Have you ever been in a conflict with your partner that seemed like a no win situation? Do you ever have the same fight over and over again? Or maybe you have the hopeless feeling that this issue will never get resolved,
You’ve probably heard of having boundaries with your partner and/or your kids, and you’ve probably used them too. But have you ever thought how boundaries can actually increase your feelings of closeness with your partner? Today, I’m going to talk about the importance of healthy boundaries in relationships, how they can solve the problem fight you’ve been having over and over again, and how that can actually make you feel closer.
Boundaries are the thing that help you identify where you leave off, and the other person starts.
Identify Problem Boundaries: Sometimes you may find yourself carrying the responsibility, the feelings and the stress of the other person in the relationship. Maybe you do most of the feeling for the both of you, or you do most of the relationship work, or you do most of the accommodating. These are examples of where you need to set a limit or boundary inside yourself of how much relational responsibility is really yours. You may be over functioning, or feeling over responsible for things that belong to him. You may be working harder, at his life than he is.
Identify Your Needs: Often people will blur their boundary lines when they are unaware of their personal needs. If you were raised where your needs weren’t discussed or valued, then you may not consciously be aware that you have any! You do- they are just underground somewhere and need to be revived. Your anger about the crossed-boundary or repeat argument is a signal to you that your needs are not being met. Explore what they are. Maybe you need…
- self care (ding ding ding, flashing lights, sirens, horns!!!)
Value your Needs: Before you ever go to your partner to discuss your boundaries or needs, make an effort to value your needs yourself. Often, people will look to their partners to meet there needs, long before they take ownership of them themselves. This is more blurring of the relationship boundaries. Take ownership of your needs. Make a plan to get more self care, take more time for yourself, hire the house help or yard help, prioritize your spiritual and personal Sabbath.
Have a Conversation with your Partner: Since your ultimate goal is to have authentic love and intimacy with your partner, you don’t want to charge in like a surprise attack on the enemy, She is not your enemy. She is your partner (partner partner partner, same team, etc etc.) Talk to her about how you’ve identified that some of your needs are neglected and that’s partly your fault for not prioritizing them. Use “I” language, like
- “I feel sad and scared that you’re smoking again. I know this must be tough for you too. Tell me what’s going on. I’d like to understand.” or
- “I feel hurt that you haven’t planned a date night. I miss spending time with you. Are you doing ok?” or
- “I feel angry that you are not coming to counseling with me anymore. Help me understand how you are feeling about counseling.”
Ask her questions about herself, and make it a safe environment for her to share her own fears. Chances are, your partner is feeling the tension between you both and needs an opportunity to talk through these issues as well. If you make it safe, non-accusatory and non-critical, the more likely she will feel safe sharing her stresses, weaknesses, and feelings.
Set the Boundary and Ask for What You Want: This is often the scariest thing for partners to do because they often fear being told, “no.” But avoiding this conversation because of fear is a disservice to you and your partner.
- “I need to feel appreciated by you. When I come home from getting your dry cleaning, I want you to look at me, smile and say thank you.”
- “I need to feel safe and secure in this marriage. With you smoking again, I don’t feel safe and secure. I want for you to get help with your addiction- for yourself, and for us.”
- “I feel un-important to you. I feel un-valued when you don’t come to our counseling session. I feel un-cared for. I want us to go to our sessions together.”
Finish with Heart: This conversation may not go the way you intended, or it may go much better. However your partner responds, make sure you finish the conversation with compassion. If the conversation doesn’t illicit collaboration and real problem solving, then consider the following steps:
- Commit to yourself that you will follow through on needed self care. Remember, that is your responsibility.
- Say something like, “I understand where you are coming from. Your decision to *keep smoking or *not come to counseling makes me really sad. I will probably not feel as close to you until something changes. I love you, and I don’t like feeling so distant.”
- Don’t let your anger make you get argumentative, attacking or critical.
- Give it some time to percolate.
- Get support for yourself.
Many times, this conversation can go very well, and I congratulate you for navigating through it with flying colors when it does!! You may need to practice this a few times (or a hundred times) before you both feel like pros, but don’t worry, life will give you LOTS of opportunities to work out issues. The goal is to always come together. The goal is to be stronger after the conversation (or conflict) than you were before the conflict ever came up. I see this happening all the time, and I know it’s possible. Don’t give up if the first (or 21st) time, it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped. These communication principles, when embraced by both parties, lead to deeper intimacy.