Fluid and clear boundaries change the game. They reduce the stress on our relationships and increase our capacity for self-sufficiency, coordination, and wellbeing. Learning to set healthy boundaries takes time, patience, persistence, and gentleness – the last of which, at least initially, is often a missing ingredient in people's efforts to set boundaries.
When a client named Amanda came to me in distress because her mother-in-law came over and cleaned her house without being asked, she was defensive and shameful. “I feel like my mother-in-law is judging my domestic skills,” she said. "What gives her the right to come to my house and take over?" I told Amanda that it was her responsibility to say no if she felt it was a violation of a boundary. While Amanda was afraid to set a boundary with her mother-in-law because she feared her reaction and hurt her feelings, she told me that she felt empowered by her action.
She also stated that she was gentle and kind to her mother-in-law, and they could both agree that if Amanda needed help, she would ask.
A relationship with healthy boundaries supports independence and interdependence. We become more able to see what is our responsibility and what is the responsibility of others. When we have healthy boundaries, we can easily distinguish between our responsibility in one situation and the contribution of another. We also become clear in our communication and use our voice appropriately.
Eventually, my husband and I understood that compromise didn't necessarily mean compromise. We learned to have clear expectations of our schedules – which also enabled us to be flexible while respecting each other's needs.
Friendly and gentle communication can mean the difference between setting boundaries and creating barriers. Sharing your feelings and desires can be difficult at first, and feelings of guilt and shame can arise. By creating healthy boundaries, you take care of not only yourself but your relationship as well, which benefits both of you.