Around this time every year I find myself blogging on boundaries in relationships. It must be that time of year when either we’re sick of being treated the way we’re allowing ourselves to be treated or we are in spring cleaning mode and looking to cleanse of unhelpful relationships. Either way, I support it. The people around us affect our health, our wealth, our mindset, and everything in between. I’ve studied and written a lot about boundaries as I spent the first 30 plus years of my life in relationships without boundaries. No, I wasn’t into self-sabotage. I didn’t set boundaries for two main reasons: (1) My lack of emotional intelligence. I didn’t understand that I was not able to make someone else feel a certain way by what I did, said, or how I acted, and (2) My underlying belief that my needs didn’t matter. I believed that the things I wanted or desired had to take a back burner to the needs and desires of others around me. Since shifting these views and learning more about emotional intelligence, I’ve been able to move away from the harmful behaviors we’ve talked about in the beginning of the month (people pleasing and other people’s opinions) towards self confidence and living the life I’m here on earth to live. I’ve set boundaries with the most fundamental relationships in my life, my parents, my siblings, my ex, my children, my fiancé, my friends, my clients. Boundaries are a crucial piece of a healthy relationship. Click To Tweet So how do we do it? How can I help you set some boundaries in your existing relationships to enable them to thrive? There are three pieces to healthy boundary setting.
First, we need to understand what boundaries are. Boundaries are a request with a follow up. They are not done to punish the other person. They are not done to restrict the other person. They are done for you. They come from love not fear or anger. They are not done to control the other person. They are done to protect you and your relationship with that person. A boundary sounds like: “Please stop yelling at me. If you continue to yell, I will hang up the phone”. The request is “Please stop yelling at me” and the follow up or consequence is “I will hang up the phone”. There’s no drama. It’s not a punishment. Think of boundaries like the fence of your house. It is not an aggressive act to build a fence but it does take conscious thought as to where you want the fence and why. In the past, I had set boundaries from a place of anger or with the intent to control the other person. These types of boundaries don’t foster connection but something called codependency. You must do the emotional work to own your piece of whatever is going on so that you can set your boundary from a place of non-anger and calm.
Second, we need to know what kind of boundaries we need. How do we do this? By asking ourselves questions about the relationship and your expectations. What is important to you in a romantic relationship? What is important to you in a work relationship? What is important to you in a friendship? Some areas to look into: What do my spouse and I often fight about? What am I sensitive about? What patterns from my past are important to me to discontinue or continue? We often think these things through in business interactions but not in our relationship life. In business, we verbalize what we want to happen when an email comes into our company, average response time etc, it’s equally important to set those boundaries with relationships. Think of boundaries like a framework for your relationships. When you send a text to your spouse, what would you like to happen? When you call your friend and she doesn’t answer, what would you like to happen? Keep in mind: just because we set a boundary, doesn’t mean it will be upheld. In fact, if we’re setting boundaries in long standing relationships, you can definitely expect some boundary violations. This is not a sign that relationship is over or that they don’t honor or respect you. Rather, it’s a sign that you’ve taught them how to treat you. People learn how to treat you based on what you tolerate. Click To Tweet Depending on the length of your relationship and your relationship patterns, you may be working with some long-standing habits and change will take consistent follow through of your boundary. If you’ve allowed people to yell at you your whole life, when you say you’ll hang up the phone if it continues, the other person will probably think: “oh yeah right” and go on yelling. Expect the resistance and you’ll be better able to calmly follow through. Your responsibility is to clearly state the boundary (“Please stop yelling at me”) and following through (hanging up the phone). It’s not to punish them, it’s to respect you. You are not responsible for their reaction. You’re responsible for doing what you said you’d do. Follow through.[tweetshare tweet=”If you want things to change, you must change things.” username=”SusieBarolo”]
Finally, we need to know how to set boundaries. Some boundaries don’t need to be said aloud unless they’re violated. For example, I have the boundary that I won’t be hit. I don’t say that boundary to everyone I come into contact with but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to hit me. If someone were to hit me, then I’d need to tell him of my boundary by saying something like: “I do not allow people to hit me. If you hit me again, I will leave this relationship.” Another example, I do not allow people uninvited into my house. If I were to come home and there were a burglar in my house, I would leave and call the police. I did not need to have a sign in my house saying “strangers not allowed” or to tell this person in advance that I would call the police if s/he entered my house. Usually boundaries need to be said aloud if there’s been a boundary violation. For example, if you are passionate about monitoring what your kids watch on TV and not having it on in the background, yet, your mother always has FOX news or CNN on when they’re there, you get to set a boundary. Find some quiet time and answer the following 6 Boundary Setting Questions before sending your kids to your mom’s house again:
1) What is the boundary violation?
2) What is the boundary I want to set?
3) Start your boundary with a request. “If you…..”
4) Finish with the follow through or consequence: “Then I will…”
5) What do you think the other person’s reaction to be when they hear of your boundary?
6) What will the benefits of establishing this boundary be? Why is that important to you?
Please don’t skip a step as each piece serves a purpose. It’s important to bring consciousness to why you are asking what you’re about to ask and the result you expect. Take the example of your mother. Awareness is the first step to change.
1) What is the violation? Your mom having the TV on.
2) What is the boundary I want to set? I want my mom to not have the TV on when my kids are with her.
3) Start your boundary with a request. “If you have the TV on when my kids are with you,
4) Finish with the follow through or consequence: “Then I will not leave them with you. I don’t want to do this because I respect your relationship with them but I am passionate about controlling what they feed their brain. I am not trying to control your use of the TV, only theirs.”
5) What do you think the other person’s reaction to be when they hear of your boundary? She will not be happy and will probably think I’m overreacting. This piece is important so that you set your expectations. If you skip this step you may think she’ll skip on over and agree with what you’re asking. This is rarely the case. Set your expectations that there will be push back and you will be in a calm place to have the adult conversation about your boundary.
6) What will the benefits of establishing this boundary be? Why is that important to you? The benefits of this boundary will be that my kids will not come home scared or using violent language because of something they’ve seen on TV. This is important to me because I don’t believe it’s necessary to expose my kids to the negative news stream out there. It’s also good to note how, in setting this boundary, your relationship with your mother will be calmer and have less friction. If you’ve been annoyed about the TV but never said anything, or, only threatened action (set the first part of the boundary) resentment builds. Setting clear expectations allows you to have calmer, adult relationships.
I chose this example because I hear many variations of this in my coaching practice. A spouse feeding the kids sugary foods. Your friend not returning your calls. A friend giving your kids extravagant gifts. Your spouse not replying to your texts. A coworker coming into your office every morning to complain about his home life. If they don’t know what you want, they can’t do anything about it. People can’t read our minds. Once you let them know of your boundary, you give them the opportunity to meet you where you are or to move on. Like all relationship communication, it’s important to drop the drama of what the other person is doing. Often we get so worked up about what someone else is doing. What I’d like you to see today is that: If we haven’t verbalized what we want or what we expect, we give away our right to complain about it. Click To Tweet People can’t read our minds. Engage in CCC (clear, concise communication). Act like an adult in your relationships and you will have adult relationships. Speak from a place of compassion, not judgment, and your relationships will thrive. Drop the drama. Your mom isn’t watching TV to harm your kids. They’re not doing it because they’re an evil person. They act the way they act because of them.
Today I ask you to look at your relationships and think of an area where a boundary needs to be set. Start with one small piece of your relationship today and let me know how it goes. Give those around you the opportunity to connect with you deeper. If you need help, this is what I’m awesome at. Please reach out. Relationships are so much better with boundaries. Live really can be grand. You’ve got this warriors.