How boundaries will keep your relationship together and your heart from falling out.
No is the most powerful word in the English language. It is the kindest, best, and most versatile utterance in the history of utterances, and only the smartest people know how to use it.
It is mom's cautious hand against our chest, protecting us from oncoming traffic as we cross the street. It's a quick punch in the nose, or a talk to the hand. It can be fast or slow; a bullhorn or whisper, rolling over you like San Francisco fog. It can feel so fucking good to say and sometimes terrible to hear.
If "no" was a russian tea doll, you'd find another word just inside. That word is "boundaries," as essential to our lives as the morning after pill is to ABC's Bachelor Pad.
What if I told you that having good boundaries will improve your sex life, make you happier, healthier, and prevent your relationships from catching lesbian bed death, sexuality notwithstanding?
Anybody with skin knows what a boundary is.
The borders of our skin mark where we end and where everything else begins. We almost always notice when this boundary has been violated because there is blood and pain and vital organs spilling onto the floor of your favorite coffee shop.
In addition to physical boundaries, we also have energetic ones. These are internal guides working to keep us safe and to keep us honest. They convey how much emotional and physical space we need in order to be who we really are, without any pressure from our environment to be different.
Have your ever sponge painted your friend's bedroom only to realize half-way through that you'd rather be getting a pap smear from Edward Scissorhands? Well I have. Did you then resent your friend for having asked you to do this, instead of asking yourself why you didn't say no in the first place? I did.
We often override our boundaries because we're afraid to disappoint others. Or perhaps, because we don't have a clear sense of what we want and who we are in the first place. This makes it next to impossible to communicate our desires and limitations to our partners.
Crappy boundaries signal the death gurgle of your intimate relationships.
A relationship without boundaries is no relationship at all; just a tasteless porridge of confluence and confusion. When we lack a sense of self, we tend to draw it from our partners. We get hooked on the relationship to give us our identity fix, which often leads to the abdication of our personal power, emotional wellbeing, independence, ambitions and self-responsibility. We may even put ourselves in harms way just to save the relationship, as it has become our primary identity provider.
As we develop self-awareness, however, we gain a sense of our truest no's and yeses. Awareness of our boundaries adds a crazy powerful injection of integrity, respect, intimacy, and safety into our relationships. As we grow to understand ourselves, we become better positioned to appreciate our partner's uniqueness. That is, their particular needs, their wants, their keep out signs, and their welcome mats.
Gestalt therapist and author Gary Yontef writes, "The boundary between self and environment must be kept permeable to allow exchanges, yet firm enough for autonomy." Yontef, 1993, p. 141.
If we trust our partner's no's, then we can also trust their yeses.
This is an enormous gift, as we'll no longer fear that they don't really want to order in tonight or take us to that doctor's appointment next week. Best of all, self-awareness, protects us and our partners from our resentment.
And when they offer to sponge paint our bedrooms, we can say thank you.
Here are 5 ways to work the shit out of your boundaries:
1. Check yourself! Breathe. Notice your body, feelings, & emotional state. This is the first, most crucial step to setting healthy boundaries.
2. Remember that "no" is a complete sentence. No need to explain, defend or justify your needs.
3. Be direct, clear and gracious. A picket fence can work just as well as barbed wire.
4. Back up your boundary with action. It might be hard at first, but keep at it.
5. Always, always respect your partners boundaries.
Lonely Forever? No Way.