When you purchase or own a home, you know your property lines and limits—what you own and what you don’t. Anyone who crosses those lines without your permission is trespassing.
Boundaries work the same way: They define who we are, and who we aren’t.
My Boundary-less Story
For those who have been reading and following me in my “single for a year” journey (first of all, thank you), secondly, perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned thus far is one key mistake that I’ve been making with ALL my personal relationships—and that is I’m terrible with personal boundaries.
The last three serious relationships were complete failures. I was with one man for almost five years. We had a great relationship for several years. Then, around year four, everything began to change. He started lying, hiding things from me, acting manipulative and disrespectful, and even verbally and physically abusive.
Although I was extremely hurt, I believed in us—wholeheartedly. I chalked it up to just “something that we were going through”. So, I put up with it and pushed through it all for another year, trying to reconcile our differences and work through it. However, no matter what I tried to do or say, he refused to see any of his mistakes or attempt to communicate, make them right, or work through our issues.
I then realized that relationships take two, and it was useless for me to continue to put forth time and energy into something if the other person wasn’t willing. So I chose to walk away and move on.
Several months later, I started seeing someone new. We fell for each pretty quickly, which was both awesome and dangerous. After only several months of dating, he moved into my house with me. Normally I would never rush into living with someone so soon in a relationship, but due to the circumstances our lives at the time, the decision made some sense.
Although I was nervous and hesitant, we talked through it. He said that if I was uncomfortable or if things got tough between us or weren’t working out, he would find another apartment, and that the most important thing was us and our happiness.
So, I took a leap of faith, hoping that in the end it would all work out.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
The first several months were great. We were still in the “honeymoon” phase, so naturally, everything felt wonderful and perfect. However, as time went on, I realized how much he didn’t respect me, or my own property, including the things in my home that I paid for and my property as a whole.
And the worst part? I felt like a mom.
Over time, I became unhappy and uncomfortable in my own home. And the worst part? I felt like a mom. I felt like I had a child rather than a partner. It became clear that he was only concerned about his friends, his things. I was secondary.
Finally, the day came when I suggested we separate and asked him to find his own place. I wasn’t about to be with another man who disrespected me and my home.
Although I still feel bouts of leftover anger from both these relationships, after some serious self reflection, I learned that I am too open, and I love and trust others too easily. And if I had healthy boundaries, neither of those relationships would have reached the unhealthy and unhappy points that they both did.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. How can someone be TOO loving?
I know, because I thought the same thing.
However, I realized that not setting proper boundaries doesn’t allow myself freedom, which isn’t really love.
Why Setting Boundaries is Important
When I described my persistent personal relationship problems to a friend, and knowing that I’m a huge book nerd, she recommended that I read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.
Here are some reasons why setting boundaries is important:
- They allow us to set clear lines of how we want to be treated.
- They protect us from being used, manipulated or violated by others.
- They drive away unhealthy, toxic relationships, or relationships that aren’t right for us.
- They allow us to separate our personal identity, thoughts, feelings, and actions from those of others.
- They allow us to release feelings of guilt or responsibility for others.
- They allows us to maintain our own personal needs.
- They allow us to achieve our own personal freedom.
When others cross our lines, it is our responsibility—and only our responsibility—to stick up for ourselves and defend our boundaries. The only one who is going to protect our freedom, needs, and wellbeing is us.
The Responsibility TO Others vs. FOR Others
One common challenge for boundary-less people is they often feel responsible for others. If someone does something or says something, or reacts a certain way, boundary-less people often feel responsible for others’ feelings or actions.
For example, if something bothers me and I try to discuss and communicate it with another person, such as a friend, family member, or significant other, I have a responsibility to the other person. This means that in my attempt to address an issue, I will consider his or her feelings and take care in selecting the words I use to express my concerns and address the conflict, and also being mindful of the other person’s triggers.
However, how the other person reacts is not my responsibility. If he or she reacts by getting angry, walking away, throwing things, or playing the guilt trip card, then that reaction is on him or her. That is their responsibility—not mine.
I cannot control nor am I responsible for how others behave or react, but I can control my reaction. And I’ve learned to be proactive rather than reactive, and succumbing to others’ angry reactions or behaviors. The more I focus on the pain, anger, and hurt, the less energy I have to focus on my own freedom, happiness, and purpose.
Learning to Say “No” Without the Guilt
I used to be someone who said “yes” to everyone and all the time, even if it meant changing my own plans, rearranging my work schedule, or giving up doing something that I wanted or needed to do that day. I did this because I genuinely care and want to help others, and put others’ needs above my own.
Although there isn’t anything wrong with helping others, I have learned through my boundary-setting study that it is okay to say “no” to others without feeling guilty about it or having to stretch the truth about why. The people who respect my boundaries when I say “no, not today” are the people and healthy relationships I want in my life. I have the power to say “no” or “stop”, and that should ALWAYS be respected.
Respecting Others’ Boundaries
I am an “injury prone” person. For so long I couldn’t figure out why. I learned recently that it is because I don’t respect others’ boundaries, not because I am selfish, but I am easily hurt. For example, if I invite my brother and his girlfriend over on a Saturday night for a campfire and they say, “No, we are just going to stay in tonight”, this was something that I would take personally.
However, rather than seeing this as a personal attack, I need to remember that this is THEIR boundaries. And just like I want others to respect my boundaries, I need to respect others’ boundaries rather than see them as a personal attack.
This is something I have to practice and constantly remind myself, however, this has also recently saved me a lot of pain and heartache.
The Power of Freedom and Living a Full Life
Setting boundaries isn’t always easy, and it takes practice. However, having the right people in your life who respect your boundaries can help you “practice” reinforcing them.
And although I’m still working on this, I have learned that by setting boundaries, I have more freedom, and this has brought me a level happiness that I haven’t experienced in years. Through this “Single for a Year” journey, the only person I’m falling in love with again is myself. I truly love the new and improved person I am becoming.
All in all, life is too short to waste it with people who are toxic, disrespectful, manipulative, and simply poisonous to your self-worth. Additionally, by setting healthy boundaries and protecting them, this is an easy way to make decisions about who should be in your life. If someone crosses a boundary, then they just made the decision for you.
Finally, by letting go of unhealthy relationships, we immediately make room in our lives for new, healthier, and better relationships. This also allows us to live a free and fulfilling life, and bring positive energy into new, rightful relationships.