Want to Set Boundaries with Love? A Two-Part Post

If you struggle with your most important relationships, people may say that

“You need to set better boundaries and take care of yourself”

But, what does that really mean?

And perhaps more importantly, how do you set a boundary with love  (& not damage your relationship in the process)?

set boundaries, Greenwood Village marriage counselor

Boundaries 101

Boundaries are very important for people to maintain, as without them, you may end up feeling taken advantage of (or worse) by the people around you.

Because you learn about boundaries (and how to set them) through your parents or caregiver, if they struggled to have healthy ones, you may struggle with boundaries too.

What are poor boundaries? What are healthy ones?

Too Rigid:  Boundaries can be too rigid, which may push people away or get in the way of you connecting well with others. You may have a hard time understanding your partner’s perspective.

Too Loose:  Boundaries can be too loose incoming or outgoing.

With loose boundaries incoming, you may feel internal pressure to say yes or take care of others all the time. You may end up feeling resentful in those relationships because your needs take the back seat. Perhaps you eventually explode in anger, or pull away from someone rather than confront the discomfort you feel.

If your boundaries are loose outgoing with others, people experience you as uncomfortable. They might not like how much you share or ask of a relationship. Some people might tell you that you are emotionally needy.

The thing is, to need others and depend upon them is hard wired into all of us. We are social mammals, and we need connection with special others to be healthy. So, being needy is not in itself a bad thing.

We get into trouble, however, when neediness results in negative outcomes for the relationship or for ourselves. Instead of neediness, we like to say that you may be ineffectively dependent on others. Read more about that here.

Just Right:  In a healthy relationship with a secure bond between you, boundaries are often good also. This means you can be close and connected but also feel empowered to communicate your feelings and needs in a way that honors you in your relationship.

The opposite of Poor Boundaries is NOT disconnection

In a healthy relationship, you know you can depend on your partner for a sense of security. In times of need, there is a reliable and consistent response from them.

If something happens between you that feels unwanted, inappropriate, or hurtful to you, healthy boundaries allow you to share this in a loving way, and have a sense that your partner will listen and respond.

We all long for this kind of acceptance, closeness and understanding- to feel loved, appreciated and important in our relationship.

Sounds pretty appealing, right? So, why don’t you set boundaries?

If you struggle with setting boundaries with your partner or others, it could be because:

  • You fear rejection
  • You worry they might think badly of you
  • You want to make them happy (& DON’T like to say things they might not like)
  • You worry about starting a fight

These are really common fears that stop people all the time from sharing what’s really in their hearts.

In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy, we help you talk about those fears and concerns first. If we can make it feel safer, by helping you share your fears (softly and not critically), it will be much easier for you to talk about your hurts and needs with your partner.

Delivery Counts (An Awful Lot!)

However, it can be surprisingly difficult to set boundaries in a way that brings your partner closer to you.

It is really hard to set boundaries in a soft and vulnerable way. So, instead we use negative ways of asking which in turn trigger our partner’s defensiveness and forms a negative cycle.

Read here and here about how you can improve your communication by improving your delivery of your feelings and needs to your partner today.

Stay tuned for the next part of this article about common scenarios in couples where there are poor boundaries (or poor delivery), and how you can talk to your partner if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Need some help to Set Boundaries with love in your relationship?

If you struggle with boundaries in your relationship, we would love to help you sort out if you struggle with a setting your boundaries, with your delivery, or both.

If you feel pretty good about how you reach to your partner in times when you are struggling, but you keep getting a negative response from your partner, then there may be a negative cycle underfoot in your relationship.

With couples counseling, we help couples get out of negative patterns, share their feelings and needs and preserve the relationship that really matters to them.

If you would like help with boundaries in your most important relationships, call us at 303-513-8975, or use our online scheduler to book an appointment today.

Schedule Appointment

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About the Author

Denver Tech Center Counselors specializing in Couples Therapy, Marriage Counseling, Pre-Marital Counseling, and Individual Therapy for Relationship Issues.

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