I've gotten lots of questions in my Ask me Anything column lately related to healthy boundaries in relationships so I thought I'd spend a little time writing more about healthy relationship boundaries for a bit to help clear up a few common misconceptions.
Before diving in below, you might want to read the first installment in this series:
A Common Misunderstanding: Boundaries Aren't Forever
The first thing most people misunderstand is that boundaries aren't permanent. They are always temporary and always shifting.
For example, when you go on a first date you might have certain boundaries (no kissing, no sex, no talking about religion/money/politics) but over time these boundaries will shift or change depending on how the date goes.
If your date goes well and you build trust you might want more affection and will likely talk about deeper more meaningful topics. The boundaries you set on the first date will soften.
If that same date goes poorly or trust isn't built your boundaries might grow or harden (don't call me anymore, blocking them on facebook, avoiding them at work = more rigid boundaries).
Or you might have one boundary in a specific context that is different in other settings. For example, I hug my very close friends hello (and often goodbye) but I don't hug my clients or colleagues hello/goodbye. Or the way I greet someone at a Pride Parade is different than the way I might at a professional conference.
You can probably come up with some great examples of your own changing boundaries depending on the comfort you feel with an individual person and the context where you meet them.
So boundaries shift over time and between contexts. But often when we talk about them we try to think in absolute terms.
We want to think they're a binding contract we'll never need to revisit. But since boundaries change we have to be willing to renegotiate them.
Why am I telling you this?
Knowing that boundaries change can help your relationship in a couple significant ways:
1) You can be more aware of the different contexts, times, and trust levels that soften or harden your boundaries.
2) You might be able to tell people what kinds of behaviors and contexts increase your sense of trust and safety (softening your boundaries) in order to improve relationships.
3) You can practice more self-compassion knowing it is completely normal to have boundaries change, grow, and shift. There's nothing wrong with you.
4) You might be able to communicate when and where your boundaries harden with folks around you so you both know what to expect and what you need.
5) If someone has a hard boundary and it's a challenge for you consider (or even better, ask) what might help them feel safer, more trusting or comfortable in that situation, act, or space with you. I'm not saying try to convince them or wait it out, but use that boundary as a way to connect and get to know them better. There's likely some great learning in there for you.
Having trouble with changing boundaries in relationships?
If you're struggling with this don't worry- lots of people have trouble with boundaries growing and changing over time. Shifting boundaries don't have to be the end of your relationship, but it can be really hard to see a way out if you're on your own.
Please do call me or connect with another professional who has lots of experience with relationships like yours for help. We can usually find a new way forward for the two of you that doesn't entail breaking up.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.
She can help you:
- rediscover passion in long-term relationships
- repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
- open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
- resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
- break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship
Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.