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How to Set Boundaries to Avoid Situationships

BY JEN MAKIN, CMHC


Boundaries are hard. I am the first one to admit this. I continue to navigate them in my own personal life. 


Some people see boundaries as controlling.


BOUNDARIES INVITE


 I’ll never forget when I flew to another state to meet up with a friend I had been close to in junior high school. We were the same age and both married with children, so in a much different place in life. When we saw one another it was like no time had past. We laughed about the old days and made new memories exploring a new city together. 


The second night, she proposed we go clubbing. My stomach churned but I wanted to continue the fun. It was our last night together and dancing would be fun! I had the thought to call my husband. I dialed the number and hit speakerphone. We were giggling as he picked up. I explained what she proposed and he kindly, but firmly, asked me to take him off speaker phone.


I’ll never forget what he said next. 


“Babe, that’s not us. We don’t do that. You wouldn’t want me to go to a club and you can bet that I don’t want you to either. You’re sacred to me and I’m not comfortable with that,” he said in a measured tone.


I hung up and felt peace. I told my friend how my husband felt and she said he was controlling. My head began to spin as she berated me about being a grown woman and being able to make my own decisions. 


We didn’t go clubbing that night and we lost touch.


I’ve reflected on this experience as I’ve taught my clients about boundaries. My husband invited me to join him on a commitment we had made together. His words were a gentle reminder followed up by trust. I then made a decision to not go, but it was always my decision. 


He reminded me of the boundary that we both had set within our marriage and I agreed. I was able to place myself in his shoes and I knew right then and there that I would not be going. Unless someone wanted to get harmed, no one would be looking at or touching my husband but me. 


BOUNDARIES SAY I LOVE YOU


I work with mother-daughter relationships. These relationships can be very complex but they often set the tone within a family dynamic. If a mother and daughter are at odds, it’s more than likely that the family feels the strain. 


As my children will attest, I haven’t always been strong with boundaries. I haven’t always understood that I had the power to set them all along. I teach my clients that there are many different boundaries.


As I sit in session, across from my clients, I begin telling a story:


“Guess what?”

(and the client says, “What?”)


“Every night, I walk by your house. And right when I get there, I have to go to the bathroom. Badly! So, here’s what I am thinking … I am going to put a porta potty in the corner of your yard. Right behind your fence.”


By that time, the client’s eyes are big like an, “Excuse me?” If it's a little one it’s more like, “Ummm…I’ll have to ask my mom and dad.” This always makes me giggle.


I persist.


“It’s bad. Every night … right by your house. I have to go!” 


My client by this time is shaking her head.


We banter a bit back and forth some more then I finally say, “My dear, that is a physical boundary.” They stop in their tracks and, after thinking about it  for a second, say, “Oh …” 


We then break boundaries down.


Physical: space and our bodies

Sexual: private parts on our bodies

Emotional: words and our feelings

Spiritual: our relationship with Deity


PHYSICAL


These are boundaries that are physical, the space around us and within us (our bodies)


SEXUAL


Any boundaries regarding sexual touch, comments or expressions including harassment.


EMOTIONAL 


When feelings and emotions are disrupted, then we know that emotional boundaries are being broken.


SPIRITUAL


Our relationship with Deity is sacred; when someone attempts to get in between, it’s a spiritual boundary.


RELATIONSHIP NOT SITUATIONSHIP


When boundaries aren't clear in relationships, it can go sideways fast.


Questions like:


Are we dating?

Are they dating other people?

Do we say I Love You?


It's important to ask clarifying questions and know where the other person stands within each boundary.


Are they expecting a sexual relationship as things progress? Is that not something you're open to? This needs to be discussed prior to proceeding into a relationship that may be out of the comfort zone of one person.


Does religion or spirituality matter to your boyfriend? This needs to be discussed as things get more serious as they can impact the future in a large way.


SITUATIONSHIPS


Physically, emotionally. All of these are important discussions to have prior, during and as things in the relationship heat up.


If things are discussed, oftentimes one person ends up doing something that they may not have been on board with. It's important to discuss things prior to engaging in behaviors that may or may not be in bounds.


I see this much too much. Women especially don't know ho to set boundaries with the men they are "dating" and may engage in a more physical relationship than they had anticipated due to feeling uncomfortable asking for clarity. So instead of having a hard conversation, they just keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result (definition of insanity.


I want the girls and women around me, loved ones and clients alike, to have healthy and happy relationships. Research and experience informs me that having solid relationships is key. Men respect and reciprocate when boundaries are respected. And if they don't, then you know the answer.


As I've said before: When someone shows you who they are, believe them.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT


Boundaries are very important. Respecting our own and ensuring that we hold others accountable to hold theirs is key. Calling someone a name then saying, “You’re not respecting my boundaries” is not a boundary.


A boundary to set when frustrated isn’t:


“You’re being a (insert curse word here)” 


It is:


“When you ignore me, I feel frustrated. Could you please not ignore me anymore? I appreciate it!”


It’s important to understand the different types of boundaries so we ensure we respect them towards others and vice versa

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