To have healthy relationships
You must set boundaries
If you’re a child of the 80’s having gone through your teen years circa late 90's/early 2000’s, this article is especially intended for you. We are the generation of non-boundary setting. We flat out don’t know how to do it. It’s not our fault — it’s a skill we were never taught — but it is our responsibility to learn to draw that proverbial line in the sand.
The media that reared us engendered us to believe ridiculous notions; a perfect partner doesn’t need cultivation, he knows what you want — he obsesses over the subtleties of your behavior to decipher your wants and needs. Your only job is to drop hints. For ladies, saying “no” makes you a bitch while for men, hearing “no” means she’s just playing hard to get; and stating your wants/needs in a direct manner makes you selfish.
Oomph. I’m getting a headache.
Me too! It’s no wonder our generation mastered online dating and, with it, created the art of “ghosting.” It allows us to be “safe” behind screens since most of us have no idea how to set boundaries, speak our truth, or deal with confrontation.
But let me be extremely clear.
You will never have healthy relationships until you learn to set and maintain boundaries, and until you learn to respect those bounds set by others. This goes for parents, children, friends, lovers, bosses, housemates, neighbors, doctors— everyone that you maintain any relationship with.
Voicing your needs and limits allows you to love yourself, and respecting the boundaries set by others is the greatest way to demonstrate that you value them for more than how their existence benefits your life.
But if we weren’t taught about boundaries, how do we know when they aren’t being set or honored? Here’s a few examples to help you out:
Boundary setting but not respecting
Parent to child
You have a 6 year old. His name is Toby.
Toby: Mom, can I watch some TV?
Mom: No, you’ve had plenty of TV today. Why don’t you color or play outside, instead? Or you could build with your LEGO.
Toby: That’s not fair! I only got 30 minutes today. I usually get a whole hour!
Mom: Okay, okay. If you’re good for the rest of the day, you can have one more episode after dinner.
The rest of the afternoon, Toby is a terror. He pushes his little brother, refuses to do his school work, makes a mess of the house, and finally, becomes a cold-blooded food-waster when he tosses his dinner to the floor in revulsion. It’s at this point he reminds you that you told him he could have TV time after dinner.
You’re so frustrated and exhausted that you don’t fit the semantics. You turn on the TV for both children, because frankly, you don’t feel like dealing with them any longer and you feel you deserve that evening glass of wine before you begin the bedtime routine.
You’d set a boundary (no more TV), your kid didn’t like that line, and you allowed him to push it back a bit. This would be okay — compromise is a real thing — but ultimately you allowed him to cross the line. You set the condition that if Toby was well behaved, he could have more television. Instead, he was a barbarian all afternoon and you gave him television anyway.
Your kid is six. He’s not expected to respect boundaries. He is fully expected to push them. But as his parent, it is your job to lead by example. Instead of teaching him that “no means no”, or that “maybe” is only “yes” after satisfying certain conditions, you have instead taught him that “no means yes if I want it enough”.
Wait. Are you implying that by not setting boundaries around television with my kid, he might turn into a rapist?
No. I am however being very deliberate in my word choice around “No means no,” because at the end of the day forcing someone into non-consensual sex comes down to not knowing how to respect boundaries. You aren’t raising children. You’re raising future adults. And when it comes to adults, boundaries often revolve around topics much less simple and innocent than TV and bed times.
Woman: Make love to me.
Man: I’d really prefer to just cuddle tonight. I’m not in the mood for sex. Woman: *crying* You don’t find me attractive anymore (alternatively, “What did I do wrong?/Why don’t you love me?”)
I use this example because society leads woman to believe that men are always lascivious and that only women can be pressured into undesired sex.
For the women, I hate to break it to you (actually, I don’t): men do not always want sex, and your whining isn’t going to put him in the mood. Crying about it is also manipulative and frankly, not cool.
And before you get on me for pointing fingers, I use this example because I know this example with extreme intimacy. I often struggle when my partner tells me no, but if he’s not in the mood, he’s not in the mood and my job is to figure out how to not take that personally.
In these moments, try to sever your personal feelings, and maintain compassion. If he wants to cuddle, he still craves physical intimacy, so it’s unlikely you’ve done something “wrong”. Often our craving for sex is only a craving for touch, so you might also find that some simple spooning fulfills your needs. If you undoubtedly want sex, ask if there’s anything you can do to help put him in the mood, or if he’d be willing to…give you a hand. If it’s still a no, well that’s the only reason cucumbers exist. Right?
Boundary setting and respecting
Romantic partners, friends, parents, and children — any comfortable relationship
Woman: *farts loudly*
Man: Could you not do that? It’s disgusting.
Woman: Oh. Thanks for telling me. I’ll try not to do that around you anymore.
Notice I don’t suggest the use of the word “sorry.” The woman hasn’t done anything wrong. This is the first time this man is asking her to cease the act of breaking wind in front of him. She didn’t deliberately disrespect his boundary, because it wasn’t set until after she ripped one, so she really has nothing to apologize for.
For those of you who have figured out that my examples stem from real life, yes, this was a real conversation. I’m very gassy.
Boss and Employee
Boss: I need you to work late. The deadline for that proposal you’ve been working on was pushed up to tomorrow
Employee: Actually, I have a dance class that I take at seven, so I can stay a touch late, but I have to be on the road by 5:45. But I’d be happy to start early tomorrow and get it done.
Boss: Perfect. Thanks for making that happen. I just need it by noon. Employee: Awesome. You’ll have it!
Here, the boss set a boundary — the proposal needs to be done by tomorrow. The employee acknowledged and respected that need, but set boundaries around how he’s willing to meet the boss’ needs. The two compromised and negotiated an agreement that fit within the boundaries both of them set.
So long as the employee does what he said (starts early and gets the project done) then the boundaries were set and respected.
The long and short
We all show and receive love in different ways, thus it’s on us to teach others how we need to be loved. So if you want to be respected and have healthy relationships— it is imperative that you learn to set boundaries.
This is not optional.