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How to set healthy boundaries in relationships

How to set healthy boundaries in relationships

All relationships need boundaries. 

Where do you end and I begin? When do your wants and needs become mine and mine yours? How often and how much do I need to compromise to sacrifice my own happiness, my own goals? Do I need to give up anything at all to have the kind of healthy relationship that I desire, that we desire? 

In the relationship, the I becomes we and it makes us feel good: we went to the movies, we enjoyed the meal, we traveled the world. However, romantic relationships, family connections, and work relationships will all reach a point of conflict eventually. It’s the I within the relationship taking a stand. 

There may be an evening where one partner decides to spend time with friends instead of you, or you may find that you have different tastes in music, or you may not like the unrealistic expectations set by your spouse, your work colleague, or your mum. Does this need to end in a fight? Relationships become stronger by expressing individual needs, values, ideals, and goals

This is why boundaries in relationships are necessary. 

When relationship boundaries are tested

Even though everyone has boundaries, sometimes it can be hard to know what to do when a boundary has been violated, and how to react. You should deal with boundary violations in an assertive way. For example:

  • When you looked through my phone, this made me feel violated. Please don’t do this again for I will end this relationship.

But what if the behavior persists? The possible outcome has already been stated to the other person about what would happen so if the other person is not prepared to change, be prepared to end the relationship. 

To keep quiet for the sake of peace is not a good course of action, as you will not be happy suffering silently in the relationship. Assertiveness comes from having self-esteem. If someone lets their boundaries be violated time and time again, or moves the boundary to accommodate the other person's behaviors, they are acting with low self-esteem. Maybe they’re in fear that if they speak up or say how they really feel there may be arguments or they will lose the person that they love. 

However, boundary violations are an attack on the self, and if not dealt with, will lead to unhealthy relationships, co-dependence, a loss of self-concept and even giving passive permission for negative behaviors to continue.  

Responding vs. reacting

There is a difference between responding and reacting to any violations or situations that need to be dealt with in a relationship. 

You can regain your power by not reacting but responding in your own time when you are ready. An unhealthy relationship can be compared to two people throwing a ball back and forth, reacting, often aggressively, to each other. This came can go on for a long time, it can be exhausting and repetitive until someone wins. Yet there is no win-win. 

You do not have to react when the manager criticizes your work in front of others, or when a parent asks “Why can't you be more like your sister?”. You can ignore it. You can move out of the way of that metaphorical ball hurtling toward you. It doesn't mean you are ignoring any issues raised by any violations. You are choosing to respond in your own time and without being tempted to throw the ball back to the other person.  

In life, this is useful to apply to situations in which you may want to avoid conflict and improve interpersonal communication, such as in a potentially embarrassing workplace situation, or a family situation in which children are present. 

Putting yourself first

Boundaries help us to end relationships that are not healthy or to know when the relationship is over. The no-contact rule is one way to do this. Contact can simply be severed without explanation. If a person is not willing or able to change or takes more from a relationship than they put in, the relationship is over. We often tolerate unhealthy relationships and people that test our boundaries on a regular basis. It may seem simple to cut contact, yet with relationships like family, this may be more difficult. This may bring about feelings of guilt or disloyalty. It would de worth asking oneself, what is best for me? What is best for my existence? 

To establish strong and healthy boundaries one must first look within, to discover the self, your values, characteristics, and virtues.

Having a strong foundation helps establish what you will and will not tolerate in a relationship. Try to formulate an ideal version of the self, thus helping self-improvement. This ideal self is nurturing, funny, confident, and honest, for example. Become self-aware and make necessary changes to be a better version of the previous self. That self had flimsy boundaries that were always being tested and stepped over. This new ideal person is like a castle. The boundary around them could be seen as a line, a fence, or even a wall. No one can step over that boundary. Yes means yes, no means no, and both parties know where they stand.

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