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.
So to start us off I'm listing the eight myths about boundaries that come up most often in my work. They're super hard to combat because our culture reinforces them in a lot of funny ways (movies, tv, romantic fairytales...)
Holding on to these gets in the way of most of the relationships I see in my couples work. Read on to see if any are holding you back in your own partnerships.
Relationship Boundary Myths:
Boundaries are permanent or forever
Boundaries shift and change depending on the situation and the relationship you have with each person you interact with. So naturally, they change as you learn more about people and about yourself. This is why we have to keep talking about them to keep our relationships healthy.
Boundaries should be the same across the board
Often in relationships, I see people compare the boundaries a partner has with other close friends to those in the relationship. You might have a different set for your boss and your best friend.
This kind of comparison just gets us off track because boundaries aren't the same across the board. Boundaries just don't work that way.
Certain boundaries are to be expected
While there are some boundaries we culturally expect as a norm even these are based on assumption. The more we can clear out assumption and get specific about what our partner needs the more we can really connect with them (and determine if we can respect their boundaries).
Start thinking about which boundaries you take for granted and check in with your partner about them.
Boundaries are mean
Boundaries aren't all about cutting people off or removing them from your life. Boundaries are about getting clear with the people you love about how you can best support each other. It takes real compassion and care to have a loving boundary.
You can't recover from a boundary violation
Many folks come to me after someone has broken trust in a big way in their relationship. Often they've thought one boundary or another was a dealbreaker for them in relationships- but now they're stuck not wanting to break up with a partner who hurt them.
I've been really touched by couples who work through really tough boundary crossing to repair hurt and rebuild trust. You can learn to respect boundaries and change the way you negotiate them- it might just take a little help.
Boundaries are about yes or no
Most of us only think about boundaries when we're pushed to an extreme. So we often think a boundary is all about saying no to something. But boundaries can be much more nuanced- like asking for what we need, stating clear expectations, or asking people to slow down.
Instead of a stoplight with only red and green there is a whole lot of yellow when it comes to boundaries.
You can change someone's boundary
It can be really hard when someone sets a boundary and that means I'm not going to get what I want. I'll be disappointed at best, heartbroken at worst.
And yet if I want to stay close or get closer to that person the only option for me is to respect their boundary as is- without pressuring them to change it. Adding pressure by trying to convince them to change will only push them away, or force them to shift when they're not ready (leading to hurt or resentment later).
Some people are just naturally bad at boundaries
Nope. This is just an excuse. Few of us get any mentoring about boundaries as kids, some people have a much harder time respecting others' boundaries, and some people just don't care. If you have trouble maintaining healthy boundaries or respecting others please call a professional for guidance.
Gina Senarighi offers non-judgmental sex-positive, gender-affirming, LGBTQ relationship support online and in the Pacific Northwest.
She often says, “I love love, in all its forms!”
She’s helped thousands of couples deepen their sexual connection, repair trust, and build sustainable lasting partnerships.
She uses her multi-disciplinary professional training to teach communication skills and help her clients handle conflict with compassion.
Gina has supported many couples experimenting with open relationships based in trust and integrity. If you’re considering polyamory you should check out her online resources here.
Although most of her couples are experimenting with less traditional relationship structures, even her more mainstream clients appreciate her open-minded non-judgmental approach and diverse expertise.