Recently, I wrote about the warning signs your boundaries need work. That article doesn’t really include HOW to have healthy boundaries in relationships.
Boundaries are the invisible lines that we create in relationships that both keep us happy and prevent us from being taken advantage of by the other person. They are rules for behaviors that we deem acceptable, and ones we don’t.
By reinforcing our own boundaries and not crossing other people’s, we are able to have happier and more conflict-free relationships. Reinforcing our boundaries also serves to keep us from feeling resentful toward our partner and other people in our lives who occasionally do things we don’t like.
When our boundaries are violated by others, we may feel uncomfortable, angry, disrespected and generally unsatisfied with the relationship. If we have poorly defined boundaries of our own, we are likely to make other people feel these emotions through our actions. Additionally, poor boundaries demonstrate to other people that we have low self respect.
Why Healthy Boundaries Demonstrate Self Respect?
Poor boundaries usually come in two varieties. Either the person with poor boundaries gets walked all over, like a doormat in a bus station, or they walk all over the people in their lives, treating others in ways they won’t tolerate long term.
People with high self respect don’t usually fall into either category, since problems with either taking too much or too little responsibility for one’s own behavior are often symptoms of low self esteem.
The middle ground, speaking up for yourself when someone crosses the line, while maintaining appropriate control over your own behaviors shows a high level of self respect.
What Do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?
Healthy boundaries involve managing and taking responsibility your own thoughts, feelings and actions while respecting the separate thoughts, feelings and actions of others.
Imagine yourself in these two situations, making the statements below.
Healthy boundary statements:
“I really want to help, but unfortunately, today I won’t be able to pick up your dry cleaning, since I’m just too busy today.”
“Since you cheated on me, we must get a divorce.”
Unhealthy boundary statements:
“Um.. I GUESS I’ll pick up your dry cleaning, but I’m so busy.”
“I’m really hurt, but I must have been a bad partner since you cheated on me. How did I fail you?”
How do you feel when you think about these sets of statements?
In the dry cleaning example:
The healthy boundary statement honors the fact that you are simply too busy to pick up your partner’s dry cleaning but still points out that you want to help your partner as a whole.
In the unhealthy boundary statement, promising to pick up the dry cleaning even though you are too busy can lead to serious resentment over time. The nonverbal cues behind the statement show your reluctance to complete the task, even though your words say that you’ll do it. With unhealthy boundaries, you are likely to go away from this situation angry that you took on more responsibility than you could handle, and potentially resent your partner for requesting it.
In the cheating example:
The healthy boundary statement clearly explains the reason that you are leaving the relationship. The other person cheated on you and saying you are leaving the relationship as a result shares the consequences.
The second statement places the blame on yourself for your partner’s actions— their infidelity. In the unhealthy example you are taking personal responsibility for the cheating even though your partner was the one who went outside of your relationship.
5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Strengthen Your Boundaries
1. Detach yourself from other people’s problems.
2. Refuse to take responsibility (either inwardly or outwardly) for other people’s problems.
3. Take responsibility for your own problems and find solutions for them.
4. If you’re unhappy in your relationship, speak up. Aim to work out problems with your partner while taking responsibility for your part in the problem; no more, no less.
5. Don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into feeling bad for things that weren’t your fault. When someone dishes out a guilt-trip, call them out on it.