Inevitably, when I work with couples that have long-standing problems in their relationship, I come across a litany of boundary issues strewn along the way starting from the very beginnings of the relationship. In this particular article, I want to focus on the very specific but essential topic of boundaries. Typically when people think of boundaries, they are actually thinking of cut-offs, or situations in which such a firm wall is put up that it literally cuts off all further communication or connection. For example, “Don’t call me after 9pm,” is a cutoff; the idea being that there will be absolutely no further phone contact after 9pm. Or “I’m so mad at you that I never want to speak to you again.” Again, I think it’s clear that statement is more of a cutoff than an example of appropriate boundary setting.
So, what exactly are boundaries then? The way I see it, boundaries are guidelines that people put in place to allow them to enjoy their lives and relationships better. In this sense then, boundaries are built on internal values. For example, if someone values his or her free time, then they will set boundaries on how many hours they are willing to work. If an individual values their time (and therefore promptness), they will place a boundary on people showing up on time to meetings and appointments. Again, boundaries are based on values. If we are not clear on our values, we will have absolutely no boundaries. If we don’t place a priority on our values and we subordinate them to the values of others, then we will also lack boundaries. SEE MORE ON PAGE2