What's The Big Deal About Boundaries And Why Do Couples Need Them?

Love, Self

Simply put, boundaries are the limits and rules we set for ourselves in relationships. A person with healthy boundaries can say no when they want to, and not feel like they will be risking the closeness they cherish with their partner.

Most of us find it hard to recognize the need for boundaries, and to see where they are required in our relationships. This is because we’re confused about what they are and how they can help us, which leads to resistance in both creating and respecting them.

Why do we resist creating and respecting boundaries?

  • Sometimes we resist them because we feel we’re being selfish by having them.
  • Other times we resist them because we want to have control in a way that isn’t healthy for either of us.

The best way to overcome this resistance though, is to remember that boundaries in relationships are primarily about self-control.

Boundaries are really about you.

When you’re clear about your boundaries, you can see where you end and your partner begins. You can respond to each other rather than react, and you’re in charge of what you will and won’t tolerate. When healthy boundaries are in place, you can stay in the driver’s seat rather than abdicate responsibility, and it is easier to maintain self-control.

Boundaries help us take ownership.

In relationships, good boundaries help us to have a clear sense of who owns important things like feelings, attitudes and behaviors. And when problems come up, they make it is easier to know who the problem belongs to.

The goal is for partners to love and support each other, and also take responsibility for themselves. Boundaries break down when one person tries to take responsibility for or control something that is actually the other person’s responsibility. This often shows up in the guise of ‘helping’ and gets expressed with nagging and controlling behavior.

For example, you might want to make a boundary about the way your partner speaks to you when they get angry. And to accomplish this, you might say to them, in the middle of an argument, “You can’t speak to me like that!” and then be surprised when it doesn’t get the response you were hoping for.

There are two main reasons why this approach has little chance of being effective:

  • Your partner's response is not something you can control
  • Whenever we tell someone what they can’t do, they will almost always feel are trying to control them and resist!

Remember that we want to be setting boundaries on ourselves.  We want to make boundaries so that we won’t be controlled or hurt. So how can we do that in a way that is effective and responsible?

Instead of telling your partner that they can’t speak to you in a certain way, try saying instead something like, “When you speak to me in that way, I’m going to leave the room.” This is a boundary that you can control. It’s about you, rather than them. You maintain control over your boundaries and they have control over their response to it.

Did I mention that this can be challenging to do?

It is! It’s challenging because boundary-making will always unleash lots of emotions. It’s challenging because in order to make them, we need look inside ourselves and take personal responsibility for our complex feelings, rather than blaming our partners and harboring resentment. It takes courage and practice, but it’s worth it.

Relationships should never be used as shortcuts to personal maturity or completeness.

We want to aim for complementing rather than completing each other. Completing another person means trying to make up for their immaturity. This is not the same as helping someone to become their best self. Take some time with your significant other to ponder and discuss the following questions:

  • As a couple, how can we become a stronger we without losing the important me in our relationship?
  • Am I taking ownership of my emotional and spiritual maturity or am I expecting you to?
  • Are there places where we are trying to control something in the relationship that isn’t our responsibility?

Discussing these questions can offer insight by helping you see the areas of strength in your relationship and the areas that may need some work.

The process of developing healthy interdependence is quite possibly the trickiest and most important work a couple will do together.

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So, remember, we build boundaries around us so we can maintain control of what happens to us emotionally. Good boundaries help us to take personal responsibility and to have control over our lives. Ultimately, they allow us to love our partners fully without losing ourselves in the process.

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Expert