Boundaries – part 2 – How to…
Morning everyone on this bright, hot and sunny bank holiday weekend (now there’s a sentence you don’t often read about England!).
Last time I wrote about boundaries and pushing back against the lovely horse Aine. Since writing that I’ve realised I haven’t actually said ‘how’ to set boundaries with humans rather than horses! Setting boundaries with children in one thing, and something for another time, the harder thing for me is having boundaries in intimate relationships.
So why the picture of the chair? Well, look at how clearly defined each circle is, how clear each colour is, how starkly it stands out from the white wall behind. Isn’t that part of what makes it pleasing to look at, what makes it interesting?
There is a view that we ‘merge’ in relationships, that we two become one. Actually this is what Transactional Analysis calls ‘symbiosis’ which is what Schiff et al. (1975) called a relationship ‘when two or more individuals behave as though between them they form a whole personality’. Symbiosis is where we give up part of our self in a relationship in order for the relationship to be comfortable and settled, but in the process we lose part of ours self.
- Do you find yourself repeating patterns in your relationships?
One of my symbiotic relationship patterns has been to be the ‘grownup’ in the relationship, the sensible one, the one who makes the decisions, gets the mortgages, doesn’t get too drunk, organises things in advance and takes responsibility for paying bills on time. This has given me a lot of control in a relationship which has made me feel more secure.
Except, and this is a big BUT, I lost the fun part of me, the creative part, the funny part, the free child in me. Also, the ‘security’ I felt, was actually a trap, it kept both of us trapped in our roles and so there was resentment, avoidance and in the end the relationship had to end so that we could both be whole human beings again.
The opposite to a symbiotic relationship is a healthy relationship where ‘The members of a truly differentiated couple are able to experience separation and self-responsibility and to work together and support one another.’ (click here to see the rest of this article).
This isn’t always comfortable or easy as it means speaking in the first person singular ‘I’ and not as a ‘we’ and for some people this is the whole point of being in a relationship, to be a ‘we’, but in this ‘we’ there has to be two ‘I’s.
So, if you look back at the seat, there is a ‘we’ in that all the circles combine to make a seat, but it only works as a design because each circle is so separate. And this is where boundaries come in.
I still struggle with this but the place I have to start is to tune in to what I really want. Not what ‘we’ might want, or what I ‘should’ do, but what I WANT?
- When was the last time you asked yourself what you want?
This could be as simple as one of you wanting to sit and read and the other wanting to watch TV. If you can read when the TV is on then you might decide to do that together. If you need quiet to read then what to do when the other partner wants to watch TV? The symbiotic way would be for one or the other of you to give up what you want to do in order to be together, but where the one who gives up, feels resentful…this tends to then fall into a pattern of ‘what we do at night’.
Instead to raise the issue and say ‘I want to read’, and to listen to ‘I want to watch TV’ and to voice the other need ‘I’d like to have time together’ then opens the floor for discussion and negotiation.
When we clearly state what we want and listen to what the other person wants, it is then possible to find solutions to meeting those needs.
When we miss out the statement of ‘wants’ then we miss out on not only being heard, but hearing. We might be assuming that the other person wants to watch TV because they always do, but what if, they don’t really mind? Without talking about it both sides are left hidden from each other, falling into routines and assumptions.
Asking for what we want means we have to be honest with our self about what we want. Assertiveness demands that we are also honest about how we feel in relation to another person.
Being assertive again asks that we make ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. So instead of saying ‘you make me angry’, I would say ‘when you…(eg went to work without putting the rubbish out), I felt (eg angry), because..(now it hasn’t gone for this week), next time I would like you to (put the bin out). Behind this way of speaking is not only honesty about how we feel, it also taking responsibility for communicating clearly about what you would like to be different.
Radical honesty offers another way of communicating clearly and honestly with another person. There are two key sentences: ‘I resent….’ and ‘I appreciate’.
John Gottman found that successful relationships have a ratio of 7:1 positive statements to negative. So it pays to tell the people in our lives honestly and often what we appreciate about them.
- When was the last time you told someone what you appreciate about them?
- What do you take for granted? How could you stop taking that for granted?
Appreciations which are immediate, heart felt and clear mean that we are building our relationships and investing in them, letting the other person know what we appreciate. Appreciative Inquiry is used in organisational development but is also useful in relationships. It focuses on what is going well and and building on this rather than focusing on what is going wrong and fixing it. What we focus on is what we see, so training ourselves to appreciate each other means we see more to appreciate.
However, ‘I resent..’ is also key to setting boundaries as this communicates clearly and directly what we are feeling and opens up the possibility for discussion. If we have a resentment, we need to state it and then be prepared to invest time and working through the resentment and what comes out of the discussion. You can’t just say ‘I resent..’ and then disappear off to work leaving the other person to fester. ‘I resent ..’ feels scary the first time we use it, but the more we use it the more it becomes only feedback which allows each person to be all of who they are.
- Tune into yourself and your intuition.
- Ask for what you want
- Be honest with yourself about how you feel
- Use assertive language to communicate how you feel
- Practice appreciative inquiry in your relationship
- Use radical honesty statements
None of this is easy when you start using it, and it can all feel very scary. It can also take more time than falling into a comfortable routine can do. The risk of setting boundaries is to find that the other person has different wants and needs which are hard to address and this can take time, honesty and negotiation to address. The risk of not setting boundaries is to fall into a routine based on assumptions and ‘should’s, where you run the risk of losing yourself.
Have a great bank holiday Monday.