Boundaries Are Rules To Follow: We know how the rules work with driving. Here are a few: Keep your distance. Don’t cut in front of a moving vehicle. When a car stops in front of you, you stop, too. It’s common sense to follow the rules to avoid accidents. Rules make life on the road safer, and you just do it without thinking. It’s common sense, and it’s the law.
People Are Moving Vehicles Without Rules
Human beings don’t drive on roads, however. We all have our own personalities and will and expectations. We’re all raised in different environments and different cultures. We don’t have the same ideas about how to treat each other, and often there is also a double standard when it comes to the treatment of women and children. To confuse the issue even more, some people (both men and women) are more forceful than others about getting their way. And some have been abused as children. That means that the person with the most powerful will and unhealthy role models as a child often sets the tone of what will happen in adulthood. The more easy-going people can find themselves in relationships they can’t control, and in which they have no voice. And the situation can get a lot worse over time. It’s also much harder if you hate confrontation or happen to be a people pleaser.
You Don’t Get A Ticket For Bullying or Hurting Others
It’s not fair, but there are no hard and fast rules for fair treatment or showing respect. Family members push you around. Friends can manipulate you. Spouses can get in your face. When you’re a child, there’s not much you can do about it. Fighting back can lead to trouble, and you can even get physically hurt. Marsha had a husband who always took her birthday checks. She had no say in the matter. How can you take control as an adult if you never did it before? Marsha needed help.
This is for people pleasers who give away their power by being nice, or people who don’t like to fight back. Boundaries are like putting up fences that can’t be crossed. Some examples you might say include:
- You can’t talk to me like that.
- You can’t bully me into doing things I don’t want to do.
- You can’t torture me with jealousy.
- You can’t manipulate me by withholding your love and approval or giving me the silent treatment.
- Or simply: You just can’t be the one who always gets your way.
Changing The Status Quo
It’s hard to change relationships that have been working well for one party but not the other. If you start saying no, the response will almost always be anger. It can get nasty.
Shelley’s son left her forever, and later tried to sue her, after she told him he couldn’t call her at 8AM every morning when she was on her way to work to ask for money or to solve some new crisis. She set a boundary and it didn’t go well for the relationship. Now Shelley is no longer afraid of her son, and while it’s sad, she feels more in control of her life.
June, a bullied bride, told her new husband that it wasn’t going to work out unless he started showing her more respect. He was furious. Didn’t he marry her and provide a home? He was mad, but he loved her and was willing to get counseling to work the problem through. Two years later, he’s a different person, kinder, gentler and thoughtful. Love can do that. But that’s assuming the other person really loves you and has the capacity for change. Not everyone does.
Even with good friends and good husbands and wives, asking for something others don’t want to give can end in furious emails, personal attacks, verbal abuse, angry phone calls. You have options. You can back down and keep the relationship. You can ride the anger out and see if both of you can calm down and find compromise and reason. Or, here’s the big one, you can assess the relationship and see if you really want to keep it. Letting go is one solution.
Setting Boundaries In New Relationships
To establish the kind of relationships that make you feel good, and safe, the crucial first step is to learn about yourself. What do you want, what do you need? When you tell people what you can’t tolerate and mean it you are setting a boundary. Lori wanted a man who was reliable. She met Ben who was almost everything she wanted in a partner. Except he always called at the last minute to change or cancel dates. When she told him how much reliability meant to her and he arrived an hour late to their very next date, she didn’t hesitate to end the relationship.
Take Off The Rose Colored Glasses
How people react to your clearly stated need for respect, calm, kindness, or whatever it is that you have to have to be happy, will determine whether they should go or stay in your life. Setting boundaries is hard. Shelley didn’t want a bitter break with her son. She hopes some day he will return, but her happiness doesn’t depend on it. Lori didn’t want to lose Ben, but she knew who she was and that mattered more. A few months later she met Rick, who was absolutely right for her. They told each other what they were looking for right at the start, and their needs and behavior were a good match.
If you have trouble setting boundaries, check out Recovery Guidance for a free resource to locate mental health professionals near you.