Did someone ever completely mischaracterize you? Maybe you did something for one reason, and they thought you did it for another. Then when they explained what they thought your reasoning was, you were so confused because that is not what you had in mind at all.

When people protest against boundaries in a relationship, the problems are often like that—based on a misunderstanding of what boundaries are and what they do. Below is one of the most common misunderstandings about boundaries. Over the next several weeks, we will also talk about two more.

Myth 1: Boundaries Are Selfish

Boundaries exist to respect the dignity – the honor and worth – of everyone involved. A definition often used is, “Boundaries show where one person ends and another one begins.”

By supporting boundaries, we acknowledge that:

  • Everyone is different – and that is a good thing!
  • Our differences can complement one another and make the world better.
  • We have the freedom to be who we are.
  • We have the freedom to do things and interact with others.
  • We can impact the world in unique ways.

All of these are good things made possible by understanding that boundaries are real.

Partners can’t complement each other if they don’t realize each person brings something unique to the relationship. They also can’t complement each other of one person needs complete control. Without a person’s freedom to be themselves and do things they want, there’s no way a person can decide to give the gift of their love to another. They also can’t give themselves to another person if they are so focused on trying to please the other person by what they do, without acting as they normally would. Only when we realize that each person is distinct can they bring their different gifts to the world.

Similarly, boundaries help people distinguish between wants and needs. For example, Lucy and Tom are married. Tom is allergic to peanuts – he won’t die if he touches them, but he will break out into painful hives. However, Lucy loves peanut butter – it’s her favorite thing ever – and she always likes having some in the house.

Which is more important? Which is a want and which is a need?

Lucy wanting peanut butter in the house is just that – a want. But Tom needs to stay away from peanut butter for his health. Therefore, it is appropriate for Tom to say that they cannot have peanut butter in the house.

If a person is asking a partner to ignore their own needs to cater to what they want, that’s not okay. And if a partner keeps neglecting their own needs to cater to their partner’s wants, they will break down and won’t be able to give any more. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have.

Overall, boundaries are actually the opposite of selfish. They allow people to flourish both individually and together. Establishing healthy boundaries in a relationship ensures that both partners have the space to tend to their needs, to be themselves and to be loved for that.