Having healthy emotional boundaries means you know what your limits are. It means you know what you need to feel safe and confident in your world. It means you know your standards. It also means that you take full responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions and take NO responsibility for your partner’s thoughts, feelings or actions.
Now, having boundaries and holding boundaries are two different things. The big mistake people make is that they don’t get clear on what their boundaries truly are, so it’s easy to let them get trampled. Today, we’re going to break down first how to figure out your boundaries and then talk about how to hold ‘em!
How to Identify Your Boundaries:
Identifying your boundaries is easier than you might think. It’s basically at the crossroads of where two questions meet:
- What do you need to feel safe and valued? These are your core values which become your standards. This is the thing that, when it’s present, you feel relaxed (anxiety, worry and depression are not present) and at ease in your world. These core values might be things like appreciation, respect, love, willingness, honesty, transparency, openness, laughter, connection, abundance, movement, or any number of other things. Don’t compare this to others. It’s all about you. You want to have just a few core values (let’s say between one and three). Otherwise, you’ll be going crazy trying to keep your boundaries intact.
- When have you mentally or physically left a relationship (this could be a job, partner, etc)? What happened that made you say in your head, “I’m out of here.” Maybe you didn’t quit the job that day, but you started sending out your resume or it’s the day you broke up with a past romantic partner or decided you could never speak to your friend Alex again. This happened because some core value was violated.
This is your core value or values and it’s from here that you create your standards and your boundaries.
What are your standards? What are the things you need to see/feel to know that your partner is meeting your standards?
For example, if your core value is respect then you’d have a standard of being respected consistently. You’d then think of a few specific ways you need to see this in your relationship to know your partner respects you. Not the ways you’d like to see it in your partner, but the way you need to see it.
For example, ways you need to see respect might be:
- They include you in all financial decisions
- They look at you a certain way when you speak to them about what’s important to you
- They treat you a certain way when you’re out with friends (talk you up, tell you how great you look, etc)
- On a day-to-day basis your partner lets you know that you’re important to them
Ways you’d like to see respect are things like your partner:
- Picking up after themselves
- Throwing socks in the hamper
- Bringing you flowers
- Planning romantic trips for you
- Saying “thank you” for what you do around the house or at work
When you don’t get what you need, you end up over-focusing on what you’d like to see. This is too much for you and your partner! It’s too much for you because you end up focusing everywhere and start to see every little thing they do as a sign that they don’t respect you. For your partner it’s too much because they have this huge target and they feel overwhelmed and like they can never do anything right!
You want to write down what your core values and corresponding standards. Then write down your top boundaries (no more than five) for how you need to be treated to know your partner is meeting your standards.
How to Hold Boundaries:
Holding boundaries is a skill! This is not something you’re born with, it’s something you learn in your family or origin. Like any skill, you’ll need to practice to get good at it. So, know that it’s all about practice, practice, practice. Sometimes it’s a good idea to start with something small and build up to the bigger issues. As you practice you’ll become better and more confident at keeping your boundaries.
There are the guiding principles to holding boundaries:
- Identify your standards and make sure they’re high but keep your expectations low.
- Let go of the idea that your partner needs to act a certain way. You can’t control them, you can only control you. This means you can’t be attached to their outcome, only your own.
- Be in loving detachment. Boundary setting and keeping needs to come from love, not from frustration, anger or helplessness. Boundaries come from raised self-esteem, empowerment and confidence. Be loving as you draw your boundaries and lovingly detached from your partner’s reactions. People don’t “come around” because they’re forced. They might act differently, but the underlying issue isn’t solved.
- Know your responses ahead of time so you can act, not react when your partner tramples one of your boundaries. Stop thinking of consequences and, instead, think of responses. When we think of consequences there’s anger there. There’s a power struggle of sorts. This isn’t about having your partner “pay the piper” it’s about them learning to respect your boundaries.
- Goal of vulnerability in the relationship which means you need to start with you and not with the other person “doing what you want.” Be the person you want to see in your relationship.
- Be consistent, no matter what. Do not create a response to someone not keeping your boundary that you’re not going to follow through on.
- Focus on your behavior not your words. Stop talking and start doing. Let your actions speak for themselves. You can tell people your new boundary, but then let your actions do the talking after that. There’s no need to nag or be frustrated. If you’ve set a boundary that you won’t take personal calls at work and your partner calls anyway, don’t be upset: “I told him/her not to call during the day!” Just stop answering the phone.
- Self-awareness is key. If you’re not in your moments, you won’t know if someone is crossing a line or not. You need to get off autopilot and get into the here and now.
- Even if you miss a boundary crossing/violation – you can ALWAYS come back later and say something. Also, just because something has been going on a long time, doesn’t mean you can’t change the rules or ask for what you need now.
- Getting support is always helpful when you’re changing habits. You might start seeing a counselor or use a trusted friend but start to create a support system around drawing and keeping your boundaries.
- Don’t justify or feel a need to explain your boundaries. There’s no argument or dialogue with your partner when it comes to your boundaries. It’s what you need, pure and simple. You just set them and be clear and then it’s up to others to oblige or not. Your job is to hold your partner accountable. If they cross a boundary, there needs to be a response from you (not a consequence – you’re not punishing anyone – this isn’t out of fear, it’s out of love – love for yourself so have a response that’s from that place). And never, ever, apologize for having a boundary.
When you keep your healthy emotional boundaries, you’ll have great benefits including:
- Higher self-esteem, confidence and self-respect
- Being less codependent overall as you separate your thoughts, feelings and needs from your partner’s
- A more loving relationship because you’ll be able to trust and be more vulnerable
- Stronger sense of self and self-identity