As the old saying goes, “Fences make good neighbors”. Fences help us define our space, our domain. Boundaries, just like fences signify ownership as well as protection of our own property, well-being and interests while respecting and honoring our neighbor’s rights as well. Now consider your spouse, your partner who you have devoted much time, energy, attention, and love. How would setting and implementing boundaries with him / her look and feel for you? Does this seem rather odd, ridiculous, unnecessary, or maybe insulting? What would the purpose or value be for doing such a thing? Emotional boundaries are specific to one’s emotions and psyche indicating there is a real person within the exterior body who has needs, wants, desires, aspirations, hopes, thoughts, and feelings. In your relationship with your spouse or partner, emotional boundaries say, “I love and respect you enough to trust you with my inmost being by defining and communicating who I am and my limitations.”
As you learn to trust and set healthy, appropriate emotional boundaries, you may actually find an increase in your satisfaction with each other.
- You may experience a renewed love and respect for your spouse / partner
- The defensiveness you have been living by may begin to fade
- You may find yourself expressing more self-confidence
- You invite your spouse / partner to be a part of the healthy changes
Emotional boundaries aren’t “brick and mortar” or ones to isolate you from others. They are meant to expand your sense of personal empowerment, emotional well-being, validity, dignity, love and respect within your relationship. But healthy emotional boundaries need your undivided attention.
“Wow”, you may say, “Where do I begin”?
Here are five things you can do:
1. Know thyself or to thy own self be true.
You have value, hopes, an attitude, a mind, emotions, and a will to make choices about you. You have the responsibility to take care of yourself. By knowing you, you help to define where and with who the boundaries will be set. Imagine getting a house with a front porch and yard and setting up a fence just off the porch cutting off most of your yard. That would seem silly wouldn’t it? So also with emotional boundaries. You need to know your own yard…your own self (mind, body, emotions, etc.). When you love someone, it’s often easy to just blend yourself into him or her and lose sight of yourself. However, you are with you 24/7 and if you carry unresolved fear, guilt, shame or perhaps a grudge it affects who you are as a person as well as how you relate in your relationships.
So when you set an emotional boundary you:
- Become honest with yourself
- Ask for reciprocity without being controlled
- Invite encouragement without judgement
- Seek direction with wisdom and clarity
- Practice forgiveness with hope
- Love with purpose and responsibility
2. View emotional boundaries as an expression of love.
When you see your neighbor in her yard grooming the rose bushes, you may admire such lovely flowers. You see how much care and attention she has toward them. You may find yourself walking by one day as she is in her yard and she calls out to you, “Hey, how would you like a dozen fresh cut roses to take home for you and your family”? Would you say your neighbor is showing kindness? Wanting to share her beautiful roses with you? Because these are her roses which she has taken care of, she chooses to extend that beauty to you. The same way with emotional boundaries we care for things that matter. It may feel strange or uncomfortable at first but keep in mind that loving relationships encourage self-care, kindness, love, respect, and healthy choices. As you hold to your boundaries, you invite your spouse / partner to do the same. Boundaries say, “I care enough about you to be honest and straightforward about who I am and how I may share myself with you.” Further, they make evident a sense of maturity, responsibility and a desire to see the relationship thrive.
3. Establish self-control…not spousal control
Boundaries are not meant to manipulate, bully or control the other person in the relationship. They are not about entangling yourself in your spouse’s will or to bend him or her to your will. They are about being honest with each other’s needs, wants, hopes, and even expectations without violence, threat, intimidation, blaming, prompting guilt, or shaming each other. Examine your lives together…how you interact, play, and communicate about simple as well as complex issues. Reflect on how you are (or are not) maintaining a sense of self-control though your spouse / partner may or may not be doing the same. Sit down together and decide what is acceptable and what is not and respond accordingly.
When setting an emotional boundary, use “I” Statements
- For example, if inappropriate sarcasm finds its way into your communication, a healthy emotional boundary may be, “I feel hurt (my own feeling) when you said ‘___________’ (objective observation). I would appreciate if you would speak kindly to me” (request of change or plan of action).
- Remember: Own your own thoughts and feelings, and ask the other person to make changes towards you when their actions (words, behavior) violate or harm you.
- No violence. No disrespect. No put-downs.
- Make your request simple and clear.
4. Exercise emotional empathy.
Once you establish your own boundaries, you may see much more clearly to address your spouse’s values, purposes, needs, wants, hopes, dreams, and well-being. Being your own person: yes! However, look also to the longings of your spouse / partner. Don’t fear abandonment or loss so much that you lose the opportunity to embrace your spouse in love, with respect, in honor. You certainly embrace each other’s own experiences, viewpoints, and goals without passing judgment or becoming defensive. Showing interest, concern, and validation for your partner will go a long way in living out healthy emotional boundaries.
5. Work at emotional boundary setting together.
Remember, the old three-legged race? You both have one leg you each control and then the other one is tied to each other which you both need to control together. When you are not working together in the race it becomes clear and evident as you struggle or even fall trying to get to the finish line. However, when you are, you run in sync with each other.
- Consider not only your own needs but also that of your spouse as well.
- Show love, encourage growth, even when your desires or interests don’t necessarily align.
- Setting boundaries as a couple is a process.
- Be supportive of each other.
- Stick with it.
- Surround yourself with encouraging healthy people.
Are you ready to set boundaries in your relationship yet want some professional input and assistance? Please don’t hesitate to contact us here at Pathways either by phone (520-292-9750) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Feel free to learn more about our counselors here with Pathways.