Boundaries, What exactly are they? and How do we apply them?
Updated: Mar 2
A Boundary can be defined as a limit or line that we set up in order to safeguard our comfort and happiness. Boundaries are things you are comfortable with, as well as attitudes that you’d prefer the people in your life to have when they conduct themselves towards you. There are lots of misconceptions regarding boundaries and what their role is in a relationship. Some partners believe that boundaries are not necessary because they feel that their own partners already know them very well, and can therefore act according to their wants and needs. But all healthy relationships need healthy boundaries that should be clearly communicated, so that each partner can have the opportunity to respect them. We often tend to focus on adjusting to other people and we can forget about our own needs in the process. Setting effective boundaries for ourselves that reflect who we are, and who we aspire to be will help establish healthier boundaries with our partners. When we are not comfortable with something in our relationship and we don’t share our reservations with our partners, resentment is bound to happen.
Here are some of the kinds of boundaries that operate in a relationship:
1. Clear boundaries: A well-functioning relationship has boundaries that are clearly defined. Knowing what you need and what you want to avoid, and communicating it to your partner is the right way to set boundaries in a relationship. When a partner has a problem with a particular behavior, they should let the other person know. When you inform the other person about your boundaries, you expect them to respect them and vice versa. This will help avoid violations that may lead to arguments or even break-ups. Individuals with these boundaries value their opinion the most and will not accept when a person does not agree to their rules.
Persons with clear boundaries should also try their best to accommodate the boundaries of their partner to be able to live in harmony. Some of the characteristics of people who establish clear boundaries include:
They trust their intuition enough to make informed decisions when required
They share contributions and control with their partners
They are ready to seek guidance
They are not afraid to say “No” whenever their boundaries are not respected
2. Diffused boundaries: These are also commonly known as unclear or enmeshed boundaries. People with diffused boundaries lack clear definable boundaries in their relationships. In some cases, diffused boundaries happen when someone struggles to define who they are. This is where codependency happens, when one cannot make his/her own decisions for their well-being.
Codependency is a term used to describe relationships where one partner is psychologically reliant on another person. Being co-dependent is where one partner plans his/her whole life around pleasing the other person. Conflicts arise in this scenario because of the unclear rules of the relationship; one person will feel like they are not being heard, or their needs are not met.
People who use diffused boundaries often display the following traits:
Want others to be in control; they feel they don’t have anything to offer
Will never question the other partner’s authority
Expects the other partner to fill all of their emotional requirements
Will always agree to the other person’s request, regardless of how uncomfortable they are with the demand
or the exact opposite:
Give mixed messages that result in confusion and misunderstanding or conflict
Roles are unclear in the relationship, such as, a child is more of the adult in the relationship with a parent.
3. Rigid boundaries: These are very inflexible boundaries that do not leave room for collaboration when it comes to making decisions together (it’s either you adhere to my way or no way). One partner has no option but to follow the other’s rules and regulations and will always feel bad that their decisions don’t matter. This usually results in conflicts and constant arguments as one partner feels they are being ignored. Rigid boundaries are where one partner predominantly keeps a distance from the other, whether physically or emotionally. A person with rigid boundaries will portray the following characteristics:
May use manipulation or guilt as tools to stay in control
Is unlikely to seek help
They will be upset whenever their plans are opposed
Is overprotective of personal information
Keeps their partner at a distance for fear of rejection
Wants to take control
Boundaries are very crucial for a relationship to thrive, but remember that setting up healthy boundaries takes time. Although healthy boundaries are not easy to achieve, being open with each other and regular practice will see your relationship growing stronger day by day.
Your Therapy Friend,
Sofia Robirosa is the owner of Infinite Therapeutic Services and is a Perinatal & Relationships Expert. She offers individual, couples, and family counseling to individuals seeking to enhance their relationship with their children and significant other. Her private practice is located in Plantation, FL. She attended Nova Southeastern University for both her Bachelor and Master Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy and in Business Administration. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a Perinatal Mental Health Certified Professional, and a Leader in Active Parenting for children and teens. She loves her family, which consists of her husband, daughter and son, and two dogs. Some of her interests outside of work include spending time outdoors, traveling, and dining. Read more about her at: www.plantationcounseling.com and follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/infinitetherapy/