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 are a necessity in relationships
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 syndrome – overtalking 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, 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 Unavailables 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!