Saturday, May 31, 2008

Setting Boundaries In Relationships

Have you ever seen a house with no fences defining property boundaries? As a kid, I remember playing with my matchbox toys, only to have a neighbor kid come over and take my toys. He ended up losing most of my toys in his yard, rather than keeping them in my yard. This childhood experience taught me a valuable lesson: setting boundaries.

When we set boundaries, we are basically establishing the ground rules for relationship behavior that establishes how we get needs met and build fulfillment in our relationship(s).

Boundaries are useful.

Harmonious relationships get built when participants communicate their expectations and receive what is expected of them. Kindly and firmly stating what you need from your relationship allows each person to reciprocate. We cannot control other people's beliefs, feelings, or actions, which may not even be related to you but their own experience and perception. They may even be unrelated to our needs. Not only that, but other people can't be expected to read our mind. Therefore, it is up to us to communicate our needs.

Honoring self.

When we establish a boundary we communicate an expectation of how we expect a certain need to get met. It is up to us to make sure these needs are communicated clearly. It is up to us to ensure we're communicating and receiving the things we want and need from others.

First, we must understand what we most want and need. Have we done the inner-personal work to really know what we want? Can we write it down and define it? I offer a Life Purpose e-book to help you get clear on what is most important to you.

How are we communicating our needs? We need to take into account what we say, the tone in saying it, and the body language we're giving out. These will all communicate our needs.

Are we EXpressing our needs, or REpressing our needs?

We need to express our needs, clearly, and in kindness, to state what we want from each other. If you've stated something, but as a complaint, you may not get the result you seek. If you're not winning that way, try expressing in a new way, from love and kindness and respect. That will gain more success. Now, on the other hand, if you're repressing the desire to get certain needs met, you're going to hurt not only yourself but also your partner, in the long run. I've had this happen on two occasions. When your partner represses their needs and subjugates their needs for your needs, you're going to end up with resentments that will fester and grow over time. So, don't repress your needs. Say what you need, as I identified above. There isn't a high chance for lasting happiness and fulfillment until you do.

Here's a process for getting needs met:

1. State the need. "I need (type of behavior or action). I am uncomfortable when you (don't do or do) this behavior."

2. Define the boundary. "I am asking you to do (behavior desired). I am requesting you do this without (behavior you don't want). I am most appreciative and fulfilled in our relationship when you do (behavior needed).

3. If they blow it: Insist they honor your boundary. Use a kind, but firm voice: "I insist that we both interact through (behavior you'd requested). Is there anything truly stopping you from meeting this need?" Listen. If they do not have a legitimate reason for not meeting your need, then reaffirm the need "I need this (behavior). I appreciate you doing this to help us both get along better."

4. If they continue to disregard your boundary: Leave the situation. If someone cannot or will not respect your needs, they aren't showing you respect. Respect is a cornerstone of trust. When we trust each other, we respect each other. When we respect each other, we honor each other's boundaries.

Some people have a bad habit of either not setting or not honoring boundaries in their relationships. These people may require a lot of work to maintain a healthy relationship. Ask yourself if you are willing to invest the time and energy to help get this person to honor boundaries, or if it is better simply to move on.

By moving on, you might want to leave the door open for future discussion, so I'm *not* saying to wreck the relationship. I'm simply suggesting that if a boundary is crossed, it is healthy to pull away for a time. When you pull away for the other party violating the boundary, explain that you would welcome an opportunity to discuss or reconnect in the future, when they are willing to honor your boundary.

Is this clear enough? If they aren't willing to honor your boundary, then you might consider walking away without reengaging. After all, why should we sacrifice what we need to be with other people?

Is it personal if they don't honor the boundary?

Usually the boundary - and the response to it - isn't about the person. So, don't take it personally. Don't try to assume other people's feelings, hurt, guilt, or strange agenda regarding your needs and their reaction to your needs or ways of communicating to you. Just state how you wish to be treated and focus on what you want. Some patterns may take time to change. So, with boundaries, as in training an old mule, it may take some time to get your boundaries set in a way that is healthy for everyone. Remember, you have a right to be treated with courtesy, dignity and respect.

Always honor your boundaries. I recently received a phone call from a new friend at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. I sent a text message back to her: "Boundary: No phone calls before 7:30 a.m.! I value my sleep and hope you do, too." She called me later, apologized, and also said that she respected me stating my boundary and that few people ever told her their boundaries. Well, I guess it was time someone did, huh?! After that day, I can say I communicated better with her and I also slept a heck of a lot better!

People might be surprised when you insist on a boundary, but they WILL respect you for setting and holding to your boundary. By modeling the behavior you want, you will also get respect back from them when they request you honor their boundary, too. Show them the same respect you'd want (The Golden Rule) and watch how much more love, respect, and trust you build in your interpersonal relationships. You'll have far more trust and honesty through setting and keeping your boundaries.

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