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Why Every Relationship Needs Healthy Boundaries

Why Every Relationship Needs Healthy Boundaries

We all have relationships in our lives, whether it’s with our family, friends, partners, coworkers or even ourselves. But how often do we think about the boundaries that we set in these relationships? Even in the healthiest of relationships, we establish boundaries to protect ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Relationship expert and counselor Debra Fileta knows the importance of boundaries in any and every relationship. She sat down with us to talk about what boundaries look like in all areas of our lives, some common misconceptions about boundaries, and how we can become better humans by sticking to them.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

What exactly are boundaries, and why do we need them?

So the thing about boundaries is I really believe that a lot of people have it backwards. Sometimes people think that boundaries are the thing that we tell people to stop doing. I want you to do this or I want you to stop doing this or I don’t want you to call me at 4 a.m. anymore. You know, I’m setting a boundary. But here’s the thing — that’s not boundaries. That’s control.

You can’t force people into what you want them to do or not do. You can ask your friend not to call you at 4 a.m. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to call you at 4 a.m. So the boundary isn’t actually what you tell people to do. The boundary is how you’re going to respond to what people do.

A boundary isn’t about what you’re telling them to do, it’s about what you’re going to do. So for example, it isn’t, “Hey, I don’t want you to call me at 4 a.m. anymore.” But it’s not that you can’t share your needs and your emotions and your desires. Instead, the actual boundary is asking yourself what are you going to do as a response? And the response is you’re going to have your phone off. You’re not going to pick up. You’re going to put your phone on, do not disturb. And you’re not going to respond to them at that time of day.

So the boundary is not about what you tell people to do or not do. It’s about what you’re going to do in response, how you’re going to live your life in response, how you’re going to react and interact with people. Because the only thing you can control is yourself.

Is there a way to convey boundaries in a healthy way that’s not setting expectations or setting control?

I think it’s important to tell people how you feel and what you need, especially in a healthy relationship. In my relationship with my husband, I’m constantly telling him how I’m feeling and what I need from him, but that’s the difference. The focus of that conversation is how I feel and how I’m responding to what he’s doing, what it’s doing to impact me. “Here’s what you’re doing and what you’re saying is making me feel,” rather than the conversation of, “here’s what I need you to do.” That’s not going to be as effective as telling somebody what’s going on inside of you and sharing what you need and sharing your expectations and your desires.

And a lot of that is the difference between I statements and you statements. Here’s what you need to do. Here’s what you need to stop doing. Here’s how you are impacting me. Instead, try here’s what I’m feeling and here’s what’s going on inside of me and here’s what I could use from you. It’s all about sharing what you need in a healthy way.

Oftentimes in cases where we have to set boundaries, usually we know we have to set a boundary when we see an area of our life that’s not working. It could be in a relationship, it could be at work, it could be with my schedule. Something’s not working and that’s where we need to set a boundary. But often when we set boundaries in relationship, we gauge the effectiveness of the boundary by the person’s response. If they feel good about it, I feel good about it. If their feelings are hurt. then I start feeling confused. Did I actually set the right boundary? Should I have done that?

But here’s the thing, if it’s not a healthy relationship and we’re using the person as the measuring stick, their reaction isn’t necessarily going to be healthy because they’re not a healthy person. So we can’t base the effectiveness of our boundary on the reaction of the person. In fact, oftentimes when you start setting boundaries for the first time you are going to get pushback.

So we can’t base the effectiveness of our boundary on the reaction of the person because that kind of defeats the point. In fact, the reason we’re setting that boundary is most likely because that person is not healthy or helpful in our life.

How can we identify areas that we might need to reassess and set up some boundaries?

Our emotions are the greatest indicator of the boundaries that we need to set. And oftentimes we’re not that in tune to our emotions because I think Christians especially like to tone down our emotions. They have this idea that “feelings are not faith and I choose faith over feelings.” But that doesn’t mean we disregard our feelings, right? Our feelings aren’t always accurate, but they are revealing. Our feelings are a signal.

They are revealing to us, hey, you need to stop and pay attention. The feeling of frustration, the feeling of irritability, the feelings of resentment or depression or anxiety — they’re not bad feelings. What they are is your body signaling to you, hey, there’s something going on here that you need to pay attention to. More than likely it has to do with setting a boundary with somebody or something in your workplace, in your life, in your home, with your children, with your partner, with your spouse, with your boyfriend, with your girlfriend, with your mom, with your dad. Those feelings are a signal to us that we’ve got to pay attention to. Sometimes that signal means we’ve got some more healing work to do underneath the surface. Other times it’s a signal that we’ve got to, you know, protect ourselves externally.

I often tell people in my counseling office that when you feel frustrated, there’s a good chance it’s a sign that you should have set a boundary sooner than you did. You’re probably feeling frustrated because you just keep letting things happen and happen without setting a boundary. So even frustration, resentment, all of those things are really important for us to tune into what we’re feeling because our body is so good and so wise. God made our body to clue us in to what we need and what’s going on inside of us as well as what’s going on around us. So tune in and have insight to what’s going on inside of you.

To hear more of our conversation, listen to The RELEVANT Podcast.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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