Setting Boundaries

Boundaries help keep you safe in relationships by allowing you to clearly define what is okay and not okay with you. In more serious situations, especially if you are in physical danger, verbal boundaries are not enough.  But, in everyday life, asserting boundaries can be a positive relationship skill that can prevent conflict and long-term resentments.  Asserting boundaries ahead of time helps people understand what you want and how to show up for you.

Here are some simple steps to setting boundaries effectively:

1) Let the other person know how you feel when they do the thing that bothers you. This is your opportunity to share your feelings!

2)  Let them know how you experience their behavior. What meaning do you attribute to their behavior?  This helps the person understand WHY something bothers you.  However, it’s important that you speak from your own experience without blame.

3)  Tell them what you want. This changes depending on the situation, but should be concrete and realistic. People can’t change WHO they are, but they can try to modify their behavior in response to your requests.

4)  Remind them (and yourself!) that you are not in control of their behavior. Even if you want someone to change their actions, there is no way that you can make them change.

5)  Tell them what steps you will take to protect yourself in the future if they continue the specific behavior. This step is the most important! Boundaries don’t work unless there are consequences. In order for this to be effective, you have to take responsibility for your part – following through. The more you follow through, the more people learn how you want to be treated.  It also feels empowering to stand up for yourself by doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

To put it all together, let’s use an example. Say you are feeling upset at a friend who consistently shows up late when you meet up to get dinner. You may need to let your friend know what this brings up for you and how you want to approach plans in the future. A simple boundary could look something like this:

When you show up more than 15 minutes late without contacting me, I feel hurt and angry. The story I tell myself is that you don’t care about me and my time. In the future, it would be great if you could let me know when you are running late ahead of time so that I can adjust my schedule. If you can’t, that’s okay, but in order to take care of myself I will leave the restaurant after 15 minutes if you haven’t arrived and I haven’t heard from you.

If you need to set a boundary, it can be helpful to write it out ahead of time so that you know what you want to say. Even though saying what you want can be uncomfortable at first, it can help bring you closer to the people you love. It is important to note that sometimes setting a verbal boundary may not feel appropriate.  If you can’t say it, practice taking actions to protect yourself in uncomfortable situations (see step 5).

Tips for Cleaning as a Couple

When couples move in together, conflicts inevitably arise. One of the biggest sources of tension I hear about is cleaning. How clean should they keep their space? Who should do what? Here are some tips on how to reframe your expectations about cleaning as a team and how to execute the necessities more gracefully:

1)  Recognize that your partner may have different standards of cleanliness than you do. This may seem obvious, but I often hear people take it personally that their partner leaves dirty dishes in the sink or clothes on the floor. Even though it is not your ideal, your partner is probably not doing it to upset you – they may just have different preferences (and most likely their own set of expectations).

2)  Make requests without criticism. It’s easy to assume that our partners know what bothers us, but often they don’t. Either way, it is helpful to make requests directly to avoid confusion and build respect in your relationship. “Can you please not leave your socks on the floor?” is very different and is received better than a more critical statement like “I hate when you leave your socks on the floor! Who does that, anyway?!” With criticism, the underlying message is “What’s wrong with you?”  Most people do not respond well to criticism and it decreases the likelihood of getting the outcome you want.  Instead, try making a request about what you want the other person to do.  Be specific, pick one thing at a time, and recognize that you are making a request – not a demand.

3)  Pick your battles. There may be a lot of differences in cleaning preferences between you and your partner, but some will seem more important than others. Making requests about those issues first and not everything all at once can ease the transition. There also may be some issues that you can let go of when you adjust to your partner’s differences.

4)  Come up with a cleaning routine that works for both of you. Some couples use a chore chart, some couples take turns. One great method is to set aside time to clean together, each partner doing the tasks they prefer or are of the highest importance to them. It is crucial to find a method that works for both people, so that one partner does not feel resentful if the other takes the lead.

5)  Realize that it’s not always going to be equal. Distribution of labor in a couple is rarely going to be 50/50. One partner might take out the trash more often and the other might do more dishes. That is OKAY!  What is important is that you both feel valued and that you each are committed to working together on the same team.  If the overall cleaning distribution is feeling unequal, it is probably time to reevaluate and start making some requests (see #2 above).

6)  Reward yourself and use praise! After you clean (which, let’s face it, is not all that fun) do something nice as a couple. Also, remember that using positive reinforcement in the form of “thank you’s”, acknowledgement or compliments is often the best way to ensure that your partner will want to heed your requests again!

Compare and Despair

With social media, it is easy to get lost in a spiral of passively watching other people’s lives unfold instead of directly communicating with them.  This often leads us to compare ourselves to others and feel despair as a result.  You may notice who’s getting married, who’s having a baby, getting a promotion, going on a fabulous trip, having a party (that you weren’t invited to), or many other countless events that bring up painful realities in your own life. The result: you feel less than those around you.

Such comparisons can be misleading because social media only displays a snapshot of someone’s life; the best part, the part that they want everyone else to see. Events in people’s lives are influenced by so many factors that it is difficult to compare or judge who is doing things right and if people even have what you want.

Facebook and other social media sites are intended to connect people, to bring them together, but in reality social media can create emotional disconnect in relationships. When we put other people on a pedestal we are distancing ourselves from them – they become bigger than life and we can feel intimidated, maybe even turned off by their seeming prowess in the world.

In essence, people may have life experiences similar to yours, but if you assume they are better than or worse than you, it will be difficult to connect with them. Comparison can lead to competition and jealousy, which keeps people apart. You never know what you will find out about someone if you ask the deeper questions and connect rather than deduce based on observation alone.

Just something to keep in mind on your social media trails…