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  • Writer's pictureJodi Sheffield LPC

BOUNDARIES: WHAT TO PROTECT & WHAT TO AVOID

In my previous blog post, I discussed what boundaries are, their importance to the

health of relationships and the different types of boundaries. Some would say they are the

fundamental core of relationships (Gotta keep the apple puns coming!). I would agree.

Boundaries are our relational apples that help us maintain healthy, balanced relationships and

protect what is most important to us: our time, physical space, sexual/romantic relations and

intimacy, emotions, possessions and ideas. Boundaries also protect one’s values, tangible and

intangible, such as pets, traveling, spirituality, UT Football (Hook em!), passions, and hobbies.

When we do not establish and express our boundaries in relationships, we are putting

ourselves at risk for what is called a boundary violation.


If boundaries function as protections to “allow people to express their needs, feelings,

and opinions without fear of judgment, rejection” or lack of emotional, psychological, and

physical safety, boundary violations, whether intentional or not, lead to fear, disrespect of or

apathy towards our partner’s needs, feelings, and opinions (Gilles, 2023). Boundary violations

primarily occur for two reasons.


1) A partner has not established boundaries with his or her partner OR A

partner has established boundaries but has not explicitly verbalized

boundaries to his/her partner due to assumptions that his/her partner

should know his or her boundaries without explicitly communicating them.


2) A partner has established boundaries with partner explicitly and his/her

partner has unconsciously or consciously decided to cross established

boundaries. If a partner consistently and unconsciously violates his/her

partner’s boundary, it is a telltale sign of indifference and disconnection in

the relationship. If a partner consistently and consciously violates his/her

partner’s established boundary, it is often a sign of abuse where power and

control are present, and trust and safety are absent.


To avoid the causes of boundary violations, it is vital to identify and to express

boundaries with one’s partners, friends, colleagues, etc., so there is little confusion of where

“you end, and the other person begins” (Katherine, 2010). According to Gilles (2023),

“boundaries distinguish what is your responsibility in the relationship from that of your

partner’s. What is each person in the relationship responsible for? Their individual bodies,

words, emotions, attitudes, values, and preferences.” When boundaries are established in a

relationship, there is less risk for “blame,” for “blame is almost always a maneuver to deflect

ownership of a problem. When you take responsibility for your part in the misunderstanding,

conflict, or harsh treatment and your partner is willing to take responsibility for their part,

resolution of the problem becomes much easier” (Gilles, 2023). Boundaries provide a

framework that outlines what is and what is not your responsibility in the relationship (Gilles,

2023). Boundaries offer protection for things that matter most to you, the things that make life

worth living, such as safety, autonomy, and free will. When boundaries are violated, one if not

all of these are threatened.


So, what do boundary violations look like? Gilles (2023) offers a couple of common

examples.


1. Saying “yes” to your partner, when in fact you’d rather say “no” – this is usually done to

please the other person or to avoid conflict.


2. Saying “no” when it might be perfectly appropriate to say “yes” – this is often done to

keep a partner at arm’s length or punish him or her. Good boundaries require honesty.

Neither of these behaviors are honest ways to communicate.


3. Making your partner read your mind instead of saying specifically what you’re thinking

or feeling.


4. Trying to control your partner’s thoughts or behavior through aggressive or subtle

manipulation (passive aggression, sarcasm, gossip)


So, how do we protect what matters most to avoid boundary violations?


Below are tips from TherapistAid (2017) and Gilles (2023).


1. Know your limits. Before becoming involved in a situation, now what’s

acceptable to you, and what isn’t. It’s best to be as specific as possible, or

you might be pulled into the trap of giving just a little bit more, over and

over, until you have given far too much.


2. Ask your partner what they are feeling versus guessing. Each of you has your

own thoughts and feelings, and each person is responsible for putting them

into words in order to be understood. This way, your partner doesn’t need to

guess.


3. Know your values. Every person’s limits are different, they’re often

determines by their personal values. Know what is most important to you,

and protect it.


4. Express your feelings as belonging to you without blaming your partner. For

example, it’s much better to say something like, “I feel hurt and

misunderstood in this conversation” than to say, “You made me feel hurt

because of the way you talked to me.” The former is simply expressing an

emotion; the latter is blaming your partner for the hurt feelings.


5. Listen to your emotions. If you notice feelings of discomfort or resentment,

don’t bury them. Try to understand what your feelings are telling you.

Resentment, for example, can be often traced to feelings of being taken

advantage of.


6. Have self-respect. If you always give in to others’, ask if you are showing as

much respect to yourself and what you need as you show to others.

Boundaries that are too porous might be due to misguided attempts to be

liked by elevating other people’s needs above one’s own.


7. Be assertive. When you know it’s time to set a boundary, acknowledge it. Say

“no” respectfully, but without ambiguity. If you can make a compromise

while respecting your own boundaries, try it. For example, if a neighbor asks

you to watch her dog for afternoon, and you are about to leave to meet

friends for a scheduled lunch. You can say, “No, I can’t watch your dog this

afternoon. I already have plans. I would be happy to watch Sparky another

time when I am free.”


8. Consider the long view. Some days you will give more than you take, and

other days you will take more than you can give Be willing to take a longer

view of relationships, when appropriate. But if you are always the one who’s

giving or taking, there might be a problem.


No matter how you slice it, boundaries are of utmost importance to relational health.

They provide protection and safety as well as freedom and clarity. To set and maintain

boundaries allows each partner to take ownership of what he/she can control without

attempting to control one another. The presence of boundaries reveals respect and care

partners have for one another to love each other out of abundance, not scarcity and

desperation. Love and fear are like oil and water. They can’t mutually exist in a relationship and

that’s where boundaries come in. Next blog will focus on characteristics of boundaries to

determine the health of one’s boundaries.




References

Gilles, G. (2023, March 27). The importance of boundaries in romantic relationships. MentalHelp.net. Retrieved

April 19, 2023, from https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/the-importance-of-boundaries-in-romantic-relationships/


Healthy Boundaries Tips (worksheet). Therapist Aid. (2017). Retrieved April 19, 2023, from

https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheet/healthy-boundaries-tips


Katherine, Anne. Boundaries Where You End and I Begin: Where You End and I Begin. Hazelden Publishing, 2010.

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