Today I had a long talk with a friend of mine about a situation he’s experiencing with his girlfriend. Her pre-teen daughter is struggling their relationship. Her way of expressing this frustration is to yell, “You are not cool. We don’t like you!” and other fun rants at the top of her lungs while he is in the house. She will also just hum or sing whenever he makes an attempt to speak.
This is relatively new behavior, and it really shook him up when it happened. It made it even more difficult when his girlfriend completely ignored the behavior, and when he left, upset and angry, the only follow-up message he received was, “It was nice to see you tonight.” No acknowledgement of the behavior, its impact on him, their relationship, or even his relationship with her daughter.
That discussion led us to a discussion about boundaries. Discussing boundaries in my interpersonal relationships has always been a bit difficult for me. Primarily because the way I was raised, I simply wasn’t allowed to have any, or if I did, expressing them was considered a rebellion and was not to be tolerated. But if you are in healthy adult relationships, you should be able to discuss boundaries with your partner. For me being polyamorous and kinky has forced me to step up my game and made me learn to open my mouth, know my boundaries and limits, and be able to speak to them and address them as necessary. (Work in progress!)
In this discussion, I gave him an example of a boundary of mine. I won’t stay in a relationship where the other person frequently yells at me. (And by frequently I mean it won’t take more than once or twice and I will need to disengage.) I know that for me, yelling andloud angry frustrated words, is a trigger. It takes me instantly back to the little girl sitting at the top of the stairs when she was supposed to be asleep, listening to her parents screaming at one another, just before they divorced.
That little girl is slowly and surely gaining her confidence and learning to stand on her own two feet, but in the meantime yelling at me is only going to set us all back, and I just don’t need that kind of interactions in my life. Not to mention the lack of respect and adult communication yelling demonstrates.
My friend expressed his boundary by leaving the situation. He showed that he will not stay in a situation where he is being yelled at and treated disrespectfully, regardless of who was doing the yelling. He discussed it with his girlfriend later and explained that he will treat all similar future interactions in the same way. She understood.
I recognized two truths about boundaries from this situation.
One- a boundary is something you enforce for yourself. You cannot expect someone else to enforce it for you. He didn’t go to his girlfriend and say, you have to make your daughter behave because it bothers me, though he could have. But because this is a boundary, something that he won’t tolerate for his own well being, it is up to him to enforce it, not rely on someone else to enforce. He will walk away if/when it happens again.
Two- “She understood.” That seems so simple, but sometimes what keeps us from expressing a boundary is a fear that the other person won’t accept or understand your limit. We fear that they won’t honor or respect us or our boundary, or worst case, make fun of us or treat us differently once they know. Fear often keeps us from doing things, even things that are intended for self care or self preservation.
But the truth is, most people will respect you for both having and expressing your boundaries. If someone is in an intimate relationship with you and they refuse to accept that you have boundaries, (even if they are not a boundaries they themselves have) whatever that looks like, it might be time to take a closer look. If my friend’s girlfriend hadn’t accepted that he has this boundary, that would have told him a lot about their relationship.
I haven’t purposefully thought about my boundaries in a while. I probably should do that. Maybe even write some of them down. It’s a good reminder of how I want to/need to be treated in order to maintain my mental health, feelings of well being, and sense of safety.
I heard a great podcast from Multiamory recently about boundaries. It’s a good one for people who are just starting to realize they need to be more aware of their own boundaries, for learning to talk to partners about boundaries, or even as a refresher. (FYI- the show notes are not for this episode but I clicked on the podcast and it IS the one I am referring to.)
178 - The Basics of Boundaries
Boundaries are one of the most powerful yet misunderstood tools for having healthy relationships.
- How do you “do” boundaries?
- Is it a difficult or easy discussion to have?
- Why is that?