The better your boundaries, the freer you are to care for yourself and truly love your partner.
We hear a lot about boundaries, but what exactly are they? Psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend, authors of the best-selling Boundaries series of books, liken boundaries to an imaginary fence we erect around ourselves. We determine what kind of people, behaviors, and activities we allow into our space, and what kind we keep out. Boundaries give us a clear idea of who we are and what we need. According to Cloud and Townsend, many of our relationship struggles comes down to a failure to set and retain boundaries.
So what does that look like? Both the Boundaries authors and self-esteem coach Natalie Lue of Baggage Reclaim offer some guidelines for couples:
- Lue suggests that you shouldn’t continue in a relationship where you’re not treated with love, care, trust, and respect. Even if you’re in the beginning of a relationship and love isn’t a factor yet, you shouldn’t be with someone who doesn’t offer care, trust, and respect. If you don’t treat yourself well, others won’t either.
- In Boundaries in Dating, Cloud and Townsend say that where there is deception, there is no relationship, because if your partner is deceptive, you can never be sure what reality is. That’s why it’s important to make truth-telling a firm boundary in your relationship. Once trust is broken in a relationship, everything must stop. They advise that you either fix the trust issue or end the relationship.
- Notice the balance of control. Lue says there must be equal footing in a relationship instead of one person always controlling what does and doesn’t happen. Both partners should have say over where you go as a couple, what you do together, how much money you spend. If you want to know if you’re in a controlling relationship, make an attempt to exert some control and judge your partner’s reaction. If they shut down or get confrontational, there’s a control problem.
- Cloud and Townsend talk about how you must be able to say no in your relationship without fear of losing love, being rejected, or hurting your partner. “We must be free to say no before we can wholeheartedly say yes.” If you have trouble saying no, start small and work your way up to larger issues after some practice.
- Cloud and Townsend also recommend you set a clear boundary that you won’t be responsible for your partner’s actions. For instance, don’t try and get him out of financial trouble or motivate her when she’s slacking instead of meeting an important deadline. You are only responsible for your own actions; let your partner be responsible for theirs.
- Finally, if your spouse resists your attempts to maintain boundaries, Cloud and Townsend suggest you should reinforce your boundaries by establishing consequences. For instance, if your partner is yelling or having a tantrum, temporarily leaving his presence is a way to retain your own boundary while showing him that yelling at you has consequences. Consequences help people adjust their behavior in the future.