Boundaries in any relationship — whether between family or a romantic partnership— are extremely important to maintaining a healthy, happy relationship. That being said, there are logical and illogical ways to set a boundary.
Let’s talk about Joan (a fictional client). Joan is very close with her father who lives in another state. They have always talked frequently, sharing news of their days. Joan recently got married and is beginning her life with her significant other, but Joan’s dad’s (we will call him Joe) calls are getting more frequent and are beginning to cause issues in Joan’s marriage. Joe is calling Joan every morning before she goes to work, waking up others in the home, and every evening. He is hurt when she doesn’t answer and begins to worry if she is ok—sending her multiple texts and calling repeatedly. Joe just loves his daughter and misses her, but Joan is feeling smothered and overwhelmed. She is trying to build a new life with her husband and her dad is making it difficult for her to do that. How should she approach this sticky situation?
Joan could call her dad upset and ask him to stop calling her and stop texting her nonstop. She could ignore her feelings and struggles and keep letting the calls come in, while building resentment against her father. These are opposite sides of the spectrum. One is establishing a boundary but in a major, and hurtful, way. The other is failing to set a boundary at all further harming the relationship.
A more logical way to establish a boundary would be to come up with a happy middle ground. She can explain to her dad that the frequent calls are playing a toll on her marriage and instead offer to call her dad on her way home from work a few times a week. She can explain to him that while she still loves him dearly, and he will always be her dad, she also needs to work on her marriage. By setting a boundary like this she is maintaining the integrity of the relationship. Her dad might be disappointed at this news, but he will likely be able to get over it and understand.
Boundaries are all about protecting yourself, your relationships, and living your happiest, healthiest life. If you need help with establishing a boundary, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who can help to guide you.
Grudges and boundaries can often be perceived as similar — but they are so very different from each other.
Grudges are a form of punishment. It is constantly holding something over another person’s head, not letting them recover for a past failure, it is not accepting that people can grow and learn from mistakes. Grudges are toxic to relationships. We are all human beings, meaning we are all going to do things that others are not ok with at some point or another. When a grudge is established it leaves the other person stuck, unable to recover from that action or actions that injured the relationship in the past. It is a lack of forgiveness and acceptance.
Boundaries are an act of protection for your personal self and the relationship you are in. They are away to help keep the relationship on a positive track so neither partner gets burnt out or overwhelmed by past issues. It involves growth, acceptance, open communication, understanding, and in some cases compromise.
Boundaries are about love
Grudges often lead to burn out because they are established by internalizing strong feelings and not determining solutions to move forward. It is like stepping on a piece of gum and not being able to move forward without that bump on the bottom of your shoe. A boundary is wiping that gum off, accepting the evidence that it was once there, but moving forward without that bump.
Maybe your partner forgot about an important dinner which left you feeling upset and hurt, a grudge would mean you are always bringing it up every time a dinner is planned and you are overwhelmed with worry that he/she/they will forget. A boundary would be telling your significant other how upset you were, finding out what happened to them and why they missed the dinner and then figuring out how to make sure it won’t happen again. Maybe they need a morning reminder, or an alarm on their phone, whatever it is work together to solve the issue rather than tucking it all away. Grow and learn together and you will be making your relationship stronger.
Just because you are in love does not mean you have to let everything go. Love can—and should—involve boundaries. You and your significant other are still two separate people with different needs, wants, expectations. Boundaries are healthy.
Boundaries often have a bad rap. They can be perceived as pushing away the other or creating distance. That is not the case at all, the healthiest of relationships have boundaries. A relationship isn’t a free ride in another person’s life. It does not entitle one person to treat another a certain way. Establishing boundaries can very much be an act of love. It is a way to get deeper in the intimate details of your significant other’s personality and needs. It is opening the doors of communication and being honest with each other.
Boundaries are a way to love yourself
Boundaries are a way to love yourself, to make strides in your life to take care of you and what you need, and they are also a way of loving another. There is the saying “I love you too much to let you act like that.” Think about your children and when you have had to punish them for hitting a sibling, or stealing from a friend— you are establishing a boundary by telling them you are not ok with that. Similar things can happen in a relationship—maybe you have a partner who frequently takes part in unhealthy behaviors or is short-tempered. By communicating with your partner that these behaviors are things you are not comfortable with and you will not stand by and be part of them then you are doing some good for yourself and for your partner. You want to see them live their best life.
We all have limits
We need each other but we all also have limits. A boundary can be as simple as establishing a time to be by yourself. Maybe after work you are stressed and just need to unwind in quiet, so you lock yourself away to watch a few minutes of TV or read a book and you ask your partner to leave you be during that time. Maybe you have a longstanding tradition with a family member that is special and your significant other suddenly wants to be part of it, and you explain that this is something that is important to you and this family member—a tradition of sorts. Maybe its a food that you don’t like and you ask your partner not to prepare that item for you personally any more. Or maybe it is down to how your clothes are folded or a chore around the house is performed. If you are not ok with it, it is ok to tell the other person to leave it be and you will take care of it.
When setting boundaries with your partner be calm, open your heart and mind to what they have to say, and establish greater respect for both yourself and him/her/they. When we keep our mouths shut and just “go with it,” or try to be “above” by not saying anything we are quietly building up resentment that will eventually explode into an argument or even the end of the relationship. Before things get to that point, speak your concerns, let your partner know what you need and acknowledge that they also have needs.
What are some boundaries you have set with a partner?
Some men have a very difficult time confronting and processing emotions. They seem to be able to compartmentalize emotions so as to not carry things with them. It is a nice skill really, they are able to break things down and problem solve.
Of course, not all men have difficulty with emotions. There are exceptions. There are men that do handle emotions well and can empathize with their other halves. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, cavemen were tasked to be the hunters because of their relative stature and built compared to cavewomen. They needed to hunt for their families in order to keep them alive. It became a survival tactic to not let empathy get in the way. If they saw a baby bear they had to kill it for food, otherwise, they risked themselves and their tribes going hungry or starving to death. Empathy equates to death in this context.
Physical & Strategic
Over time, men have evolved to be more physical and strategic rather than emotional and empathetic. Not all men, but many. It is part of who they are. It explains why often times men try to be the “fixers.” You come to them with a problem and they want to try to correct it, rather than just “trying to understand.” It is a common argument from couples— “I can’t read your mind,” “I just want you to tell me that ‘it sucks’ and not try to fix it.” It also explains why many men turn their emotions into a physical response — such as cleaning the garage, fixing a car, exercise, etc.
Most men might ask, “If the problem is solved, then what’s the issue?”
Solving problems is great! The world needs problem solvers. However, problem-solving is different from bonding and connecting. That is why some relationships on the surface appear to be problem-free, but there is no emotional connection. It is not that men don’t feel the same as women; they may experience the same emotions (ie. fear, sadness, anger), it is just that they have different ways of processing these emotions.
So dear men, we need you to step into your emotions and connect with us so we can bond and have better relationships.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are deciding between two guys, then you are not into either of them. A decision like this should be an easy one if you have true feelings.
It is like what Marie Kondo is teaching about the tidying up your home, does this spark joy? If neither guy stands out as one that sparks joy in your life then you shouldn’t be choosing between either. You should be moving on, looking elsewhere.
Look for Joy
The concept is a simple one, if it is not a “hell yes” then it is a “no.” When we are talking about relationships, sharing your time and your life with another, you should feel good about it. It should enhance your life. It shouldn’t be a “well maybe I like this person.” Life is short, too short to not be with the people who light up your world. You should be spending time with people that leave you craving to spend more time with them.
Just because you have someone pining over you, doesn’t mean you have to go for it with them. Think about yourself and what your subconscious is telling you. Listen. Chances are there is a part of you that already knows the right decision and if it has to be a decision at all, then drop it.
Find happiness, the rest will fall into place
There are lots of people out there in the world and you will find the one who makes you feel great in your own skin. I understand the frustration that women get as they struggle to be single and the rush they feel to jump into relationships. But, why waste your time on something that doesn’t make you happy? You shouldn’t be settling because you feel a rush to get married or have children or create that nuclear family, you should be happy. You deserve to be happy. The rest will fall into place.
“I just want someone to love me.” Let’s think about this phrase for a minute. I hear it quite often.
While it might seem harmless on the surface, is it really? It’s true—everyone does want to be loved. Everyone wants to feel cared for, appreciated, and truly madly loved. But this method of thinking about it is dangerous. This thought process could be what is leading some of us into bad relationships.
We are thinking we want this one thing so badly that we are losing touch of the process of connecting with another. We are losing ourselves. We are desperate to be loved by another that we are jumping into any old relationship and staying in it—whether we are happy or not — because we want to feel loved. We want to be loved.
Fill your own bucket
Are you relying on someone else to fill your bucket? What about you? What about your goals, your hopes, and dreams, the stuff that makes you special. You need to work on filling your own bucket and finding that love inside you so you are not so reliant on others. Learn to love yourself. It can be a difficult thing to do but it is crucial to your happiness. The only person you can ever truly rely on in life is yourself. You need to take care of you, to trust in yourself so that you can find that true connection with another.
It is amazing what can happen when we love ourselves. The relationships we get into are healthy ones, they are beneficial to us and truly meaningful. They are not born out of desperation or need but rather true attraction and connection. So rather than relying on others, we need to start relying on ourselves. Fill your bucket. Do what you need to do for you before you go hunting for love.
I understand true love. The intense feelings you can have for another. That whole, complete kind of love. But, I also understand healthy love and the two can look very different.
Emotions vs. Behaviors
There is a big difference between emotions and behaviors. Emotions are what we feel on the inside, while behaviors are our actions. You can be completely head-over-heels in love with a person who treats you bad. It is possible to love a person who abuses you, or knocks you down, or keeps you from forming meaningful friendships.
You can be in a relationship where you and your significant other both love each other very much but insecurities from one or both of you lead you to act in ways that are unhealthy. Things like being jealous, over-protective, or controlling. There are many cases where we enable each other to continue unhealthy behaviors like drugs and alcohol. The list can go on and on.
The bottom line is even if you are in love, you need to be in a healthy relationship. Both parties need to be with people who treat them with respect and allow them to live a meaningful, fulfilling, happy life. Healthy relationships involve communication, give and take, compromise. They are about supporting one another through good times and bad. They are about arguing and learning from those arguments. They are about growth. Often times unhealthy relationships are not able to grow. They can be toxic.
Even the truest of love is not worth it if it is unhealthy. We have to take care of ourselves. This one life is short and we deserve to live our happiest life with a person who understands that means to us. In many cases, counseling can help a couple who might not be behaving the healthiest to develop a new normal. A licensed counselor can provide guidance, tools, and accountability.
Holidays post-divorce are hard for the whole family, especially teenagers who have been used to celebrating as a family-unit their whole lives. Clients frequently come to me this time of the year wondering how they are supposed to help their teens navigate the holidays now that they are no longer with their spouse.
It is understandably a daunting task and one no parent should take lightly. The holidays are an important time. Post-divorce holidays can be a wonderful time to start new traditions and establish a new normal.
I encourage parents to get their teens involved. Ask the tough questions — how do you want to spend the holiday? Maybe they will want to go see a movie, have a special meal, or drive around looking at holiday decorations. What is most important to him/her/they? Maybe it is family cooking/baking, or the church pageant? Whatever it is— work with your teen to create a new normal that they will also enjoy and find special. Maybe they want to ditch the fancy meal and instead order takeout in their pajamas. The possibilities are endless.
The most difficult part of the holidays now is they are a further reminder that things are no longer the same and they never will be. That is hard for anyone to face and can be an extremely emotional time. Working with your teen to create new memories, new events, new traditions will show them that even though things are not the same they can still be special. Your teen needs to see that life will go on and that they will be ok.
As a parent, who is also going through a lot right now, take the time to listen. Hear out your teen. Consider what is most important to them and do your best to show them they matter. Your new normal will take some time to get used to but it has the potential to be just as incredible (if not more) than before.
So often we try to fill the void in our hearts with something. We feel alone, sad like something is missing. We enter relationships with the wrong people. We turn to unhealthy habits like overeating, alcohol, shopping, gambling, or drugs. We are desperately trying to feel whole. In truth, there is only one true thing that can fill that void, one thing that cures our loneliness—its love. But, not love for another or love for a thing, it is love for yourself.
Learn to love yourself
When you learn to love yourself, you are not alone anymore. You don’t need to find a person, a thing, or a vice to cure your loneliness. You just need to dig deep inside and recognize your inner being, all the beautiful things about you. Now I know that for some of you this is a hard thing to accomplish. It is that voice in your head that is always telling you what you did wrong, how you messed up, how bad you look in that shirt, or how much weight you have put on. And to that, I say— stop! Shut that voice down in your head. Stop the negative self-talk. When you tell yourself something over and over you begin to believe it. It is all you can hear.
Go out and live your life
Recognize all the good about yourself. And believe me, there is so much of it. Love yourself for the wonderful human being you are. Love yourself for being uniquely you. Identify your strengths, all the positives and lift yourself up. Cut yourself some slack. None of us are perfect. Stop comparing yourself to others. End your loneliness, and love you. Fill that gap with an appreciation for your life and go out and live it.
You have probably been there at some point or another. Maybe it was a guy you met at a bar, a co-worker or a longtime friend. They asked you to go on a date, you agreed. Next thing you know you are in a relationship that just doesn’t feel right. Why do we do this? Why do we end up in the wrong relationships?
A lot of it has to do with timing. It involves all the other things that are happening in your life at that time. Maybe you are feeling sad/down and not very self-confident and part of you thinks that maybe this relationship will lift you up, but in the end, it makes you feel worse. Maybe you are career-focused, on the up-and-up, and the right guy enters your life but you blow him off. You think you don’t have time for anything else at the moment.
If you are single for a long time you might be at the point where you think any relationship is better than none. Or, maybe you are getting ready to move out of town or go on a long trip and you find yourself smitten. Whatever the circumstances, the reason we end up in relationships is a lot more involved than just our hearts. And, much of the time we don’t see the whole story until later. We get that “aha” moment as we sit down and analyze all the little details.
The best advice I can give for those that frequently get into wrong relationships is to learn from them. Try to identify those factors that are leading you to make these choices. Talking to a counselor may also help to point out some reasons you are having trouble seeing on your own.