Behind many of the problems in dating and dubious relationships is the lack of boundaries and what we communicate about ourselves when we allow people to cross the line. It’s important to be authentic and have the same values and boundaries in all areas of your life. This way you don’t create conflicts within yourself that end up communicating the wrong messages about you.
Boundaries are basically a personal awareness of what you will and won’t accept. It’s knowledge of what you’re uncomfortable with and what detracts from yourself or causes you to live outside of your values that acts as both self-protection and a warning system.
Boundaries teach people how to treat you and what to expect from you. They also impose limits, not just on others but also upon yourself to ensure that you don’t place yourself in dangerous situations or continue to take being treated in a way that detracts from you.
If you imagine that every single one of us on this planet has our own invisible electric fence–these are our boundaries.
Unfortunately, some of us either haven’t turned on the electricity. Or when we experience a boundary-bust, we totally disregard the sounding of the alarm. Some of us may be totally unaware that we actually have this ‘function’ in our personal armour, so have been unaware of the existence and the importance of the fence.
When the fence is on and someone bumps or totally jumps it, your discomfort should register so that the alarm rings. Whether it’s something said or left unsaid, done or not done, you’re, at best, cautious. Moving up the scale, you may be uncomfortable or experiencing pain.
The electric fence ‘going off’ and making the alarm ring is your warning system.
It means that you need to address the situation, proceed with caution, and work out what the boundary-crossing means to you, the relationship, and about the person. It’s vital that you increase security measures.
And whether through actions or verbally, you need to communicate your discomfort and that this cannot happen again and why. In some instances, you may not need to explain. The action in itself doesn’t warrant an explanation as it’s obvious why anyone would be uncomfortable.
Some people have no respect for other people’s boundaries even though they may have many boundaries themselves.
It’s important to remember how human interaction works and how we inadvertently end up communicating what people can and cannot do with or to us:
When someone does something unacceptable, i.e. crosses a boundary, you have the option to either accept or reject the behaviour.
Let’s say that Bob and I are dating and one of my boundaries is that standing me up is unacceptable. When he does stand me up, I can:
a) Not bother with him again. My actions communicate that his behaviour isn’t acceptable. He knows that it’s severe enough that the consequence is that I’ll have nothing further to do with him. Remember, he communicated his disrespect and clearly doesn’t share the same values.
b) Give him One Last Chance. Tell him when we speak and he makes an excuse and apologises, that I’m hurt/angry/whatever. I then accept his apology. I let him know that, in future, if he’s going to be late or cannot make it, he must say so, not leave me hanging. Maybe I also say that if he doesn’t, it’s over. Equally though, the latter is better communicated through actions should he do it again.
c) Make very little noise about it when I do eventually hear from him again. Basically, I accept his behaviour without creating any consequences.
Option A is me knowing my boundaries and what his action means to me and moving on. I don’t do being stood up. I’m not interested in someone who would behave in this way. See ya! Flush!
Option B is me knowing my boundaries but giving one chance. The idea is that repetition of the behaviour means me going for Option A next time.
Option C is me totally disregarding my boundaries. I’m ignoring what him crossing that boundary actually means and effectively opening myself up to further disrespect. I’ve effectively communicated that it’s okay to stand me up as there won’t be any consequences.
By the same token, when someone crosses your boundary and you communicate it, they have their own options too.
Option A is that they accept and respect your boundary. They endeavour not to repeat the same boundary-crossing again if they are given another chance.
Option B is that they appear to accept and respect your boundary. And then they passive-aggressively go behind your back (some may not even bother being sneaky) and attempt to overstep again. They hope they’ll get away with it because you either let it slide or you aren’t looking and listening.
Option C is to reject your drawing of the boundary line and move on. They realise that you are not the type of person that they can operate with their usual boundary-busting ways with. You are no longer of interest as the relationship cannot be on their terms. It’s respecting your boundaries, albeit because they’d prefer not to have to respect you in the relationship.
The reason so many people have little or no boundaries in their relationships is fear of losing the boundary-busting partner. They’d rather hold onto this person and hope they’ll realise what an exception they made on ‘that occasion’ than recognise the fundamental incompatibility in the relationship.
Boundaries are tied to your values.
If someone cannot or will not respect your boundaries, it’s a difference in your fundamental core values. Your relationship cannot work.
As women, we must learn to see the wood for the trees. We have to be careful of doing things with a view to communicating our ‘love’ that gets lost in translation. We’re doing things that feel big to us (making an exception for normally unacceptable behaviour) and then assuming that this act of ‘generosity’ is picked up by the other party. I made an exception for him/her/them. They should realise how much I love them and reciprocate my feelings and generosity. And then we’ll live happily ever after and yada, yada, yada.
You’re really complicating your relationships when you get into this whole ‘making exceptions’ thing. This is especially because whatever you intended your actions to communicate, it’s like a subtle hint that didn’t get picked up. Instead, you’ve communicated an entirely different message.
When you make an exception for someone’s normally unacceptable behaviour, you are normalising bad behaviour. To add insult to injury, they don’t even see it as you ‘making an exception’. Instead, they see this as the norm.
Every single time you accept things that are fundamentally outside of your values and cross your boundaries, you tell that person that, in this relationship, with you, their behaviour is okay and acceptable. This becomes their new normal and the baseline of what they feel they can do and be in the relationship.
They don’t think:
- Ah…that Susan’s so special. She must really love me if she’s prepared to let me back in her bed without so much as a bye nor leave.
- I love Tina so much. I really appreciate her for not refusing my call after I disappeared for a few weeks, then came back, then promised the earth, then disappeared again, then came back.
- Aw… I want to marry Gigi. She loves me without conditions and never sticks to it being over. She also always listens to my excuses, copes with the continued disappointments and is forever steady.
- Or… That’s really nice that Cathy took my call even though I totally reneged on that last date I promised her.
However… they do think:
- I was able to get back into Susan’s bed with little or no explanation. Next time I want to slope off and then come back for a shag, I’m pretty certain she’ll be receptive.
- Right, so the flow of things is that I can disappear, call her up, make some empty promises, put up with some initial faux resistance, and then she’ll give in. When she starts looking for me to deliver on those promises, I’ll just go. Eventually, she’ll see how I roll.
- Gigi certainly loves me a hell of a lot… I know she’ll ALWAYS be there. And then they reward that loyalty by feeling free to do as they please with the certainty of her presence.
- Hmmm, Cathy’s not the woman I thought if she’s still receptive to me in spite of me standing her up. She could be useful for hanging out but I can’t see this going anywhere.
It’s important to realise that as inconceivable as it may sound, especially if you’ve been involved with assclowns and Mr/Miss Unavailables on a habitual basis, relationships can and do exist without boundary violations.
When the alarm bells on the electric fence of your boundaries are ringing, it’s also a sign to listen to yourself.
In my last post,When You Try to Demonstrate Your Love but They Interpret It as a Lack of Self-Love, JJ2 mentioned a common issue–discovering that your partner subscribes to a porn channel [when you’re not into it].
Now a boundary is something that is fundamental to you. You’re aware of unacceptable actions and your values. If you truly don’t feel that you can be in a relationship with someone that subscribes to the Playboy Channel then, it’s time to move on.
Why would you try to impose your values on someone else if you fundamentally don’t believe that you can be in a relationship with someone who subscribes to a porn channel?
Now I know the ‘easy’ route is to try to change them and have them make you the ‘exception’ to their norm. Many of you have already learned though, that if you have an expectation of your partner changing for your relationship to work and cannot accept them, you’re dooming the relationship.
Most guys, most people, don’t need someone they hardly know telling them what they can and cannot subscribe to or watch on their TV. They don’t. It’s already a message of non-acceptance and attempts to change them. This acts as a signal for them to reposition you in their mind. Watch as you tumble down the mental stairs from potential girlfriend/wifey material to someone to pass time with.
Just like when we feel attraction and common ground with someone and then correlate that to the rest of them and assume things about them, guys will take something like you trying to change them over the Playboy Channel and correlate it to the rest of a potential relationship. They will see ‘problems’, not potential.
It’s always good to sanity check why something is a boundary. Would you be with someone who treated you with love, care, trust and respect and subscribed to the Playboy Channel? Or would you be with somebody who doesn’t watch the Playboy Channel but also doesn’t act with love, care, trust, and respect?
Why is your boundary a boundary?
Are there other things you have accepted in your relationships that you shouldn’t have?
Are there other things you’ve turned down partners for that, in hindsight, pale in insignificance when you look at what you have accepted?