“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.
- Messy habits
- Jealous spying
- Irresponsible spending
- Broken promises
- Dangerous lifestyle (e.g. alcohol or drug abuse)
- Porn viewing
- 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.