Relationships are built on our ability to compromise and ‘share nicely’ — and that includes of our time, energy and heart. Being able to do this and do it well (read: sustainably) takes work, and it’s maybe some of the hardest work we can learn to do as living, breathing, relationship-having humans. Its hard because it’s so important — our well-being depends on it. Why don’t we talk about accepting our need for boundaries more?
Here’s the thing: often, I think that what we mean when we say “I’m not good at relationships” is “I haven’t yet figured out how to clarify and articulate my boundaries.” And doing this work is, I believe, actually the key missing part of having a thriving love life / relationship.
How many new relationships have gone down in flames of silent resentment after boundaries are trodden over or disregarded? How often have we just ended things before opening up and talking about it? Or just opted to throw the baby out with the bathwater and ditch the entire thing before getting really honest — with ourselves and with our partners — about the sacred exchange of give and take?
Resentment and guilt are truly wasted emotions. I don’t want to entertain either of them in my love life because they don’t serve me or my partners. I also don’t want to allow anyone else — no matter who they are, to try and make me think that I don’t have my priorities ‘right.’ That’s up to me to decide.
So, how do you master boundaries in relationships? Honestly? For everyone, I want to say, start here: By doing you. Actively. Always.
I love what coach / educator Lianne Raymond said:
“I think of boundaries as being the natural outcome of a person who has grown into a mature, actualized being. Imagine coming to the edge of a river. If the river is full and flowing as you stand there on the riverbank, you’re going to think twice about crossing it. The flowing presence in itself is a natural boundary. Now imagine that the same river has dried up, the riverbed is dry and walkable — you might walk across without even hesitating. It’s the same with people. When they are present and full of themselves in the best possible way, there is no question of invading them, crossing them, and walking over them.”
I love this analogy. Think about it — if we are moving forward with our own lives with a focus on doing us, whatever that may look like, then our path (or life) is not easy to invade. We embody the message, in all we do, that we’re not here to be invaded, we’re here to flow. We’re already flowing. And it’s not personal. I want that for me, and for the partner I attract. It’s mutually beneficial!
As Cheryl Strayed said, “the best, coolest, sanest people on the planet know what boundaries are.” She elaborates: “Fucked-up people will try to tell you otherwise, but boundaries have nothing to do with whether you love someone or not. They are not judgments, punishments, or betrayals. … Boundaries teach people how to treat you, and they teach you how to respect yourself.” (A Glorious Something Else)
We know we can’t wait around for anyone else to ‘complete us’ but, do we permit ourselves to enter into relationships with people who know that, too? Do we look for partners who are visibly flowing in their fullness? Partners who inspire us to also do us, fully? Or, are we just opting for the most accessible? (Shoutout to the peeps who set their discovery preferences to under 5KM on Tinder, I see ya.)
In my own life, I’ve made peace with the fact that at the end of the day, it’s a much better strategy to just work on living my best life already — with or without someone. Or, if you like, do the work of ‘becoming the partner I want to attract.’ This, just moving forward, alone, is a win-win! And like, really, we can help people see new dimensions of themselves, we can help motivate people, we can be there for others — but we can only ever be connectors for people. We can’t be anything more than that, for anyone.
I want my partner to respect my values — freedom and independence, and also love and connection. I want both. I don’t want to sacrifice one for the other. I want someone who enriches my life because they’re actively involved enriching theirs — and they know what they need to be happy.
Here’s a practice to make peace with boundaries — for good:
Articulate your boundaries, and when you do, whether it’s saying no, or ‘I’m not cool with this,’ then don’t allow yourself to be resentful. Instead, choose discomfort over resentment. Don’t talk shit about the situation to another person, don’t go straight to your phone. Just sit in the discomfort. This will remind you that you’re making a choice that’s crucial for your well-being, and ultimately, the health of your relationships.