Boundaries are essential to maintain a healthy sense of self when dealing with any kind of connection. Whether it is a romantic relationship, friendship, or a colleague at work. If you have been working on boundaries to improve yourself and your relationships, you may have been wondering: how boundaries affect relationships. This article covers the powerful principles of how boundaries affect relationships. For simplification, the focus is on romantic relationships but the same principles can be applied to any kind of relationship.
What are boundaries?
A boundary is a conceptual limit between you and other people. It basically is knowing what is you and what is not. For example, you like to spend a lot of time with your partner while your partner wants a lot of space. You enjoying indian food and disliking italian, is a boundary. One partner doesn’t want to have children while the other wants a big family of their own. These are all boundaries.
Emotions always tell you where your boundary is. Anytime you have a negative reaction to something, a boundary could have been violated.
Some people fall anywhere on the spectrum of having no boundaries at all and doing what is called people pleasing. Or on the side of having too strong boundaries, feeling like they need to constantly fend for themselves.
Now that boundaries are clear, let’s look at the principles on how boundaries affect relationships.
1. The Compatibility Check
Early on in a relationship boundaries are essential to test the compatibility between two people. By communicating what you want, like, and dislike, the other person gets to know you and vice versa. That functions as a test of whether your relationship is sustainable. To illustrate this better, imagine the following:
You love to go out and party. On nights out you enjoy drinking and flirting and you come home late. Now you start dating a healthy guy who is all about waking up early, doing sports, and getting a good night’s sleep. He doesn’t want you to party so at the beginning of your dating, you are all in for changing yourself. You wake up early, do sports with him, and are so motivated. As time passes, you realize that you miss the wild nights out and start going partying again.
This results in you calling your boyfriend at night to pick you up somewhere and thus him missing out on his workout the next day because he was too tired by the interrupted night. This then creates a lot of conflict between the two of you because of not recognized or communicated boundaries.
In the beginning, it would be best if you set the boundary that you want to go out and party while enjoying a good morning jog with him from time to time. Or him making clear that if you party, he will turn off his phone and not be able to pick you up. Both boundaries, if communicated early, could have enabled a reflection and a deep conversation on compatibility in the relationship.
2. How Boundaries Affect Relationships: Create Deeper Connection
Anytime you set a boundary in a relationship you show parts of yourself. This can result in discovering that you and your partner share the same philosophy or values that lead to the boundary in the first place. Even if that is not the case and the boundary is difficult for the partner to understand, seeing the effort of your partner to respect the boundary can deepen the connection and especially trust between you.
3. Expose Shadow and Heal Trauma
When asking the question of how boundaries affect relationships, you may not immediately think about this principle first but it is very important to keep in mind when working on setting healthy boundaries in relationships.
Whenever someone is triggered by a person having very clear boundaries or just by a specific boundary, it can be that the boundary exposes a person’s shadow. The emotional reaction then functions as a link to a trauma or belief. And this creates the opportunity to integrate that shadow and learn about yourself.
To better understand this let’s look at two examples.
How Boundaries Affect Relationships: Being Triggered By Clear Boundaries
Maybe in your childhood, you learned that it is not ok to have boundaries and that you should always adapt to other people. That way you never learned to set boundaries. Now being with someone who has very clear boundaries can trigger feelings of shame, frustration, anger, or even powerlessness. And instead of blaming or distancing yourself from the other person, you can investigate what these reactions are about. Maybe they show you that you were never allowed to have a sense of self.
Being Triggered By A Specific Boundary
Sometimes a specific boundary can trigger you immensely. When your partner for example askes to have some time for himself, you may sink into a deep state of feeling left alone. Now, this intensity is a sign that there is more to this boundary than just a dislike. Maybe by your partner setting this boundary, your old traumas of being left alone and all by yourself got triggered. This then is an invitation to investigate this emotion of feeling left alone.
The underlying feeling of being left alone is sadness and helplessness and the thought of “I am left alone. I am all by myself” is the meaning you assign to the situation. If you take the opportunity to question this and see where it is rooted, you have the chance to feel better whenever your partner is wanting some space.
The Danger Of Healing Out of Boundaries
People who fall more on the scale of people pleasing can use this knowledge that there can be a shadow to boundaries as a way of not setting boundaries themselves. Using the example from above, maybe it is not ok for you to be alone for a few days and that is a boundary. But knowing that there can be a shadow to boundaries, you try to heal yourself out of the boundary because deep down you think that having a reaction or a different boundary is not ok.
So it is always worth investigating the meaning you assign to situations and looking at the emotion underneath. My general recommendation is to let some time pass whenever you are in an intense emotional reaction.
4. Narcissism Check
Boundaries can be great to filter disrespectful and narcissistic people out of your life. Because whenever you set a boundary with someone, how they react to it says everything about that person. When they react violently to your boundary, even shaming you for having it or trying to argue about it, these people are most likely not good to have around you.
On the other hand, someone who is trying to understand your boundary and looking for ways to make it work is safe to have around because you can be authentic around them.
Boundaries are on the one hand a good filter for people in your life and on the other hand an opportunity to deepen your connection with someone. Knowing this now, you may be wondering how to start setting healthy boundaries. To help you with that, you can book a free coaching call below where you get a step-by-step plan on how to set boundaries.