Boundaries are very important when dealing with any relationship, and they are especially important in intimate and formerly intimate relationships. Whether it is an ex, a stbx, a partner with whom you are trying to reconcile, or a new relationship after the divorce, learning about one's boundaries can lead to a more satisfying way of being with others, as well as helping to become more comfortable in our own skin.
A boundary is simply the places between what is "me" and what is
"not-me," much like the membrane of a cell or one's skin. Boundaries
help keep others from doing or saying things that are not acceptable.
They also help keep us fro doing or saying things that are unacceptable
to others. Becoming more aware of one's own boundaries generally leads
to becoming more respectful of others' as well. Thus, boundaries help
us become clear about who we are.
Boundaries can be categorized as "external" and "internal."
Our external boundary delimits the physical proximity we allow others -
their distance, whether they can touch us, etc. A healthy external
boundary is firm but flexible. It may be perfectly okay if a friend
touches us on the arm or even gives us a friendly hug; it is probably
not okay for a stranger to do so. It is generally okay to be touched
sexually by an intimate partner, but not by a friend. Even with our
partner an external boundary is important- it just tends to be much
closer in. So even with a partner, an external boundary allows you to
decide if and when it is okay to be sexual. With a healthy external
boundary, I am clear about when another person is violating it and can
take steps to ensure my own integrity.
Our internal boundaries protect our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
They also serve to moderate how we communicate and act towards others.
A healthy internal boundary maintains a clear distinction between
another person's thoughts and feelings and my thoughts and feelings. It
helps me be clear about what is true and not true when I hear criticism
or anger from another, and to not allow in anything that is not true or
real for me. It helps be clear when unacceptable words are being said,
so that steps can be taken to ensure that thoughts and feelings are
Some have nonexistent boundaries and so are unclear about what is "me"
and "not-me." Unacceptable words and actions are allowed by others
without standing up for oneself, in large part because the violation is
not even recognized. And others' boundaries may also not be recognized,
so that their behavior is abusive towards others.
Some have walls instead of boundaries. A wall keeps everything out and
thereby keeps you safe, but does not allow anyone else to be lose
enough to share one's genuine self with.
A healthy boundary is firm and flexible. It allows me to be me, to have
my own thoughts and feelings, and to also share what I chose to with
another. It also allows me to accept another as a distinct separate
person with their own thoughts and feelings. It allows me to be clear
about when my boundary has been crossed, and keeps me from crossing
others. Thus healthy boundaries are the key to true intimacy.
As imperfect humans (or "perfectly imperfect" as Pia Mellody puts it),
most peoples' boundaries are a mixture of the three. In some areas or
with some people there are healthy boundaries, but in others (or with
others) there are either nonexistent boundaries or walls.
A boundary violation is when another person oversteps my boundary - or
when I overstep theirs. Learning another's boundaries is a process, and
it is inevitable that there be minor boundary violations as you get to
know a person and they you. Being clear about one's boundaries helps
the process when you communicate about any violations that are being
done. Also being aware of one's own boundaries helps when learning to
respect the other person's boundaries as well. The ideal time to speak
up is the very first time your boundary has been crossed. Not speaking
up sends a message to the other person that what they are doing is
okay. Over time, resentment will build until it comes out with anger,
recriminations, and blame. However, often the other person had
absolutely no idea that what they were doing was crossing your boundary.
Chronic and ongoing violation of one's boundaries is abusive behavior.
If there is a desire to heal the relationship, then it is effective to
have some kind of negotiation to resolve the problem. If no such
solution can be found, or if there is no desire to find one, then there
may be no other choice but to end the relationship.
The actual act of asserting one's boundary when it has been crossed
when you are not used to doing so can be a tricky matter. The first
step is to recognize what boundaries are in oneself.371d36d75e05eda735858f8e467be99c