What are boundaries?
A quick google search brings me to “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around him or her and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.”
And while that’s still relatively understandable… I’d like to simplify it even further.
I define boundaries as your individual ability to say “No”, and hear “No”.
The trouble arises when one or both partners has a difficult time saying no, or saying yes (which is really just saying no to every other option), to something in their relationship.
Difficulty Saying No
Imagine your partner wants to have sex with you and you aren’t in the mood. But instead of telling them “I love you and am very attracted to you, but I’m just not feeling it tonight. There’s too much on my mind and I feel really tense right now”, you have sex with them anyways.
Since you are, in a way, lying to your partner, you may start to resent the sexual act as it’s happening and then project your frustration with your inability to say no on to your partner. You might think to yourself “Why can’t they feel that I’m not into this? Why can’t they read my mind?” And while our partners do often seem to have a better understanding of us than we have of our selves, they are not mind readers.
Expecting your partner to be able to say no on your behalf is unrealistic and damaging.
Difficulty Hearing No
Imagine you want to have sex with your partner and they say that they are not in the mood. You have an infinite number of ways to choose to react in this moment.
On one side of the spectrum you could be 100% fine with it and respond with “No problem at all. I might be imagining it but it seems like you had a tough day at work. Let me know if you want a hand massage/back rub/cup of tea.” It’s worth mentioning that the aforementioned hypothetical statement is not being said with the underlying intention of “If I do this nice thing for them they they’ll have to have sex with me!” but rather the underlying intention of “I love and adore this person and want to make their life a little bit better in any way that I can.”
Someone with a difficult time hearing no from others would hear their partners rejection as a personal affront to them. They would most often either turn into a foot-stomping, whiny child (“Come onnnn… pleeeeeaaaase??? Why not?”) or give their partner the silent treatment (complete with a swift turn-their-back-to-their-partner and a whiplash inducing “Okay, g’night.”)
How Do You Change?
If you have a difficult time saying no to people, give it a shot. Otherwise you’ll be leaking your precious energy to people that might not necessarily deserve it throughout your entire life… and your intimate relationship will be that much more likely to grow pockets of resentment, hurt, and anger.
If you have a difficult time hearing no, then it’s time you started practicing.
Often our inability to say or hear no stems back to our own insecurities. These are insecurities that are worth digging into.
Maybe you don’t say no because you fear that if you show yourself honestly as you are, your friends/colleagues/romantic partner will reject you.
Maybe you dislike hearing no because you assume that they are saying no to you because you are inherently flawed/unattractive/unworthy of them.
As with nearly everything in life, this will come down to a process of awareness (what is the difficult thing and why is it difficult?), behavioural change (how can I learn to handle this differently?), and repetition (am I continuing to execute the new, more helpful behaviour?).
Need help digging into your mind and improving your situation? Let’s chat.
Dedicated to your success,
Ps. If you want to watch a quick video that deep dives into how to set boundaries in your relationships, you can do so here.