time, you will associate the fact that I am taking you back and effectively letting you get away with it, with the measure of how much I (foolishly) love and care about you and want to have a relationship with you. You in turn will become a better man because of my love and acceptance.

He thinks: Here we go again. She’s going to tell me how much she loves me, how she keeps trying, how she knows we’re made for each other and no other woman would put up with what she does and then she’s going to say it’s over. Man, we all know it’s not over. She’ll cool down in a day or two and be begging for me to come back if I leave her alone. If things were really that bad or what I’m doing was so bad, she wouldn’t be here. She should know who I am by now. If she doesn’t like it, she should leave. But she won’t anyway. Blah, bla, bla, bla! Hmmm, I wonder if the boys are around later?

Nobody thinks that you love them unconditionally and that you’re a really nice person if you don’t have boundaries – they just think you’re a mug.

Your thoughts? Where do you draw the line and are you prepared to go if you don’t get them to respect your boundaries?


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17 Responses to Reader Question: How do you teach someone boundaries for a healthy relationship?

  1. Unhappy soul says:

    I loved NML when you mentioned his thoughts – “She’ll cool down in a day or two and be begging for me to come back if I leave her alone. If things were really that bad or what I’m doing was so bad, she wouldn’t be here. She should know who I am by now. If she doesn’t like it, she should leave. But she won’t anyway.” Thats was mine AC thoughts exactly..I am so glad that I left him and hopefully, I will never see him again…Ever…

  2. madeamistake says:

    I would like to add one more thing to this–it’s not about him “accepting your boundaries” because the truth is an assclown/EUM could care less about your boundaries or anything else about you for that matter–remember, it’s all about him. Your boundaries are for YOU! It’s up to you to ENFORCE your boundaries for YOU! If you are truly fed up and you’ve reestablished your boundaries in your own head & heart, you will take care of YOU and really not worry what he accepts/doesn’t accept. I know this because when I finally got fed up and back to my old self (and found this website which confirmed everything I knew but just hadn’t faced), I set boundaries again. The thing he did that finally put an end to everything and me establishing NC for good (though he still tries to get in touch from time to time), wasn’t anything very earth-shattering–in fact, it was quite minor. It was all about calling me when he said he would (i.e., I’ll check in over the weekend). He didn’t and that was it, simple as that. Before I met this one and only EUM, I would have never put up with it in the first place, but with him I had done exactly what NML says–put up with things hoping he would see how “wonderful” I am. What a joke! So when I came to my senses, I made this simple rule/boundary in my head–he had to keep his word. Sure enough, like clockwork, he didn’t call over that “weekend” as promised. I told him to ‘bog off’ and established NC. That was February. And, let me tell you, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done–I should have done it long ago.

  3. Loving Annie says:

    Those last 2 paragraphs perfectly underscore your post today.
    Another gem !

    I have found that i no longer WANT to be around someone who is causing me anxiety and unhappiness. I don’t think that’s a relationship anymore…

    I don’t think you CAN announce mid-course to a EUM that now you have boundaries and still expect him to change. He won’t, it just doesn’t work like that. Nobody goes from ass*** to Prince because you’ve enlightened them that now you have healthy self-esteem.

    And when you DO have self-esteem, the ass*** no longer looks good to you – you’d rather not be ina relationship with one.

  4. Kathy says:

    Another great article, NML. Your straightforward cut-to-the-chase writings have helped me more than you can know.

    For me, it was important to know that I didn’t have to stop being a loving, kind, compassionate, forgiving person. I just had to learn the appropriate people and situtations to direct that toward. The book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend helped me see that it is NOT appropriate to help someone with something they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. Even if the other person “says” they’re not capable, if it is something a normal mature adult could handle — Heck, if it’s somthing I myself can handle (like holding down a job, being faithful, following through on my promises, etc.) — I should not be “helping” them. Or forgiving them. Or feeling sorry for them. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who refuses to act like an adult, behave considerately, cooperate or accept responsibility for his actions. And I needed to just plain accept the fact that there are ACs out there, that they are not interested in anything except what they can take, and that they are master manipulators. They CHOOSE to be this way because it works for them. I just need to learn how to guard these good qualities that I have — this love, kindness, compassion — so that they are not used to support the ends of someone whose values I despise. Something about “casting your pearls before swine,” I think.

  5. gemma says:

    Again this hits home and reinforces the truth that its ok to have boundaries and act on them. Not long ago, a friend who I had confided in about the EUM broke my trust and told another person in our circle who knows him. I was devastated. I confronted her but she insisted that she it was fine to do this otherwise she would have had to lie (in that the person had asked her directly about me and him). I shared this with another close friend and yes, you’ve guessed it, this one has now gone and done exactly the same thing with another mutual acquaintance of the EUM. Arghhh….why do people do this? I would hope that ‘i can’t comment’ or something similiar would spring to mind. Anyway back to boundaries…so I’ve explained myself again..that my private life is exactly that and not for sharing..but she didn’t understand just like the first one. So I’ve taken action to remove myself from her company. I’m not going to totally fall out with either of them..just distance myself and remove them from my confidant list….

    I think my point is that its not just my romantic relationships that are not healthy – I have obviously formed unhealthy friendships too..oh well its a learning curve.

    Thanks to this site, I know I’m not alone even when it seems the world is against me!


  6. Teresa says:

    My assclown early on in the relationship did a disappearing act on New Years Eve, my birthday> His birthday was New Years Day. When I finally talked to him 3 days later I set a boundary that if it happened again to lose my number. Well, for a year things went great or so I thought. We only saw one another on weekends because of work and I was in college. We got enaged. He lost his job and went to Tampa to look for work; I was going to relocate as well. After finding his new job, the disappearances started. After 2 weekends of crying, wondering where he was, if he was okay (he rode a Harley) I made a decision, enough was enough. No more tears; no engagement. He didnt really seem all that troubled by it; now with the NC rule, it turns out he is not so happy with new life. Oh well, my drama is gone and so are the lies. It took 3 or 4 months but I am feeling okay now. I get really lonely at times but I have peace and sanity which is worth EVERYTHING! I know that in a normal relationship this wouldnt be happening. I need to be happy with me first and not look to a man to complete me.

  7. Wild~~Thing says:

    Priceless!! It takes courage and faith in oneself to end the relationship once boundaries have been repeatedly crossed. I continue to pray for the courage to put my needs first instead of looking for approval and acceptance from some AC. Thanks NML!! You continue to shed light for a lot of women who want healthy loving relationships.

  8. Kathy G. says:

    Kathy, I am also a Kathy and been all through this. I always say that I wish this website had existed 25 years ago, before I wasted my time on 2, count them, 2, relationships with takers and non-commiting men who always tried to make me feel like it was ME with the problem. I copied and pasted your comment, along with a couple of others, to remind me to never go down that road again. And, yes, the Bible does say not to cast pearls before swine, and to shake the dust off of your feet. It is my hope that more and more women refuse to enable these “man imposters”. Thanks, NML, and all of you women who have gotten the courage to demand respect.

  9. MaryC says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I’m recovering from a bad relationship and somehow I thought if I stomped my foot hard enough or cried long enough he would see the error of his ways and be the man I thought he was. Well I now see I had no boundaries and he obviously did what he damn well pleased including cheating because he thought there would be no consequences. I now see I can’t dictate what others do only take responsibility for my own actions. I’ve learned if you’re going to be a door mat then you’ll get stepped on. I ended the relationship a month ago and have had NC for 35 days, some days its ok but some are brutal but I know it shall pass. Does anyone have any suggestions for turning my brain off? I try to keep busy but somedays its very hard. I keep thinking about the two of them together and I either cry or I want to throw up and sometimes I even feel sorry for her because she has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. Thanks for listening….

  10. Nele says:

    Hi MaryC, good for you for sticking to NC, that’s the toughest thing.

    For switching brains off, what works for me are activities that are not too mentally demanding but are at the same time very absorbing. I like handicrafts in particular, you need to totally concentrate and be in the moment, without it being a strain. Reading doesn’t really work for me, because your thoughts are not taken along a nice ‘linear’ route. Unless it’s Stephen King! 😉

    Anything rather repetitive is good also. I like doing stuff around the house, not only am I not sitting on my arse feeling sorry for myself but I also accomplish something that’s good for me.

    Watching a great film (preferably funny) is also great. It steers your emotions into another direction.

    Don’t ever torture yourself with thoughts of the two of them together. I have a wise friend who said a beautiful thing to me … I was tortured by thoughts of him skipping along happily after dumping me and finding a new fantastic woman.

    Well the fact of the matter is that yours sounds like a total AC and so was mine and we know it. So WHY do we assume they are so happy without us? So my friend said, if you HAVE to imagine anything, then why not imagine him being old, alone and depressed, looking back on his wasted, sad life? If a guy is a cheater, I think that’s a distinct possibility! 😉

  11. de-lightedtobefree says:

    I agree Nele, and I believe NML has said it a million times, don’t think that all of a sudden their issues disappear cause they are with someone else. The AC that just cheated on me (for the second time) is with someone new. I have known him through two other ‘relationships’, first one I saw him lusting after other women in front of his ‘Love of my life’ and he cheated on her and then played vicitm, when she’d had enough. The second women ended up in therapy becuase she didnt ‘feel safe’. And on his admission he said, he forgot about her!! Whatever this new one has that we don’t is this…we don’t have his whiny ‘poor me, I didn’t mean too’ excuses anymore she does!

    peace and quiet is what I have found without him. one month NC today, it’s been really tough, but everytime I think of him I replace the thought with ‘what a waste of my precious time on this earth’!

  12. MaryC says:

    Thanks Nele & de-lightedtobefree for your insights, support and suggestions. 11yrs is a long time to give up and like most relationships the early years were good but people change and sometimes not for the better. Like I told him if you wanted out then you should of said something instead of cheating. I love his answer “It wasn’t planned it just happened” “I wasn’t looking but I hope we can be friends”. What a jerk and an assclown !!!! I know I’m sooo much better off without him but it will take time to heal and I’m going to take that time, my heart could use the rest.

  13. Brad K. says:


    Great post! What strikes me is just how difficult it is, to set boundaries when you are already in a relationship. It seems to be about the same pit of despair as a drunk hitting bottom for the last time – and getting help, rehab, and having to leave the old life behind.

    I mean, healthy people don’t get into relationships with bozos and abusers. The EUMs and Bozos don’t just mess up with one thing – cheat, lie, blow hot and cold, refuse to communicate, isolate you – they do bits of all of that, under an umbrella of disrespect. So to consider setting a boundary, and meaning it, we also have to face ourselves, that what we have been and accepted has to be abandoned. We have to examine every thought, every act, every conversation for respect, self-respect, honor, and generosity, as well as self defence. Living worthwhile boundaries has to start with recognizing that any disrespect is too much, disrespect toward us or for ourselves.

    And we have to accept that deciding to set, and live, boundaries may well cost us our current way of living, our friends and acquaintances, our partner. Perhaps we may find we need distance from some or all of our family as well.

    We have to move to the “land of respect” – and guard the borders against all disrespect, any violation of sensible boundaries.

    It hurts to read, right out loud, in print, that someone has to set boundaries about “no cheating”. That should be fundamental in any relationship. No one should have to be told, “Don’t hurt your partner.” And it hurts to realize that we have to confront just that failure of character. Because no one can cheat with any slightest bit of self respect, of honor, of attachment – of any bit of feeling embraced in a relationship.

    Rather than take a cheater back, the first time, it should be crystal clear – the cheater was never really there the first time. The only relationship was in our imagination. The boundary is simply recognizing that we have been putting up with an unhealthy individual, that there never really was a relationship.

    Unacceptable is a tough word to throw around. Because it is very black and white. There are no more shades to “unacceptable” than to “dead”. It is or it isn’t, there isn’t any interpretation, no going back.

    Is there room in life for forgiveness, for mistakes? Sure. If we are honest, respectful, honorable, and forgiveness is actually good for all involved.

    And that is why our partner, already challenged to act like a real human being, won’t be grateful or better behaved for being let off the hook – we just proved to our partner we have no more morals, ethics, or self respect than they do. All that would be left would be an arrangement of convenience, unhealthy roommates with benefits.
    .-= Brad K.´s last blog ..PDAs – Love, sex, home, and community =-.

  14. de-lightedtobefree says:

    Brad, thank you, :)

  15. ph2072 says:

    On point.

    I have an ex whom I was trying to remain friends with. He, of course, started sleeping with other women and soon felt that he could speak to me like a two-bit whore. Now mind you, when we were in a relationship he knew not to cross boundaries, but because he’s now back to his past behaviors of doing whatever he wants with multiple women, he feels like he can call me up and ask about sleeping with me. I tried to warn him nicely that we were no longer together and that I’d cut him off if he didn’t stop his vulgar talking, but he refused to listen. He then sent me a text message saying that he missed me and got mad when I said to him “Your word and actions do not match. Therefore, your words are empty. What do you expect me to say?”

    Needless to say, I ignored him and deleted him out of my phone. 😐 Can’t be bothered with foolishness.

  16. been there done that says:

    Okay girls, you will love this. Met the Man from Mars, fell deep down into the ravine of ravishing unrequited Venusian emotion. He needed sex, I needed love.

    Thought I’d established firm boundaries by letting him taste the sex but holding back on the full meal deal until he learned to behave. Well, he didn’t. Wild stallions always disappear to search for greener pastures.

    But when the grass gets dry and sparse out there, he sooner or later comes back, and sure enough in the interim your pasture has had the time to heal, grow green and fertile again. Lazy arse always eating fruit from someone’s garden, never grows his own damn fruit or cultivates his lawn, always grabbing what he can get for free.

    So . . . how sweet it was to finally turn the tables, freak him out with the best sex he ever had out unawares out of the blue and then throw him out in the wee hours of the morning.

    Sure enough he called, called again, and kept calling the next morning to soothe his wounded ego but you know, you gotta relish the fact you just don’t give a damn anymore.

    And the minute you actually don’t give a damn, is when they do.

    Murphy’s law? I call it the Assclown Anomaly, and like a mathematical equation, never fails. These guys fall into and follow a predictable pattern.

    Life’s too precious to live it looking in your rearview mirror. That’s a good way to crash.

  17. Used says:

    Here’s to the classic story and saying, “Men use love to get sex. Women use sex to get love.”

    When he used “love” (words, promises, whatever) as a weapon against you to try to get the sex, and didn’t, he left.

    Good for you!

    When he came back, you used sex–and got “love”–the convoluted “I-want-you-because-I-can’t-have-you-anymore” “love”.

    Thank GOD you didn’t care anymore.

    And, if you take him back, the song and dance will only start over.

    These people have mental issues, period.

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Tired of dealing with family drama or waiting for them to spontaneously combust in to changed people? Need to find ways to step back and take proactive steps to redefine the relationship from your end? This 30-Day project will help you do just that.