As I write this, I’m on a plane next to a mother with a baby. This baby is trying to type on my keyboard with her sippy cup. And it reminds me that boundaries are hard…. Really hard…. To set.
What should I do? Should I say something to the mother? I don’t think she is aware. Should I let it go and just use my delete button? Should I close my lap top and call it quits?
Boundaries are hard. Whether we are on a plane with strangers and their children, or in a long term committed relationship, synchronizing everyone’s needs and desires seems an impossible task.
Why we don’t set them: We usually will have reasons why we don’t set boundaries in the front end of a relationship:
- We don’t want to seem selfish, uncaring or high maintenance.
- We don’t want to imposition others.
- We hope the situation will get better, so we say nothing.
- We were taught that our needs weren’t as important as other’s.
- We are afraid of potentially negative or awkward interactions.
Can you relate to any of these reasons? You may find yourself right now, regretting or rehearsing one of these boundary-less situations that didn’t turn out well. I’ve been there. Avoiding boundaries may seem like the “peaceable way of least resistance.” However, being boundary-less can sabotage what could be a great relationship.
Here are some tips that I’ve learned and now practice to help relationships navigate healthy boundaries.
Communicating a Boundary
- Communicate the value of the relationship. When a boundary has been crossed, unintentionally or not, the relationship can feel stretched, stressed or burdened. It is like different ingredients in a pot with the burner on. Things are going to bubble with enough heat. It’s important to say things like, “Our time together is important to me,” and “I really value our friendship,” and “your happiness is just as important as mine.” These statements help both parties to keep the main thing the main thing. They help us remember that we love each other and that we want what is best for both.
- Review your feelings and needs. Depending on your personality, you may be more practiced than others at sharing your feelings and needs with others. For those of you who have difficulty tolerating disagreement or discomfort of confrontation, you may avoid sharing your feelings. Here are some options of what to say, “When you tell me how to drive, I feel stressed,” and “I need support when I’m offering child raising ideas,” and “When you go grocery shopping, I need specific things too.” Stating your thoughts, needs and feelings is an exercise in self-respect. When you respect yourself and your boundaries, you are teaching others how to respect you as well. Communicating boundaries with people who value you usually goes much better than anticipated.
- Communicate a couple of solutions. After you have got your courage up to ask for what you need, (whew, you did it! Good job!) then you can brainstorm some ideas that will be beneficial for both parties. Maybe it can even be an opportunity for increased understanding and closeness. If you come in to the conversation with a couple of solutions, it may communicate to the other person just how committed you are to making the relationship work.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
- Don’t wait until you’re mad to set your boundary. Has this happened to you? Yeah, me too. Luckily, I’ve learned the importance of setting the boundary early on in the relationship so that expectations are set for all parties.
- What if you already are mad? You may need to apologize for losing it, for snapping, for saying things you shouldn’t have. After you apologize, and seek to make a mends with the person, you may want to ask for a boundary to be set. I can imagine a conversation could sound like this, “I’m sorry for over-reacting and the things I said. I let my anger get the best of me. Would it be ok if we figured out a different solution for _________________. The way it is now really isn’t working for me.”
- Remember to keep an “Us Together” attitude instead of a “me vs. them” attitude. Togetherness, mutually understanding and partnership is the goal if at all possible.
- Caveat: if the other person is indifferent, unable, or unwilling to work together toward a solution, then togetherness and closeness is not an option. Most of the time, people are able to work toward some level of agreement and mutual respect. But on occasion, some won’t. It’s ok to stop trying in these cases.
Communicating boundaries is not easy. Doing it often and early actually gives the relationship opportunity to self-correct. It is a means toward togetherness, not away from it. What feels awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning, can produce wonderful results in the long run. Greater safety, shared experiences, and tighter bonds can be the result of boundaries handled well.
Need additional help? If you’re in the Seattle area, there is a great workshop I’d like you to know about. The name of this two day conference is “Is Childhood Trauma Intruding into Your Relationships?” Discover the Fullness of Joy You Are Create to Experience with keynote speakers, Dr. Bill & Pamela Ronzheimer, Marriage Reconstruction Ministries. I’ll be there too! Click Here for more information.