Limits are Necessary in Relationships
BY ANITA MARTIN
Limits, otherwise referred to as boundaries, are an important part of healthy relationships. They separate individual identities, protect an individual’s sacred space, and define the relationship. Without boundaries, we may become vulnerable to unhealthy relationships. Why? The simplest answer is we are unable to notice where each person begins and ends. One’s self-identity may become fused with his or her partner’s identity. The inability to notice a distinct separation between two individuals can lead to emotional entanglement. Once a relationship becomes enmeshed, establishing and maintaining unfamiliar limits can destabilize the partnership.
When I was first introduced to the concept of personal boundaries, I learned that my thoughts, feelings, and choices belong solely to me. In time, I realized I was under no obligation to share these intimate parts of myself with anyone and that it was my choice if and when I did reveal them. Optimally, sharing occurs within mutually respectful relationships where trust has been developed for both individuals. Boundaries are personally empowering whereas fused identities create confusion and increase indecisiveness. When a relationship is enmeshed, the ability to see realistically becomes clouded and hidden. Clarity may seem impossible.
Boundaries are meant to be adjustable, not rigid. If an intrusive person is too involved in your life, firm limits may be required. However, as time passes, perhaps this person earns your trust. Once you become comfortable that they are indeed trustworthy, you can loosen the boundaries. Likewise, if they become more disruptive to your life, you can strengthen your limits.
So, why are boundaries necessary? Have you ever met someone with the hope of friendship, but quickly find him or her an overly involved and demanding part of your life? Maybe a family member expects you to be available at a moment’s notice regardless of your responsibilities. Or perhaps your new boyfriend gets too serious and possessive seemingly overnight? These are warning signs to you. And, they mean you should consider setting limits, but it’s your choice what those limits may be and how involved people become in your life. Those choices belong only to you.
The world of online self-expression has increased our ability to maintain connections across the globe. However, it has also reduced natural boundaries that are part of face to face interactions. Often, people share too much personal information in public forums. Be mindful of your online presence, especially if you have a history of abusive or toxic relationships. Make sure the people in your life are supportive of your autonomy and respectful of your emotional, financial, and physical resources.
A word to sensitive, introverted, and empathic individuals: boundaries are particularly important for you. The way you relate to the world is unique and can leave you feeling more vulnerable. It can be difficult to separate yourself from the unfolding environment. The ability to feel, absorb, and deeply experience what is happening around you is the catalyst for the empathy you bring to the world. Understanding yourself and your needs will help define the people and settings that are most healthy for you.
The ability to set appropriate boundaries in our relationships may be uncomfortable in the beginning. In time, your relationships will become healthier, more respectful, more peaceful, and ultimately more meaningful.