It could be argued that most relationship problems are a boundary issue in one way or another.
The Guide to Boundaries in Dating and Relationships
Having strong boundaries is one of the cornerstone of non-needy behaviour. Boundaries create emotional health and are created by people with emotional health. It’s something that can be worked on right away. When done right, you’ll begin to notice a difference in emotional stability, self-esteem and confidence.
First off, let’s take a look if you have a boundary issue.
Do You Have a Boundary Issue?
- Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
- Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to “save” people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
- Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
- Do you find yourself far more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for how long you’ve known them?
- In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
- Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
- Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?
If you answered “yes” to even a few of the above, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships.
If you answered a resounding “yes” to most or all of the items above, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships but you also probably have some other personal problems going on in your life.
So, what are boundaries and how do they look like?
What are Boundaries in Dating and Relationships?
Boundaries are defined as NOT taking responsibility for other people’s actions and emotions, whilst taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions.
This also comes with the opposing view Other people should be responsible for their own emotions and choices and NOT responsible for YOUR emotions and choices.
People with poor boundaries typically come in two flavours: those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others and those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions.
Interestingly, these two types of people often end up in relationships together.
My first relationship was like that, in hindsight, it felt like it was us against the world. It felt good at times. However, it was eventually soul sucking and tiring.
Examples of Poor Boundaries:
“You can’t go out with your friends without me. You know how jealous I get. You have to stay home with me.”
“Sorry guys, I can’t stay out late with you guys tonight, my mother gets really angry when I come home late.”
“My boss is an idiot and I am always late to work because he sets ridiculous rules.”
“I can date you, but can you not tell my friend Sarah? She gets really jealous when I have a boyfriend and she doesn’t.”
“If you go out with your friends tonight, I’m not going to give you allowance next month.”
“If you don’t study the subjects as I want you to, I’m not going to pay for it.”
“If you don’t do as I say, you’re not being filial to the family.”
In each scenario, the person is taking responsibility for actions or emotions that aren’t theirs or expecting someone to take responsibility for their actions or emotions.
Having strong boundaries does not mean that you don’t want your partners or friends to be happy. It just means that you can’t decide if your partners or friends are happy or choose to behave in a certain way.
Having strong boundaries means that if you’re unhappy or choose to act in a certain way, you have to take full responsibility for it and not blame your friends or partners they feel or act in other ways.
The Breaker and Fixer Pathology
Years ago, I was enrapt in a relationship that felt great at times, and just dirt shit other times. It was like a rollercoaster ride. It was only years later after reading up boundaries, that I realized that my ex-girlfriend and I had poor boundaries in our relationship. We had pathologies of both the victim and saver, oscillating between both roles at different point of times.
People who tend to feel a need to make their partners happy all the time is often known as the fixer in the relationship. They have a boundary issue. This is because, at the core of it, they’re attempting to decide how their partner act and feel.
There’s the ‘breaker’. Someone who is always creating problems, expecting others to take responsibility for their actions and emotions.
The fixer and breaker commonly end up together in relationships and often lead unstable roller coaster relationships.
The victim creates problems not because there are real problems, but because they believe it will cause them to feel loved. The saver doesn’t save the victim because they actually care about the problem, but because they believe if they fix the problem they will feel loved.
In both cases, the intentions are needy and therefore unattractive and self-sabotaging.
From an attachment theory perspective, victims tend to be anxious-attachment types, and savers tend to be avoidant-attachment types. Both often push away secure-attachment types. More often than not, these types of people are drawn strongly to each other. They also often grown up with parents who each exhibit one of these traits. Hence, their model of a relationship is one based on neediness and piss poor boundaries.
If the victim had really loved the saver, he or she would say, “Look, this is my problem, you don’t have to fix it for me.” That would be actually loving the saver.
The hardest thing for the victim to do in the world is to hold themselves accountable for their feelings and their life rather than others. They’ve spent their whole life believing they must blame others in order to feel any intimacy or love. Hence, letting that go of that is terrifying.
For the saver, the hardest thing to do in the world is to stop fixing other people’s problems and trying to force them to feel happy or satisfied. For them, they’ve spent their whole lives only feeling valued and loved when they were fixing a problem or providing a use to someone, so letting go of this need is terrifying to them as well.
If the saver really wanted to save the victim, the saver would say, “Look, you’re blaming others for your own problems, go deal with it yourself.” That would be actually loving the victim.
This is why the pick up artist community fails with debates on ‘social value’ and ‘bringing value to others’. If you’re going around thinking of always being of value or use to others, not only it’s a form of poor boundaries, it’s also going to tear you apart eventually.
The Boundary Issue in Asian Culture
There’s a perception that children are inherently supposed to be filial to their parents or grandparents. It’s a common cultural Asian cultural narrative to love, respect and trust your parents just because they are your parents and they brought you up. This often expressed in the name of filial piety.
I have a friend to said that he would give in to demanding/ unreasonable requests to his parents just because they are providing for him financially.
That is an unhealthy and toxic relationship dynamic between him and his parents. On one hand, his parents are using money as a means to control their son’s behavior, instead of supporting him financially for school, his pursuits etc. Secondly, he is giving up his self-respect, his honest thoughts, and desires because he’s afraid of not having the money from his parents.
From personal experience in the Singaporean culture, people seem to have this perception that if their parents provide for them financially, they have to give in to their whims and requests, despite their honest thoughts, desires, and beliefs.
If your parents only provide for you financially if you give in to their whims and demands. It’s a conditional relationship and a toxic one. The underlying meaning of the relationship would mean: I only love you if you listen to me. I will only provide for you if you listen to me. There’s no real respect, trust, and communication involved.
It’s a poor form of boundaries.
Some of the people reading this might say: Marcus, you’re such an ingrate for going against the wishes of your parents. You’re Asian yourself and you should be filial to your parents.
Don’t get me wrong, filial piety is a value that should be upheld. It’s just that filial piety should be acted upon as a gift, as opposed to an obligation.
The act of filial piety should be something that’s given unconditionally, rather than demanded or assumed because of cultural or social reasons.
Hey, then what about making sacrifices for people you love? What about going the extra mile for friends? What if my girlfriend wants me to call her daily?
Firstly, sacrifices that are made out of obligation aren’t a genuine sacrifice. True sacrifice only comes in the form of unconditionally, as a gift, with no expectations of return.
Sacrifice is only genuine when you want to do it for someone else, and it’s not something that you should feel obligated to or fear the consequences of not doing it.
This is part of having strong boundaries.
The litmus test if you’re doing it as an inherent sacrifice or if you’re doing it as an obligation is to ask yourself: If you stopped doing that particular behaviour, would it change anything about the relationship?
If no, then that’s a good sign. If yes, then you probably have a boundary issue if your relationship.
Acts of affection are only valid if they’re performed without expectations. So if you’re forced to visit your grandparents every weekend and you secretly hate it. Then you’re not acting out of a genuine sacrifice. However, if you do it because you genuinely love your grandparents and don’t mind, it’s alright.
Cutting a bad friend or a bad girlfriend is easy. It’s as simple as cutting them out from your life or seeing them lesser. Cutting family out, that’s harder. You can’t dump a bad family member, but you can dump a bad girl or boyfriend. Family relationships are usually hardest to deal with.
Someone with strong boundaries isn’t afraid to say no. He’s not afraid to say no, a temper tantrum or getting into an argument. He also understands that he may hurt someone else’s feelings at times, and ultimately can’t control not determine how someone else feels. He also understands that all relationships isn’t made up of either part controlling each other actions or emotions, but two people supporting each other, without judgment nor expectations.
Manson, M. (2015, January 5). The Guide to Strong Boundaries. Retrieved September 5, 2017, from MarkManson.Net: https://markmanson.net/boundaries
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, P. (n.d.). Boundaries . Retrieved from Guide to Psychology : http://www.guidetopsychology.com/boundaries.htm