Having boundaries is so, so important.
Boundaries in relationships are certainly a hot topic lately, but it also seems to be this ever-elusive concept.
While boundaries are incredibly important to the success of any healthy relationship, most people seem completely at a loss for how to maintain any kind of boundary from one moment to the next. And since life is ever-evolving, relationships inevitably change as well.
In order for relationships to evolve and transcend each challenge (rather than devolve and wither away), the setting and maintaining of boundaries need to be at the forefront.
If you’re in the beginning of a relationship, the most important thing you can do is sit down and write out your non-negotiables — your ultimate wants and needs. This is why boundaries are necessary, to ensure that your wants and needs are being met and that your uncrossable lines are not being crossed.
Now, even if you are well into your relationship, it’s a good idea to sit down and do this too. And several times a year. Remember, life is ever-evolving.
Then of course, once you’re clear on what you want and need, you have to vocalize this to your partner. Your partner needs to know that every time the cooking, cleaning, dishes, laundry are all left on you, it makes you feel like a 1950’s housewife and not the smart, educated, strong woman that you are.
Your partner needs to know that when they say they’re going to be home at a certain time and are always late that it makes you feel less important, irrelevant, and disrespected.
Sitting down and calmly making your points clear creates a strong foundation for a healthy relationship. When you give your wants and needs air time, you are setting boundaries.
Voila! Just like that!
So now you’re feeling pretty good, you’ve taken the time to figure out what you want and need to feel loved, valued, and appreciated in your partnership, and you’ve even gone ahead and told your partner — you are on a roll!
But what happens when one of your vocalized boundaries is crossed?
This is where people come undone. I can’t even begin to tell you how many conversations I’ve had that go something like this:
Me: Have you told her that it really bothers you when she does X?
Them: Yes, I have, but she still does it!
Me: When is the last time that you really sat down and explained to him how it makes you feel when he does that?
Them: I don’t know, but I know that I have before.
At this point I like to commend whomever it is I’m talking with for actually vocalizing their wants and needs with their partner at all (so many never even reach this step!), but then I remind them that we’re all human.
So what? Well, it means we aren’t perfect and we can’t change overnight.
Let’s go back to school for a minute. Most likely your high school English teacher really wanted you to write a great essay and even told you what you needed to do to get that A. Does that mean that you got an A on your first paper? Probably not.
Instead, it took repeat reminders, editing, and revisions, before you were really clear on what your teacher wanted and needed from you to get a good grade.
This is the exact same process for setting and maintaining boundaries in relationships.
Verbalizing your wants and needs is the first step. It’s a hard first step, but it’s only the first step. The work doesn’t stop there.
If you want your boundaries to be maintained, you have to revisit them from time to time. And you have to ask:
- Does it feel like your partner heard you and is making appropriate adjustments?
- Does it feel like you did a good job explaining your needs and wants?
- Does if feel like your partner is trying but you are still feeling violated?
If you feel heard and that your partner made appropriate adjustments, you’re probably in good shape and can continue on your boundary-set ways.
If you aren’t sure that you communicated your boundaries well, you better sit down and revisit those boundaries with your partner again (just like in school, sometimes we need several approaches before we understand the content, so this is completely normal and totally ok).
If you feel like your partner is trying but it’s just not cutting it for you, it’s likely time to revise the boundaries you’ve set.
Maybe what you thought was the issue, wasn’t really the issue. So your partner might have gone ahead and truly tried to do the things you said you wanted, but you’re still not feeling loved, valued, and appreciated. Maybe you need to set new boundaries. Maybe you need to be clearer, more specific, and more direct.
The revision process is different for everyone and it truly is trial and error. You don’t know what’s going to work and feel good for both of you until you try.
Which brings me to the last piece of this puzzle, reestablishing your boundaries. Once you’ve sat for a good long while in your revision stage (whether solo or with you partner), you’ve got to reestablish the boundaries.
What does this mean? It’s basically going back to that big first step: giving air time to the new boundaries set.
Think of the recycling symbol. Each phase leads into the continuation of the next. That’s what a cycle is and the key to maintaining boundaries is truly a cyclical process.
Remember, relationships are ever-evolving, which means our work here is never done. We continually need to check-in with our partners and see how we’re doing.
In every stage of life our needs and wants are different, and sometimes our relationship climate changes rapidly. This is why it’s so critical to the health and development of our partnerships that we revisit, revise, and reestablish our boundaries regularly.
This guest article originally appeared on YourTango.com: 3 Things People With HEALTHY Relationship Boundaries Do To Keep The Upper Hand.