Are you experiencing a hurt that won’t stop? Do you believe you don’t have a voice in your relationship? Do you feel it’s always your fault? One reason might be that you haven’t set healthy boundaries for yourself and your partner.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
Boundaries are what you are happy to allow for yourself or around you – or not. Ideally, these begin as requests.
Would you please drive slower with me in the car?”
“Please don’t raise your voice.”
When the other person complies with your request, the problem is solved. However, what if the request isn’t met with compliance or collaboration? It might be time to set a boundary.
How Do You Set Healthy Boundaries in Relationships?
When you set a healthy boundary, it should come across as neither a threat nor an ultimatum. A threat or ultimatum is a challenge – a challenge for control – that will usually fail because there is a low probability of follow through, and everyone knows it. These are threats or ultimatums:
If you keep driving so fast, I’m never going with you in the car again.”
“If you don’t stop yelling at me, I’m never going to talk to you.”
A boundary is a request for change or compliance and a statement about how you will care for yourself if the other person doesn’t respect or comply with your request.
If you want to drive this fast, I’m going to drive myself next time.”
“If you want to continue raising your voice, I’m going to go for a walk.”
In both cases, you haven’t demanded or threatened, you’ve emphasized the other is free! You have also reminded them, that you too have freedom and are willing to exercise it.
When Boundary Setting Doesn’t Work
When the other person doesn’t respect your request or boundary you must follow through with taking care of yourself. If you don’t, your efforts to set boundaries will fail and nothing will change. If you ask them to drive slower and they don’t (the request). Then, state that if they prefer to drive in a manner that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, that you’re going to stay home or drive yourself next time (the boundary). If they continue to drive in an uncomfortable manner, next time you have to drive yourself or stay home.
If you ask them to lower their voice, and they don’t. Next, you let them know you won’t continue talking if they prefer to raise their voice. If neither works, you’ll have to step out and stop engaging. You want them to think, Oh, I better not raise my voice of they won’t stay and talk. You want them to manage their own behavior in a respectful way. This is very different than you demanding they stop yelling.
You want others to respect you and respect your word. To get this, they must know you’ll follow through. The follow through is what teaches others to be respectful and value your words.
This does mean that you will lose something too. You won’t be sharing the ride, or perhaps home or it means not engaging in the conversation. However, in doing so you’re also making a choice not to be impacted by the other’s behavior – taking care of yourself. This teaches others that if they want your presences and participation, they have got to be respectful of what you want and need.
Boundaries as a Form of Self-Care
Boundaries do require some self-love. You must care about yourself enough to act. If it is hard to stand up for yourself or express your needs and wants, this is related to your self-concept – which is a different topic and very valuable work to do, something we often do in therapy.
For now, think about where you’re not setting firm boundaries and how that contributes to distance in your relationship. Being close requires boundaries. Boundaries keep the relationship safe!
Marlon Familton, MA LMHC is a relationship counselor working to help couples navigate the choppy waters of love and romance. Author of the book, “Fix Your Partner in 10 Easy Steps or Less!”
Contact Marlon at Bellevue Family Counseling in Bellevue, Washington.Learn More