Boundaries: A road map or a brick wall

“Boundaries” is a cultural buzzword these days, but do we really understand how important and necessary they are to healthy, thriving and passionate relationships?  Although “passion” and “boundaries” may seem to be a counter-intuitive combination, when we are boundaried in our relationships we actually create a space in which passion can actually be cultivated.  Boundaries serve as a road map to our relationship, our partner and ourselves.  They are not walls to shut our partner out.  By having boundaries and the ability to self-regulate our emotions, we invite our partner to show up authentically in our relationship.

To paraphrase David Schnarch, author of the classic book, Passionate Marriage, the focus of marital improvement shouldn’t necessarily be on how to communicate better.  We are in-fact communicating all of the time whether directly or indirectly, we just don’t like the messages we are hearing.  If we are boundary-less, we tend to depend on our partner to regulate our moods, to validate our self-worth and the idea that we are ok.  If we are unhappy we look at what they ARE or are NOT doing that is “causing” us to be unhappy.

On the other hand when we have healthy boundaries and have learned skills to self-soothe, we can first confront ourselves and improve our inner core before moving outward and confronting our partner.  Think, casting the mote out of your own eye before the beam of your partner.  (if you feel like you have good boundaries, stay tuned for part II as we talk about having too rigid of boundaries where you are actually “walling off” your partner)

In my practice, I often see clients hesitate initially at the idea that boundaries and differentiation could be the answer to their relationship woes.  They come in wanting to be closer to their partner and think that boundaries will continue to keep maintain the distance.  However, imagine if you and your partner have had a stretch of emotional gridlock and continue to have the same fight cycle.  You say “this”, he says “that” and one of you is yelling and the other walks out the door.  This scenario is often triggered by our insecurity and anxiety creating either a fight or flight response.

Ok, now Imagine if you could self-soothe and hold on to yourself in that same argument.  Your partner says what he always says that tends to get your blood boiling, only this time, you take a deep breath, calm yourself a bit and try and hear and see what he is saying.  It doesn’t mean you are approving of what he or she is saying but merely accepting this is their message and your single job in that moment is to hear it.  What do you think the outcome would be?  Do you think it would break the cycle?  Maybe you are still fighting but now your argument has some productive traction instead of destructive unraveling.

One of my favorite articles on creating boundaries in a relationship and being able to self-soothe was written back in 2002 by Martha Beck in Oprah magazine titled, “How to know it’s real love.”  She gives 5 ways to know if you are knee deep in a boundary-less situation.  While wanting to feel intimate and close to your partner is a worthy pursuit, consider how you may be squelching the opportunity for passion by having your partner responsible for your happiness.

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Self Soothing

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