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Let’s Talk Relationships: Setting and respecting healthy boundaries is crucial

Amy Newshore

For the Recorder

Published: 4/8/2023 9:00:21 AM

Setting boundaries is a life skill that involves setting limits and rules for how people treat us, who we want in our lives and how close we wish to be with others.

To really open our hearts to others, we need to be able to trust that we will be treated well, and that our boundaries will be respected. The need for boundaries applies to any kind of relationship — whether it be with a partner/spouse, friend, relative, coworker, neighbor or others.

Boundaries include both what we let in, and what we let out. They help to protect us from damaging situations such as mistreatment, abuse and harassment. We also can set boundaries for our own behavior, so that we treat others well. If we value kind, respectful communication, we can set a boundary with ourselves not to yell and criticize, even when we are upset.

The quality of our relationships and lives profoundly depends on having intact, healthy boundaries. To know our boundaries and communicate them, we need:

■Self-awareness: “What am I wanting/needing right now?”

■Self-acceptance: “I accept my need to be alone right now, though you’d rather I be with you.”

■Assertiveness: “I’m taking a few minutes for myself right now so that I can calm down.”

Types of boundaries we need

Material: You may be fine with sharing your belongings or even your money at times. But what if you need to set a limit? Can you say “no” to a friend who wants to borrow a piece of clothing, or your car? Do you have rules for your children about your personal items being off limits to play with? How much money is realistic for you to spend on a birthday?

Physical/Sexual: Your body belongs to you! You can prioritize your well-being by listening to your body’s needs. Can you decline an invitation to a family event when feeling unwell? Or ask your partner to be more gentle when massaging your neck? Can you speak up about your sexual desires? Can you tell your partner you would like nonsexual touch and affection? When dating, can you communicate that you would like to take things slowly?

Mental: When we value ourselves, it is only natural to expect respect from others. Relatedly, can you, yourself. say respectfully, “I see it differently” to someone, without telling them they are wrong? When a friend gives you unwanted advice, can you ask them to just listen? When someone is dominating the conversation, can you express that you would like some air time also?

Emotional: If someone is upset about something you have done or said, can you hear their feelings without getting down on yourself? Can you leave a relationship that is not good for you, knowing the other person will be hurt? If your ex keeps calling to yell at you, can you not answer the phone? Can you tell a troubled friend who is texting during work hours that you are not available?

Time: Valuing our time may mean setting limits on how available we can be to others. Can you let someone know that you can only visit for an hour, and keep to that? Can you ask your partner to talk about their concern later, when you will be able to give your full attention? Even if you tend to run late, can you do your best to show up on time for others?

Defining healthy boundaries

To know what healthy boundaries are, it helps to first identify when boundaries are either too rigid, or too loose.

Too rigid: Here we keep others at a distance, appear detached and do not share much about ourselves. We may not ask for support , even when we need it. Privacy may be so important to us that we remain distant in our relationships.

We may feel and express anger more easily than the more vulnerable feelings, such as hurt, sadness, fear or jealousy, which often underlie anger. We often have rigid ideas of “right” and “wrong,” with little tolerance for different points of view.

Too loose: Here we see over-sharing, a difficulty saying “no,” and being over-involved with the problems of others. As “people-pleasers,” we may have more regard for others’ needs and opinions than our own. We may minimize our own needs, give away our personal power to others and accept mistreatment.

We may overly comply with others’ requests or demands, for fear of being rejected if we don’t. We may avoid doing anything that may cause others to feel disappointed, unhappy or angry.

Healthy: When we respect and honor our own feelings and needs, we are more likely to establish healthy boundaries, and to communicate them clearly, calmly and respectfully. In close relationships, healthy boundaries allow “me to be me” and “you to be you.” We do not betray our own values for the sake of the relationship.

We continue with activities that nourish us, even when not shared with our partner. There is no need to over-explain or apologize for setting boundaries. We need not feel responsible for others’ feelings or feel guilty about saying “no.”

Healthy boundaries that we can have with ourselves may include: sticking to a budget; no longer eating when full; limiting the consumption of junk food, coffee and/or alcohol; and reducing time on screens.

Within a relationship, partners may agree to shared boundaries such as: not checking work emails after 8 p.m., taking a break when angry to prevent yelling, speaking up when not wishing to be sexual and enabling each other to have some “me” time.

I am cheering you on to find the clarity and courage to embrace your own healthy boundaries in your life and relationships! They are there for a purpose — perhaps that is to become an even happier you.

Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with nonviolent communication, which serve as the foundation of her work as a relationship coach. For more information, visit her website at coachingbyamy.com.


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