I loved your article about manipulation, but you mentioned that good personal boundaries are important in a healthy relationship. Could you explain that in more detail? What do good personal boundaries look like? How do I know if my relationship is healthy?
I am so glad you asked this question, because a lot of people have boundary issues, especially if at any time in your childhood you experienced abuse (of any kind), teasing or any other experience forced upon you. You may subconsciously feel that you can’t say no, set limits or demand better treatment. You may feel you have to take what you get. You may have lost your voice.
When this happens, you may accept inappropriate behavior from others. You may allow someone to make decisions for you. You may feel forced into situations you don’t want to be in. You may have trouble saying no. You may betray your own needs to get approval or love. The problem is that your weak boundaries don't make people love you, they make people lose respect for you.
So, you must constantly evaluate your relationships to make sure they are healthy. Is there room in this relationship for both parties to be themselves and be honored as individuals? Deborah Day said, “Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of any relationship is your responsibility. You do not have to passively accept what is brought to you. You can choose.” I second this. You should never feel stuck with what you are getting. If you aren’t happy, it is your responsibility to explore those feelings and figure out what’s not working for you.
You may need to create some healthy boundaries (limits or rules) to protect yourself from unacceptable behavior. Brainstorm each of these four ideas on a piece of scratch paper and come up with some rules that would honor your rights and needs. Think about ways you have been hurt in the past. What rules might have protected you? (I have included some example boundaries — but you must brainstorm the boundaries needed in your situation.)
People may not …
You can go overboard with boundaries though and get overly protective of yourself. This is also unhealthy in relationships. If your entire focus is on protecting yourself, you won’t give enough love to keep your relationship alive. We are going for balance.
Remember, enforcing boundaries is not about saying you are more important that other people. It is about saying you are as important as other people. You only expect to be treated the way you will also treat others. This is about giving and taking. It is about respecting and caring for yourself and your partner too.
In a healthy relationship both parties have varied interests and give each other room to be who they are. They honor and respect each other’s opinions, even when they are different.
Good boundaries prevent you from becoming too dependent on (or melded into) the other person. You want the person in your life, because you care about and respect that person, but you don’t need him or her. In a healthy relationship, you don’t depend on the other person for your self-esteem.
If you have low self-esteem, and do not have a clear sense of “who you are” and your infinite absolute value, you will often let other people define you, determine your interests, and even your thoughts and emotions. If you struggle with low self-esteem, being pushed around or walked on, you may need to do some work with a coach or counselor to get your power back.
Becoming a stronger person with good boundaries will either be the end of your unhealthy relationship or the beginning of a more healthy one. A healthy partner will respect (and even like) your independence and confidence.
This is the bottom line, “You determine your value and teach the world how to treat you.”
If you don’t protect, defend and care for yourself, you will attract people into your life who don’t do those things either. Real love has to start with a love for self. If you don’t love yourself, then you aren’t capable of a healthy relationship.
That is why the best thing you can do for your relationship is to work on you.
Hope that brings some clarity.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of ldslifecoaching.com and claritypointcoaching.com. She is a life coach and speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.