Why healthy boundaries help both in & out of relationships
If you went to purchase shoes that were labeled ON SALE but the salesperson rang them up at full price, what would you do? Most fashionistas wouldn’t hesitate to speak up and get them for the discounted price. But how about if the hot guy you’re dating doesn’t do what he said he was going to do? Will you have your say to him? Or just complain about it to your girlfriends? What you choose to do will reveal how healthy your boundaries are. Healthy boundaries are the key to successful relationships.
Having healthy boundaries means knowing your inner feelings, wants, needs and limits; and fulfilling and enforcing them without hurting others. It’s not just that you stand up for yourself, but how and when you do that makes all the difference.
A common problem is underdeveloped boundaries. Lack of impulse control and being an “open book” are two of the biggest mistakes. It’s not necessary (and sometimes inappropriate) to disclose every desire or need you feel. That’s being needy and it ruins a lot of relationships. An empowered person will try to meet his or her own needs first. And only ask for help with issues he or she can’t fix.
It’s most effective if you know what your own insecurities are. If your guy didn’t call when you wanted him to, before you complain and/or start an argument do a gut check to see what you’re really feeling. Does he know how often you want him to call? Does he give you a reason to suspect him of cheating? If either answer is no then you should try to comfort yourself and wait until the next time you speak to him. Giving him space is good for both of you. But if you think he just doesn’t care then make a list of all the reasons you feel unloved. If more of the problems stem from your insecurity than from his actions then you’re the one that needs to do some changing.
On the other hand, if you never speak up about your needs then your boundaries are overdeveloped. Does it feel too uncomfortable to tell someone, especially a lover, what you think and feel? Is feeling vulnerable too frightening? No one can give you what you want if they don’t know what it is. It doesn’t matter how much he loves you, he still can’t read your mind, and he shouldn’t have to.
You have to teach people how you want to be treated. You’ll usually get what you want if you take responsibility for yourself and keep your desires realistic. Calmly ask for what you want and never tolerate anything you don’t like. Yelling, blaming or manipulating will never help your cause. But healthy boundaries will tell you when to just walk away.
When you’re just starting a relationship a good guide to live by is less is more. Don’t expect to be in constant communication. And never reveal personal details about yourself until you have established trust from the person you’re telling. What might seem innocent to you could be a huge red flag to him or her.
I wrote this column for Running With Heels.
Learn more about creating a healthy relationship and enforcing healthy boundaries in my book Giving Up Junk-Food Relationships: Recipes for Healthy Choices.