Creating Healthy Boundaries in Relationships

girl pissed off hand on chin while partner standing beside looking at her in kitchen
by Blisspot Wellbeing

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

When we are in love or feel very connected to another, it is possible to feel as though we are at one. However to understand what you and your partner need to feel safe and respected, boundaries in a relationship can be important. Enmeshment (where each partner gets mixed up in his or her partner’s emotions) can change a relationship from feeling light and vibrant to feeling heavy and exhausted.

In an enmeshed relationship, there are no clear boundaries defining each other’s emotional worlds and what they feel is acceptable. Each partner props the other up, rather than letting them take responsibility for, experience and work through their emotions in a healthy way.

In a healthy relationship (and this may take time as each partner learns and grows), partners learn to observe their own and their partner’s emotional wounds from a state of loving presence allowing the emotional energy to flow and heal the initial wound, rather than getting mixed up, or enmeshed in it.

In an enmeshed situation, one or both partners takes care of the other, as an adult would care for a child. There is often an expectation that the other person will make you feel loved, rather than knowing and feeling that you are love. Any love from your partner ideally is a bonus to the love that you already feel for yourself and not a necessity. When we have to have another persons love to feel whole or complete, this can make us needy or clingy, as we expect our partner to fulfil our unmet needs.

Relationships are a journey and it can be normal to relate to trying to get another love to fulfil our unmet emotional needs. The good news is that once you are aware of this type of behaviour in yourself you can make a positive change. Most of us may have felt needy or clingy at various stages of our life for certain periods of time. However, looking for your partner to fill the yearning within on an ongoing basis is likely to leave you feeling dissatisfied. It can also be exhausting for your partner to second guess how to fill your needs. This process is not about judging ourselves or our loved ones—it is about learning new skills to set boundaries in our relationship to allow us to connect with our partner in healthy ways.

To move beyond an enmeshed relationship it is important to take the time to understand your inner world and fill any voids within, allowing you to feel emotionally stronger and more whole. From a more solid foundation within yourself, rather than draining your partner with your needs, you will be able to give to your relationship in more life-enhancing, positive ways.

If you see problems with your partner, it can be helpful to take responsibility for how you feel rather than blaming them. Owning your emotions gives you the opportunity to learn more about what your feelings are trying to tell you. Ideally, you take responsibility for your feelings and your partner takes responsibility for theirs. Once you have owned and explored your feelings if your partner is overstepping your boundaries you may need to say something. For example, if they are not doing their share in taking care of your home, you will need to say something. If they put you down in public and it hurts your feelings, you would need to tell them that this is not acceptable to you.

Something to keep in mind that conversations generally end in the way they begin according to relationship expert John Gottman. When you are going to bring up a potentially contentious issue, it is best to do so in a light and easy way. It can be good to use the sandwich technique by genuinely mentioning something positive about your partner—the boundary you would like to set—and finish with something positive. People can so easily feel criticised and if you balance your feedback with the positive your partner is more likely to hear what you are saying. The sandwich techniques will remind your partner that your feedback is well intentioned in the interest of your relationship growing and thriving.

It is usual to want to be in a healthy, happy, balanced relationships.  However, despite our best efforts, we can end up in a relationship that can do us more harm than good. Here is a step-by-step guide that can save a lot of pain and heartache in the long run:

Step by Step Guide

  1. Tune into your intuition, which is beyond your thoughts and feelings. It often whispers to you as a quiet voice within so that is why it can be important to take time to tap into your inner peace within, by meditating or going for a walk in nature, for example. When your mind to be still and free of restless thoughts it is more likely enough to hear what your intuition is saying. Your intuition may be telling you that this relationship is not right for you or that you need to speak up and make some positive change. Your intuition is your internal guidance system, like a GPS, guiding you on your path safely through life.
  2. Give space to yourself or your partner, when either of you has a reaction (that is very strong in emotions disproportionate to the event). Space and time, support the processing of strong and usually uncomfortable feelings so that what is actually going on can be seen more clearly and not through distortion of a reaction. From a place of clarity, it is easier for yourself or your partner to speak in a way that can and will be heard.
  3. Create healthy boundaries by saying what is important to you and when you feel someone is not treating you with respect. Feeling uncomfortable in a relationship can be your intuition telling you that things are not right in the relationship for you. Listen to your intuition and then act by speaking kindly, yet firmly about the behaviour that you are not willing to tolerate and what behaviour does work for you. Of course in a healthy relationship, you will listening to your partner and respect their boundaries too. 
  4. Do not take on, others’ emotions as if you tend to have an open, sensitive, empathetic nature, it is possible to take on others emotions that don’t belong to you—this is called co-dependency. It is possible to be a supportive and empathetic partner without taking on your loved one’s feelings and emotions. Be objective and observe your partners emotions, listening to what they are saying, which will give them a safe space to process and let go of their feelings.
  5. Develop the skills to manage your energy. Observing and accepting your feelings and acting on them from choice rather than reacting, helps you to feel emotionally stable. Sometimes, when you act out your unstable emotions, you can hurt others, and they can react back, hurting you, thus escalating the conflict.
  6. Recognise and address conflict when it is small, in the early phases, as at this stage it is generally easier to resolve. Deal with conflict if possible, by sitting down and discussing it in person as soon as you can.
  7. Practice being in a loving state When you are with others—practice being soft, kind and gentle. Avoid saying contentious things that may create a reaction.

We all want to be in healthy, happy, balanced relationships.  Despite our best efforts, we can end up in a relationship that can do us more harm than good. Here are a few key ways to save yourself a lot of pain and heartache in the long run.

To discover more about relationships see: Love Now eCourse

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