Do you ever think about what it means to have healthy relationship boundaries and quickly conjure up images in your mind of that ‘perfect’ couple that you know who sometimes just makes you feel a bit sick with envy?
You look at them and think, ‘Look at them, they’re so great. They are like ONE PERSON’. They are just so darn in sync with one another.
The problem with this is that it is something that we learn to idealize.
We want a partner who just ‘gets’ us. We strive for a relationship that’s easy. And, we drop relationships quickly when they don’t live up to this fantasy of perfection and ease.
Thinking to ourselves, ‘No, this can’t be the one. There will be someone else out there who truly COMPLETES me (just like that annoying couple that everyone hates because they are just so great together)’
Well, when it comes to relationship boundaries there are one of two things that could be happening with this couple:
First, they are entirely co-dependent and currently LOVE it. One feeds into the other. They enable needy and co-dependent behavior, completely living in each other’s pockets, and haven’t quite reached the ‘resentment’ stage. YET.
Or secondly, they APPEAR to complete one another because they have strong and healthy relationship boundaries in place. They know who they are as individuals and live in accordance with their values making sure that their partner is clear on what they need.
(I‘ll throw in a third for good measure – they could just be truly brilliant actors. Like really great. Think Oscar bait, darling)
If we’re deciding not to be pessimistic here then why don’t we assume it’s the second because wouldn’t that be nice?
Before we get started if you think your relationship might benefit from some much-needed TLC then grab your copy of the Relationship RECONNECT Toolkit below.
It has some valuable information about what makes relationships tick as well as tools and techniques for you to work on individually and as a couple.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU’VE GOT HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP BOUNDARIES?
Let’s kick this off by looking at a few scenarios where poor relationship boundaries are in place and see if you can relate to any of them:
Do you often feel the need to please everyone else at the expense of your own happiness?
Are you often blamed for everything that isn’t your fault and have to issue the apology because you’ll never get it from the other person?
Have you noticed that people find it easy to take advantage of your emotions for their own gain?
Is your relationship erratic and extreme? Constantly either great or horrible with no happy middle ground?
Do you ever get overly invested or attracted to someone when you’ve only known them for a short period of time and isn’t often reciprocated to the same degree?
Do you find that you’re constantly defending yourself over things where you don’t believe you’re to blame?
Are you making too much effort to embrace what others like, want and need without asserting your own values and desires?
If there was a resounding yes to any of these then I’m afraid you might have a few boundary issues to address. Along with some personal issues that may be worth acknowledging and working on.
To begin working on healthy relationship boundaries we must start with your personal boundaries…
STRONG PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
We are all governed by a set of core values and beliefs which are the basis on which all of our decisions and actions are made.
When we have strong personal boundaries we have a clear understanding of who we are, what we like and dislike, and what we NEED in accordance with our values.
Especially in times of uncertainty (the year 2020 might be a fine example of this).
Why? Because when you live your life in alignment with your core values you reach a level of content within yourself that allows you to tell everyone around you that actually, no, you don’t like being called at 2 am in the morning so they can unload their personal drama.
2 am is for sleeping and I am not your dumping ground.
Strong personal boundaries are the gateway to healthy relationship boundaries which, when thought about from the perspective of someone who is a needy co-dependent, can be viewed as a toxic habit.
Think about it.
You’re with someone who is extremely needy and fearful that you don’t actually love them and might leave them at any moment so what do they do?
They give you no space. They’re wanting to check your phone. They suddenly love everything that you love and have dropped all of their friends to spend every waking moment with you.
To this person, giving each other time and space (setting this personal boundary so that you can both enjoy time apart to develop your own identities) could be seen as toxic to the relationship and anything but a healthy relationship habit.
What they don’t realize is that BOUNDARIES create emotionally healthy people and people with emotional health create healthy boundaries.
Yes, get your head around that.
One feeds into the other, my friend. If you’re sitting there thinking, ‘Oh no, I think I’M the needy co-dependent one she speaks of’ then have no fear.
If you don’t currently consider yourself to be emotionally healthy then start working on your own personal boundaries.
Have a strong understanding of what these are and mean to you.
Once you start living by them and communicating to others exactly what it is that you can tolerate and what you can’t, your emotional health will develop.
(Pssssst….and one more thing on personal boundaries. Strong personal boundaries are SEXY! Confidence is sexy, high self-esteem is sexy, belief in yourself is sexy, and knowing what you want is SEXY. All of these derive from understanding your personal boundaries and living in accordance with them)
HEALTHY PERSONAL BOUNDARIES THAT FEED INTO YOUR RELATIONSHIP
So what exactly do healthy personal boundaries look like and how do they integrate into my relationship?
So many of us get this so very wrong.
Healthy personal boundaries involve being accountable and taking ownership of your own actions and emotions while NOT taking ownership for others and theirs.
Where healthy relationship habits are concerned this means taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions within your relationship and not taking responsibility for your partners.
One of the very best examples of this I can provide and what I consider to be absolutely key to maintaining a long and happy relationship is to be RESPONSIBLE for your OWN HAPPINESS.
Ultimately this comes down to owning your identity, knowing who you are, and living your life knowing what YOUR goals are, what YOU want to achieve, and how YOU will get there.
There is nothing more debilitating than having the extreme weight of someone else’s happiness on your shoulders or expecting someone else to be your source of happiness.
You will be in for some serious disappointment.
I experienced this myself in a previous relationship whereby my partner found himself distressed by a lack of career development.
He was at a low point and found little joy in anything, putting on a brave face in front of friends and family. Being the type of person I am (was) I took it upon myself to try and ‘SAVE’ him or I suppose, ‘FIX’ the situation.
I took on the responsibility of making him happy because he was so very sad.
The problem here being that, it was not a problem I could fix.
I had no control over his career choices and couldn’t do the work for him so his sadness was surrounding an area of his life that was very much unrelated to me and over which I had no control (but tried and failed I did).
Secondly, by putting so much of my time and effort into trying to MAKE HIM HAPPY I set aside my own and slowly slipped into despair with him. I was eager to be a source of happiness for him. So much so that my own self-esteem collapsed as my personal boundaries faded.
I was rejected or ignored at every attempt I made, why?
Because I wasn’t the source of the problem I was trying to fix and the extreme weight of responsibility that I took upon myself to make him happy ultimately meant that I lost sight of my own goals, what I needed, and who I was.
CO-DEPENDENCE CRUSHES IDENTITY (AND VISA VERSA)
When we’re talking about healthy relationship boundaries we are really talking about whether or not you own your identity.
A lack of identity often allows for poor relationship boundaries because you bend yourself to fit your partner. This is where we can find ourselves in a state of co-dependence.
Co-dependence is often the result of bad relationship boundaries (A.K.A overt neediness and attention-seeking).
There tends to be a huge sacrifice of identity and removal of healthy relationship boundaries for co-dependent people due to the desire to be loved and wanted by the other.
These types of people tend to fall into two catagories:
The victim – this person never takes responsibility for their own actions and tends to blame others around them for their misfortunes in the hope that someday someone will come along and save them.
The hero – this person has a tendency to take responsibility for everyone else’s actions in a bid to ‘fix’ the situation and ‘save’ the victim from their torment.
Neither one is good and neither one makes for a strong foundation of healthy relationship boundaries.
‘Come on Emma, give it to us straight! What do poor relationship boundaries LOOK like?!’
I know that’s what you want to know and guess what, I have a great example for you.
OWNING YOUR IDENTITY IS THE START OF CREATING HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP BOUNDARIES
So, I knew a person who openly admitted that due to previous life events that she was incredibly needy and co-dependent. Because of this, her relationships were often strained and caused her immense stress and anxiety.
Despite having a great evening out together she would fixate on the little things he had said which might suggest that he isn’t interested.
She would get flustered that he didn’t respond to her text immediately.
She’d be quick to leave everything and everyone at the drop of a hat if they called.
A great example of losing your identity to poor relationship boundaries and how regaining your identity can build upon healthy relationship boundaries goes as follows:
This friend of mine began to date a gentlemen who was a blue belt in jujitsu.
This friend of mine didn’t like to exercise regularly, took the bus instead of walking, and would spend money on gym classes which she often wouldn’t attend. Needless to say, she wasn’t incredibly active.
There were many other things she would rather do with her time and that is OK.
Within a month or two of dating this person, we had joined a jiujitsu class together.
I couldn’t believe that she wanted to do this sort of this and thought it was great that I had someone to go with.
It was a few weeks later that I found out that her new (very new) boyfriend was an avid Jujitsu warrior.
Now, you might think ‘is that so bad? She is taking an interest in what he loves!’
Absolutely not, that is truly great. However, do you know what happened when they broke up? That’s right, she immediately quit jujitsu.
The problem with this is that it went against her identity and who she is as a person. She was contorting herself to align her values and desires with his in the hope that it would make him LOVE HER for it.
With this type of co-dependency the ‘victim’ often asks, ‘what is it that I could do that would make him love me that little bit more?’ While we can all relate to this on some level it should never come at the cost of your identity.
EXAMPLES WHERE POOR AND HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP HABITS ARE IN PLACE
So what have we discovered?
If you have STRONG PERSONAL BOUNDARIES in place then you’re in a great position to implement HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP BOUNDARIES.
When we look at a person who has a strong sense of their identity and a healthy respect for boundaries we can usually spot the following:
An ability to say what they need and want respectfully
Taking responsibility and practicing blame free living
A willingness to give without expecting anything in return
Making reasonable requests with justifications
Living by their values and beliefs without being swayed by the desire to be greater liked or loved
Are open to the values and beliefs of others and can respect their boundaries
When we look at someone who has a lacking sense of identity and unhealthy boundaries we might find these patterns emerge:
Unable to say what they want or need
Blames other for all mistakes and misfortune or accepts blame on other people’s behalf
Expects extreme sacrifice from others through obligation
Only gives in the hopes of getting something in return
Will take on others values and beliefs in the hope of being greater liked or loved
Are overly needy and attention seeking
We cannot expect to enjoy a long and prosperous life with someone if we do not have a healthy respect for our boundaries and theirs.
It takes courage to tell them what you need and say no. However, a strong sense of identity and personal boundaries will allow you to feel confident in your reasons behind these requests.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
To put it into context for you, here is an example of dialogue between two people and how they might differ between relationships with unhealthy and healthy boundaries.
‘I booked tickets for the gig next week, you’ll love it!’
‘Oh, you have?’
‘Yeah, it’s going to be great. Make sure you keep the Thursday free’
‘I had plans on Thursday’
‘Well cancel them, I bought the tickets now so you have to come’
‘Ok I suppose I could rearrange. It’s not a big gig though is it? Because I struggle in large crowds’
‘Oh, you’ll be fine.’
This would be an example within a relationship where boundaries haven’t been clearly established.
Although it appears to be a lovely gesture, the ticket buyer has not respected the partner enough to check whether they are free or if they’d even like to go. Regardless of this, they EXPECT them to attend the gig with them.
The partner has made very little effort to explain that they can’t and don’t want to go. They are simply bending to the other’s will.
In a relationship with healthy boundaries it might look more like this:
‘I booked tickets for a gig next Thursday, you’ll love it!’
‘Oh, sorry but I have plans next Thursday.’
‘Well change them, I’ve bought the ticket now.’
‘Look, I truly appreciate you wanting to do this with me but you didn’t check that I was free first. You didn’t check I wanted to go. I get incredibly claustrophobic in those types of setting where there are so many people so even if I was free I really wouldn’t feel comfortable attending. Please check with me first next time. Take a friend with you and have a great evening, I still want you to enjoy it.’
‘Ok, I suppose I can ask Jenny if she’s available. If you’re sure?’
Here the boundary has been put in place.
The ticket buyer is being told – moving forward please don’t book anything without checking with me first because you will only be disappointed if I say no.
Not only this but the partner is being told that they cannot simply EXPECT their significant other to simply drop everything for last-minute plans that they have made.
This might seem tiny and insignificant but it matters. Your partner’s boundaries are their boundaries no matter how big or small, as are yours.
So we must respect ALL boundaries that are put in place and understand that these seemingly small steps over the line can in fact build and cause problems and resentment within a relationship.
SACRIFICE FOR THE RIGHT REASONS IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP
All relationships come with sacrifice and compromise, the problem arises when we make the sacrifice for fear of the consequences of not doing so.
For healthy relationship boundaries to be in place both partners should never ever feel strong-armed into sacrificing for their partner.
If you are bending to the will of your partner because if you don’t then they won’t have sex with you, they’ll scream at you or ignore you for a week then this is not the right reason for the sacrifice and something here needs to be addressed.
This is a clear sign of a co-dependent relationship.
There are poor boundaries in place that need to be replaced with new, healthy ones.
You should only ever sacrifice and compromise within your relationship because it is something that you WANT to do for your partner. If your boundaries are strong and have been well communicated then you should feel secure in having to say ‘no’ to your partner on this occasion.
The whole ‘I give, to receive’ is the exact mentality that will destroy a relationship. You should always want to give just to give. And if you’re doing so for any other reason then you’re in trouble, my friend.