Boundaries are essential in any relationship, whether this be between you and your partner, you and your children, or generally just anyone you have a relationship with! It can be tricky to actually recognise if boundaries are being crossed or if there’s even any in place to begin with.
Healthy boundaries are an important part of sustaining your relationships with your loved ones, because it means you understand one another’s needs and wants, as well as what each of you DON’T want, which is arguably more important.
Boundaries can easily be diminished, especially if you’re spending too much time together. But the thing that can be so difficult about it sometimes is as you get closer, you’re less likely to be able to recognise the warning signs of boundaries being crossed; and since you’re so close, it can be hard to speak up about it. Ultimately, this may have even more strain on your relationship.
What exactly are boundaries?
As I’ve said above, setting boundaries within any relationship is important. Boundaries help you keep face, and sustain your understanding of what you want in life, as well as your identity. As boundaries begin to fade, it can have a huge impact on your awareness of your identity, and who you want to be, as if you’re letting how they feel affect you, you may end up becoming co-dependent on them to make your decisions and take control, even subconsciously.
The first thing to do is learn to recognise that emotional pressure from having your boundaries disrespected is incredibly tiresome, this is normal, as the feeling of disrespect and disappointment can be very isolating, which is further going to strain your relationship with this person, as well as your mental health. We have to acknowledge this, and make conscious effort and intentional decisions to not accept unhealthy expectations.
Most pressure can come from an early age, so when boundaries start to deteriorate within your relationships, it can be very stressful. You’ll begin to internalize this pressure which is going to have a massive negative impact on your mental health.
The reality is, people are always going to have expectations of you, so it’s important to practise saying no when you don’t want to do something, or if you simply don’t have the time. If you’re always trying to please people and live up to their expectations, you’re going to end up losing sight of what makes you happy, and if you’ve dealt with this all your life, it’s going to make it so much harder to realise what you want, and do what makes you feel good!
Defining your boundaries…
An important part of setting boundaries is realising what your boundaries actually are. Recognise what you value, your beliefs, and what makes you happy! If you’re struggling to establish boundaries with your children, make sure they know who you are, and what you believe, as at the end of the day, your children, as they’re developing, are guided by what you do. The way they live their life as adults is going to be directly impacted by how you’ve raised them, and the boundaries you establish with them as children.
Make your expectations known! As we know, everyone is going to have expectations of you, no matter what, and it works both ways! Whether you think it or not, you will have expectations of certain people, especially your children. But this doesn’t have to be expecting them to get perfect grades or do a mass amount of chores every day, they have to be realistic. For example, expecting your children to always be respectful and loyal is completely valid.
Boundaries between you and your children…
Boundaries are a two way street, and it’s easy for children to overstep boundaries as they may not understand exactly what they are or how to respect them, which is why it’s so important to teach them as they’re growing up , as it will affect them as adults.
Boundaries can be either massively evident, or extremely subtle. For example, they may cross a boundary by walking into your room without knocking, which for some people may be a violation of their privacy. Something more noticeable would be if your child tells you what to do, and tries to take charge of the house, but then has a tantrum if you don’t let them do what they want. This means that making the consequences of overstepping boundaries known so important. If you’re just letting them off the hook every time, they’re not going to learn. So make it clear of what will or won’t happen if they keep crossing these boundaries.
But as I say, it works both ways. Without realising it, you may be overstepping boundaries with your children. For example, you obviously worry about them, maybe even too much, so you may begin to take too much control over them, and be what’s called a ‘helicopter parent’. Which essentially means you keep tabs on everything they do, not always in a bad way, but you may be so worried that you can’t cope with the thought of not knowing what they’re up to, which is natural! But you have to be able to separate this from your relationship, and trust them to be able to do things for themselves, make their own mistakes, and let them do their own thing, of course where appropriate.
Boundaries between you and your partner…
Boundaries between you and your partner are just as important as between you and your children. Although some of the same things apply, there is a big difference in the kind of boundaries you may have, and how they can affect you in life.
With a relationship, boundaries are so important, this includes in new relationships, but also with existing ones too! Especially when you’re hitting big milestones as a couple.
With a new relationship, boundaries may form more naturally, as when you’re getting to know each other, you’re learning for the first time what one another want and like, but also want they don’t want too. So setting initial boundaries may be a little easier. However, with existing relationships this can be quite difficult as if you’re close with them; you might find it hard to speak up if you’re worried about hurting their feelings, or if you don’t have the confidence to bring it up in the first place.
The reason I mention relationship milestones is because needs and wants may change as your relationship progresses. For example, say you decide to move in together, you’re about to get to know your partner on a whole new level. A person may be completely different to live with compared to just seeing them every couple of days. So, getting even closer with this person ma y bring about new issues for the both of you that have to be discussed, in order to sustain your relationship.
Noticing when boundaries are being crossed…
It can be hard to see when boundaries aren’t being respected, with your partner or your children!
Things to look out for may be;
- You let their emotions control yours
- You push your own needs to the side to accommodate theirs
- You blame others for your issues, but accept responsibility for theirs
- You fear consequences of your relationship if you set boundaries
- You don’t let your children do something they easily can
- You fight all your children’s battles for them
As well as this, it’s important to stay self aware, and also realise if you’re crossing boundaries, for example, it’s not healthy for parents to confide in their children about relationship problems, children shouldn’t have to hear about this at such a young age.
Boundaries are there to feed things through that should be shared between two people, but also keep away things that should be kept private, and only shared with certain individuals!
How do I establish these boundaries?
Learning to speak up and establish boundaries can be tricky, it’s a learning process. Start by giving yourself permission to say no to things you don’t want to do. Tell yourself ‘I can say no’, and ‘I’m worthy of me time’. These affirmations will help you build up the confidence to not only tell people what you want, but also realise in yourself what you want, and who you are.
Accept help! Even if you don’t like to admit it, you need help sometimes, everyone does! It doesn’t matter how much you think you can do everything alone, you will need some help along the way. Realising that is okay to ask help when you need it is an important part of building personal resilience to establish your boundaries.
Make yourself known, and own your choices. As you build up your confidence, give yourself permission to be who you want to be. As you own your choices and embrace who you are, you’ll further be able to tell people what you want, and also things that you’re not comfortable with.
Protect your time, and ask for space! If you feel you need more time for yourself, it’s completely valid to ask for it. If you don’t speak up, not only will you become stressed and anxious, but it’s going to affect your relationship with the other person. Communicate your needs.
It’s not going to happen overnight, it takes time and practise!
Recognise what you want, set your boundaries, and own your choices.
Huge thanks to Jo for writing this post and sending me her amazing book to review.