Boundaries in Relationships

Boundaries in Relationships.  Learning to have healthy boundaries is an appropriate part of a stable relationship. It means coming to know ourselves and increasing our awareness of what we stand for. It also means self-acceptance and knowing that we are OK as we are and worthy of good things in life. When two people with healthy boundaries enter into a relationship, they encourage wholeness, independence and a zest for life in their partner. They know that trust is possible and that the normal difficulties found in all relationships can be worked on constructively. They can find true intimacy as whole, complete and equal people. The journey to a sense of healthy identity is not always easy but it doesn’t need to be all that difficult. It often means treating ourselves with respect and appreciating ourselves for who we really are. When we can do this for ourselves, we can take the same approach toward our partner and then the true happiness and love that our relationship deserves can become a reality.

A successful relationship is composed of two individuals – each with a clearly defined sense of her or his own identity. Without our own understanding of self, of who we are and what makes us unique, it is difficult to engage in the process of an ongoing relationship in a way that functions smoothly and enhances each of the partners. We need a sense of self in order to clearly communicate our needs and desires to our partner. When we have a strong conception of our own identity, we can appreciate and love those qualities in our partner that make him or her a unique person. When two people come together, each with a clear definition of her or his own individuality, the potential for intimacy and commitment can be astounding. The similarities between two people may bring them together, but their differences contribute to the growth, excitement, and mystery of their relationship.

One feature of a healthy sense of self is the way we understand and work with boundaries. Personal boundaries are the limits we set in relationships that allow us to protect ourselves. Boundaries come from having a good sense of our own self-worth. They make it possible for us to separate our own thoughts and feelings from those of others and to take responsibility for what we think, feel and do. Boundaries allow us to rejoice in our own uniqueness. Intact boundaries are flexible – they allow us to get close to others when it is appropriate and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed by getting too close. Good boundaries protect us from abuse and pave the way to achieving true intimacy. They help us take care of ourselves.

Unhealthy boundaries often emerge from dysfunctional family backgrounds. The needs of parents or other adults in a family are sometimes so overwhelming that the task of raising children is demoted to a secondary role, and dysfunction is the likely result. Consider the role of the father who screams at his children or becomes physically abusive with them as a way of dealing in a self-centered way with his own anger. His needs come first, and the needs of the children for safety, security, respect and comfort come second. What the children are likely to learn in this situation is that boundaries don’t matter. As they grow up, they lack the support they need to form a healthy sense of their own identities. In fact, they may learn that if they want to get their way with others, they need to intrude on the boundaries of other people – just as their father did. They would likely grow up with fluid boundaries, which may lead to dysfunctional relationships later on in life. They would have a hazy sense of their own personal boundaries. Conversely, they may learn that rigid and inflexible boundaries might be the way to handle their relationships with other people. They wall themselves off in their relationships as a way of protecting themselves, and, as a consequence, may find it difficult to form close interpersonal bonds with others in adulthood.

Unhealthy boundaries can look like this:

feeling incomplete without your partner

relying on your partner for your happiness

too much or too little togetherness

inability to establish and maintain friendships with others

focuses on the worst qualities of the partners

using alcohol/drugs to reduce inhibitions and achieve a false sense of intimacy

game-playing, unwillingness to listen, manipulation

jealousy, relationship addiction or lack of commitment

blaming the partner for his or her own unique qualities

feeling that the relationship should always be the same

feeling unable to express what is wanted

unable to let go

As a Marriage Counselor, I help couples recognize whether or not their relationship is healthy or unhealthy.  When couples tell each other what to do or how each other feels that is a boundary issue.  Individuals who constantly fight without effective conflict resolution skills have a boundary problem.  Like lines in the sand (external boundaries) there are also internal boundaries (psychological) where we set limits or have code of ethics to protect ourselves from emotional harm.  In Marriage Counseling, when I hear couples say they do “everything” together I inform them they may have some boundary issues.  It is important to develop individual lives while in your relationship as doing so keeps the individual differentiated (their own person) and grounded to keep the relationship interesting and satisfying.
For more information about setting limits and putting good boundaries in place for yourself and your relationship call me at (858) 735-1139.