How To Set Appropriate Boundaries

Once you identify your non-negotiables, you have to be willing to set--and stick to--your boundaries


One of the most important steps on any Dignity Dater's journey is setting appropriate boundaries. For those of you who have that covered, keep in mind that I'm not just speaking about telling a guy "no" when it comes to sex or asking that he be on time. I'm talking about the types of boundaries that set your stomach a-twitter simply by envisioning the conversation in which you have to say "no," face the retaliation, see the look of dismay or have the argument that ensues once you draw the line. What’s more, consider if these boundary-setting conversations may need to start happening in your life with colleagues, your boss, family members and even friends.


To help with this delicate concept, I'm sharing five boundaries that are mostly non-negotiable. In addition to my own list of critical boundaries to set based on several Dating With Dignity High Potential Dating Concepts, I'm also gleaning insights from America’s Numero Uno expert on setting boundaries: author Melody Beattie, who released her recent book The New Codependency in 2009.

1. We are done saying "yes" when we mean "no." In "Breaking Free From Your Romantic Rut," we work diligently to create lists of that to which we will no longer say "yes." Then, as a result, we find what it means we will say "yes" to--for example, "I am saying no to getting merely crumbs of attention from men" and "I am saying yes to believing that my needs are important." Get the picture? In setting effective boundaries, we stop saying yes when we really, truly mean "no." Often, words such as "it’s fine" or "whatever" escaping from behind your lips in whispered disgust may be a sign you are not setting or enforcing this boundary.


2. We say what we feel, even if people are not ready to hear it. Living in fear that the listener can’t handle "the truth" stymies our growth, consciousness, self-respect and dignity. It is imperative that we learn not to edit our thoughts and feelings based on a feared reaction from the listener. Take my client Sue, for example. (Her name has been changed.) Sue decided to set a boundary with her sibling and tell him she could no longer be in the relationship unless they discuss their mutual needs and expectations. In working with Sue, she wrote me via email, saying, "I’m not sure if he will get it, but it is what I need to say." Bravo, Sue! Sue set a boundary expressing her dissatisfaction in the give/take ratio of her relationship and was able to send this email without too much regard for how it might be perceived. What’s more, she was willing to live with the consequence of stating her needs.

3. We are ready to let people feel awkward by reminding them they didn’t pay back money they borrowed instead of us feeling awkward when we didn’t do anything wrong. (Thank you, Melody Beattie, for this one; it’s AWESOME!) I can’t tell you how often I hear women who are afraid to ask men, family members or friends to be paid back what they are owed or promised. Mostly they are afraid to hurt the borrower’s feelings or make the person feel bad. This is a critical boundary you must set and extends past money into clothes, CDs or whatever else you have lent people in your life.

4. We are done letting someone drive us nuts. When you are truly sick of receiving "I need/want you" texts or phone calls at 1 a.m.; tired of complaining that the man you are dating won’t pick up the phone to touch base; or exhausted from continuing to keep men in the queue who flake and don’t call or show up when they said they will; it is time to set a boundary. In the work I do with clients, I often hear them expressing this feeling of being driven completely crazy by the behavior they're tolerating from men in their lives--even men with whom they have not even yet had a first or second date. Yet often they put up with it because they don’t know how to set this critical boundary. The truth is this: simply tell them it is not tolerable and that you aren’t a match because you clearly have different values. Ultimately, you must decide how much nuts you are willing to tolerate. If you want to be treated with respect and keep your dignity intact, stop the nutzos from orbiting in your world by setting clear boundaries.

5. We don’t drop our life--what we are doing--or our plans for him. How often have you kept putting off making plans, waiting to see what will shake out for the weekend? Did you wait until Thursday night? Friday morning? Or maybe even Friday at 6 p.m.? Did you cancel plans with your aunt or best friend for Saturday night when Mr. Right Now called at 4 p.m. to "hang out"? Setting boundaries regarding your availability is crucial to beginning to command respect from men. If you stop what you're doing to accommodate his needs or schedule, you're playing with emotional fire. Ensure that you are clear and able to use the word "no" when asked to be picked up at the airport when he hasn’t yet taken you out to coffee, or when he swears he will "never do this again." He will do it again, because you choose to let him.


In short, remember that setting boundaries is critical to learning how to date with dignity to get the results we want: a healthy, fulfilling, FUN relationship. What boundaries are not are empty threats made in anger, words we leak in an attempt to manipulate, or a last-ditch and blatant attempts to exert a power play over someone with whom we are in relationship.