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Understanding Boundaries in Relationships

The Major Misconception & What Comes Before Setting Boundaries




A fence as a metaphor for boundaries in relationships
A fence as a metaphor for boundaries in relationships

Let's think of how boundaries play out in relationships. To bring this to life, let's imagine you are a house, and the boundaries are the fence around the house. Some people have a complete fence around the house and no gate at all. Other people have a complete fence and a gate that can be open or closed. Others have a fence and the gate is stuck in the open position. Imagine how a person's life and relationships are impacted by the difference in the fence and the gate situation. Boundaries in relationships will naturally and understandably be different based on the relationship/person. There is no judgment here about which type of boundary situation is better. Rather, the mental exercise here is to make the implicit to the explicit for you so you have clarity.


Many people believe that boundaries is what we tell others is acceptable or unacceptable in our eyes. This is a misconception. Boundaries are what we have decided we will do when someone does something. Boundaries are for us, not for others. Having a clear boundary for ourselves informs how we will respond when that other person does that behavior. For example, if partner "A" leaves dirty clothes on the floor and does not put them in the laundry hamper, then partner "B" won't include their laundry in the next wash load. This is a simple example, of course, just for descriptive purposes. Another example is when partner B is yelling, then partner A will say "Yelling is happening. I won't continue this interaction so long as yelling occurs." Partners have informed each other of their boundary prior to the moment occurring to keep communication respectful, focused and clear.


Conversations about boundaries in relationships are on the rise in social media (and this may be connected to the increase in conversations about narcissism being on the rise.) Sometimes these posts are focused on "how to set boundaries" or "what boundaries may look like or sound like with family." A major element that is often left out of the conversation on boundaries is the question, "when you think of sharing a boundary with someone, what comes up for you? What gets in the way? What blocks you?" Of course it's helpful to have an idea of what to say, however, before we even say something we will experience what makes it hard for us to set (or say) the boundary. Before we seek ideas on how to set the boundary, let's first spend some time with ourselves reflecting on what makes boundaries difficult.


What makes it hard for you to set a boundary with someone?














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