“It’s my way or the highway!”
This is what’s often implied when people set boundaries. A harsh and rigid message that says, “Either you stop and do things MY way or else!”commonly underlies a communicated boundary, even if this wasn’t the intention.
When you decide to set a boundary, it’s usually when a minor irritation or annoyance has grow bigger. A behavior or dynamic that you’ve tried to ignore has become more intense and more upsetting and you’re ready for a change.
Dangerous lifestyle (e.g. alcohol or drug abuse)
Contact with an ex
Yelling or angry behavior
These are just a few topics that people set boundaries about and they can range in severity. What might seem like no big deal to another person may be really important to you.
One of the reasons why setting boundaries can feel harsh and rigid is because it usually occurs after you feel like you’ve been patient and have put up with a behavior without seeing any improvement for long enough. You’ve made requests, created agreements and already talked with your partner about this and it nothing seems to have changed.
It looks like you’re going to have to make a stronger statement to get your message heard. Loud and clear. The trouble is, there can be a forcefulness that as you communicate your boundary.
It can end up feeling like a threat or an ultimatum to your partner.
That can trigger defensiveness or to resistance back at you. Your partner may come at you with a threat of his or her own. Ultimately, your words weren’t heard; the upsetting behavior will probably continue and the two of you will move further apart than before.
This is NOT what you wanted!
Your boundary doesn’t have to push your partner away from you or push him or her out the door.
Here are 3 ways to set boundaries AND keep your relationship healthy and close...
#1: Be firm yet kind.
There is no rule that says you have to be mean or hurtful when you set a boundary. In fact, the more you can approach this conversation with compassion and love, the better it will go.
Leave out the blame because it won’t help you say what you need to say or to put changes in motion. Do talk about how you feel. “I feel _____ when you ______” is a simple way to let him or her know how much this impacts you.
Remember, compassion isn’t you being a pushover or sacrificing your needs. You are acknowledging that your partner is doing his or her best just like you are. When you are kind and firm, your words are more likely to be heard and followed.
#2: Be clear and specific.
Get to the point when setting a boundary. Do share your feelings, but focus in on the actual change you want your partner to make. It can be confusing to both of you if you get side-tracked and talk mostly about secondary or unrelated concerns.
Identify specifically what you want your partner to stop or start doing.
“I want you to call when you’re going to be late.”
“I expect you to let me know when your ex texts you.”
“I love you and I need to know now if you’ll commit to being monogamous.”
“I’m unwilling to stay in this relationship if you continue to get drunk and yell at me.”
Notice that a boundary can include a request or it can be a statement of what you will do if a particular thing happens again (or doesn’t).
#3: Be consistent.
Don’t set a boundary but then dismiss or ignore it. When you do, you undermine yourself and you teach your partner to NOT listen to what you say.
Stand behind your words-- especially your boundaries. This means that you don’t say you’ll end the relationship if _____ happens, unless you’re willing to actually do that.
Remember, this isn’t about punishing your partner, it’s about choosing to no longer tolerate certain words or behaviors in your relationship and then following through with what you’ve said.
You can’t force your partner to change and you can’t make him or her respect your boundaries, but you can make decisions that are in your best interests. If it’s come to the point where you feel like you need to set a boundary, keep reminding yourself of what your priorities are and how flexible you are willing (or unwilling) to be.
It’s okay to re-consider your boundary if you find out more information or your partner proposes an alternative that feels good to you. Stay open to what he or she has to say while remaining true to what you want and need.
When setting boundaries, it comes down to HOW you say what you have to say. Find out which words to use (and which to avoid) when communicating with your partner. Visit www.magicrelationshipwords.com to discover words and phrases that unlock the door to honesty and connection.