Relational Boundaries: Key ingredients
Updated: Feb 5
Boundaries are an essential part of authentic and connected relationships. It can get sticky when you first start setting boundaries, though, which is why boundaries are a part of the work I do with couples in couples therapy. Here are some key ingredients to aim for to set yourself up for boundary setting success:
Say what you mean. It’s okay to be clear and precise. It may feel “nicer” to say things like “I think” “maybe” or “it’d be nice if”.. But that will likely just confuse the person on the receiving end of the boundary. If it’s a boundary, it’s useful for both parties if it’s a clear one.
Get grounded in yourself before you state a boundary. If there is a lot going on for you internally/emotionally that you are blended with or not addressing, the person receiving the boundary may respond more to your affect than the boundary itself.
If you’re stating a limit and what will happen once that limit is reached (this is what a boundary is), the natural consequence is necessary. Without it, it isn’t really a boundary. This is not a punishment; it is you taking care of what you need after having given someone else information about how their actions will inform your choices.
Relational esteem means you are confident when you are setting a boundary that connection persists when relationships have boundaries. You bring a sense of assurance that this boundary will contribute to connection, security, and safety within the relationship. You are relational in the way you set the boundary. The person receiving your boundary will be able to feel it too.
The conversation about follow through often ruffles some feathers and leaves some wondering if boundaries are just ultimatums put in softer terminology. Boundaries and ultimatums are actually completely different things though. The difference is non control. Ultimatums are made from a place of control as an attempt to influence someone into doing what you want them to do. Boundaries are different in that you are detached from the outcome. The person on the receiving end is within their power to make their own choice knowing what the outcome will be if the limit is reached or surpassed. Without non control, boundaries will feel like an ultimatum to the boundary receiver and feelings of resentment are more likely to emerge. With non control, people are within their own power to make their choices, knowing the relational impact.
Self esteem in the context of boundaries means that you are assured within yourself that you deserve to set boundaries, needs, and limits. You bring compassion to the parts of yourself that might experience moments of doubt regarding your deservingness of boundaries, but overall you are centered in the fact that expressing your needs/limits/boundaries is a part of your own wellbeing & the wellbeing of your relationships, and they take priority.