I was just scrolling through my previous blog posts thinking I must have already written about boundaries at some point but realised I haven’t yet! Boundary setting is somewhat of a buzz word in the therapy / coaching circles currently but the concept is as old as human communication; older actually. As with any blog post, I’m going to have to over-simplify but I hope I can shed some light on the basic concept and also help you identify whether you are a demander or an acquiescer.
WHY SET BOUNDARIES?
Boundaries keep us safe and healthy. In a romantic relationship, boundaries are what enable us to intertwine two lives without losing ourselves in the process. Some of us find it easy to set boundaries but sometimes we go too far. Some of us are uncomfortable setting boundaries and so avoid it whenever possible. Let’s look at each so you can identify which side of the line you fall on and then what we can do to improve to be able to set healthy boundaries in a loving way.
You are someone who is able to speak your truth. You often have clear ideas and opinions and are able to voice them to other people. (The way of voicing them can vary a lot, the important point is that you can and do). Growing up you had people who listened to you and took you seriously; that is a blessing. However, you may have also had other people (like younger siblings or quieter friends) who you could boss around a bit. That’s where we need to have some self-awareness and radical honesty with ourselves and admit that we like it when people do what we tell them. You bet that goes for romantic relationships too!
Here’s the difference between demanding things and setting boundaries: demanding focuses on the other person, setting boundaries focuses on yourself. A demand might sound like: “YOU have to do X” or “I want YOU to do X otherwise…” a boundary might sound like “I don’t tolerate/ accept X” or “I need to do X for myself right now”. Healthy relationship boundaries are in the longterm interest of the couple even though it might be uncomfortable for one person in that moment. Demands are made so one person feels comfortable in that moment but at the detriment to the long term happiness of the relationship.
For example, saying to your partner “I don’t want you to have dinner with your best friend tonight anymore, I want us to spend time together.” Whether that causes an argument or your partner does actually cancel the dinner they were looking forward to, it’s only to make you feel okay in that moment. It’s not in the interest of your relationship longterm to oblige or manipulate your partner into or out of things when it’s actually healthy for them (as in this case of maintaining friendships outside of the relationship).
Let’s take another example. You want to have sex and have tried to physically connect with your partner but they’re really not feeling it in that moment. You might say “I really need to have sex right now, I’ll feel so much better after.” Again, this could either cause an argument because you didn’t respect your partner’s feelings or they might even have sex with you despite the fact that they don’t want to. Again you feel better in that moment because you got what you wanted but it’s so damaging for your relationship longterm.
So how to move from demanding to setting healthy boundaries? Self-awareness and compassion. Go one layer under your demand and you’ll find fear. What appears to be selfishness on the surface is often masking an underlying fear so find out what you are really feeling before making a demand. Fear of being alone, fear of being rejected, fear of being taken for granted, fear of being cheated on, fear of being abandoned etc. Of course we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we are scared. Anger is a much more empowering emotion, but it’s a lie. It allows us to stay living in denial. But it is the killer of happy, healthy relationships. Demanding things from your partner instead of setting healthy boundaries will either destroy your relationship or it will destroy the love your partner has for you. Compassion allows you to put yourself in your partners position and hopefully understand things from their perspective so you can see the impact your demand might have on them and your future relationship.
You don’t mind following the lead of others and are influenced by other people’s opinions and reactions. Growing up your caregivers were preoccupied with their own problems, maybe a difficult brother or sister, working two jobs, financial stress, illness etc. Your needs weren’t really made a priority. You learned how to adapt yourself so as not to create any other issues for the people you loved. You learned you had to acquiesce (do what others wanted of you) in order to receive love and keep the peace. In a small (or big) way, you learned to betray yourself. That is what people pleasers do to differing degrees. A challenging thing about people pleasers is that they sometimes wear it as a badge of honour, as if this type of self-sacrifice (self-betrayal) should be celebrated. It shouldn’t. Kindness, compassion and generosity should be. Yes, it is different. You can be all those three things without betraying yourself. This is where the acquiescer needs to have some self-awareness and radical honesty and admit that they do things to please others in return for love instead of loving themselves first.
In my two examples above for the demanders, the partner who agrees to their partner’s unhealthy demands are acquiescers. They don’t hold their own healthy boundaries which is also damaging to the relationship. If that’s you, you are also more likely to fall into victim mentality. You place all the blame on the demander without realising that it is also your responsibility to say no. You tell yourself you just want to make other people happy and take no responsibility for the life you have actually created for yourself by not having difficult conversations and setting boundaries. Your fear of disappointing people keeps you stuck, and worse, over the years in a relationship this will result in resentment and even falling out of love with the partner you are so eager to keep happy.
So learn to be okay with disappointing people. Someone’s disappointment will not result in them stopping loving you and if it does, is that really the type of fragile relationship you want to try to single-handedly maintain? Life requires us to have difficult conversations in the short term in order to be happy in the future. When you are with others and away from your partner, try not to keep those people happy at the expense of the person you love most just because they’re not there. Everyone has their priorities and other people’s priorities probably do not include the health of your romantic relationship; it’s your responsibility to take care of that.
As a balanced person you will be able to respect people’s healthy boundaries. You will see a healthy boundary from a place of compassion with the longterm in mind. You will be able to build a beautiful relationship for both people where no-one feels taken advantage of and both people can face their underlying relationship fears while feeling supported and loved. I’ll finish with one final thought which is that these two different people often find themselves in a relationship together. So try to understand where the other person os coming from and vow to work together to create and respect healthy relationship boundaries.
*Interested in learning more about setting healthy boundaries and creating an enlightened relationship? Get in touch for relationship coaching with me: firstname.lastname@example.org