Many people fear making boundaries will hurt their loved ones, or even cause people to hate them. It is important to distinguish two things:
- When a partner has been harmed
- When a partner simply does not like something
Healthy boundaries will not harm a partner. It does not harm someone if their partner tends to their own needs, refuses to do something they are not comfortable with, is assertive, or has reasonable expectations for themselves and others.
Here are some examples that might help:
- Steph and James are dating. When they are with other people, James frequently talks over Steph and makes sarcastic remarks about her. She finds this upsetting and asks him to stop. This is reasonable to ask, because no one is entitled to make hurtful comments about another person. And, if someone does, the insulted party is not obligated to tolerate it. James does not need to make these comments. It may be a habit he doesn’t realize is upsetting, or he may like to (in which case, Steph should ask why, because enjoying hurting someone is not okay). Either way, if someone truly cares about their partner, they will care about their needs and feelings, and want to hear them talk.
- Normally, Drew drives his girlfriend Elana to work. However, he has to help his grandmother get to a doctor’s appointment one day, and lets Elana know ahead of time he cannot drive so she can make different arrangements. He reminds her a couple of times, but the day comes, and she hasn’t gotten anyone else to pick her up. She says she forgot and asks Drew to drive her. When he says no, she gets angry and says he’s inconsiderate and is putting her in a bad position. It is reasonable for Drew to still say no to Elana, because it is not his responsibility that she forgot to make other arrangements. He has a prior responsibility (which he disclosed long beforehand) to help his grandmother, and would be unfair to neglect her because of his girlfriend’s forgetfulness. Elana is capable of calling a friend, getting a cab, or getting to work late. Any negative consequences are her fault, not Drew’s.
- Nina often pushes Matt to have sex or do sexual activities he is not comfortable with. This is a huge red flag. Sex and related activities are a big deal. Sexual activity is one of the most vulnerable things people can participate in. It involves exposing one’s self physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is a time a couple entrusts themselves to one another, where all insecurities and perceived imperfections shouldn’t matter because of the love and safety of their spouse. Matt’s partner is making this beautiful, sacred activity an unsafe, scary, painful one.* Contrary to what some people may say, sex is not a right or need, and though it is a strong and important desire, no one is entitled to it from anyone. It is reasonable for Matt to say no to Nina when she asks him to do something he is uncomfortable with, and it is reasonable to continue to refuse and even re-evaluate being in that relationship if she persists in pushing him or making manipulative comments. Forced sex is rape, and it is not okay.
It is important to clarify that the boundaries in these situations do not harm the partner, however, a partner may experience the negative consequences of their own actions. They may perceive this as harm from the boundaries, but in doing so, they are misplacing blame to avoid their own responsibility.
A person may be uncomfortable with boundaries if their relationship did not have them before. This is normal, and it does not mean that the boundaries are the issue. Many people dislike going to the doctor, but doctor visits are still an important part of being healthy. The same is true for boundaries.
If a partner becomes passive or openly aggressive at the mention of boundaries, that is their issue–not the issue of the person establishing those boundaries. If they refuse to respect their partner’s limits, that may be a sign they are not presently a healthy person to have a relationship with.
These are just a few of the many myths about boundaries, but they are some of the most common. Hopefully this list has helped clarify a bit of what boundaries are not. In the next post, we will take a look at the basis for boundaries and why they exist.
*At the Pregnancy Care Center of NY, we affirm that sex is safest and best between a man and woman in the context of marriage, as it was created to be.