Whether you want to get back with your ex or commit to someone new or have a better and easier life in general, solid personal boundaries are your best friend. For the sake of this article I’ll focus on boundaries through the scope of romantic relationships, but just know their affect reached far beyond simply romantic relationships.
Boundaries often receive a bad rap because people feel establishing them is selfish, but that’s far from the truth. Proper boundaries actually help us to become a better date, partner and human because by setting them, we help ourselves meet our emotional needs. And once we take care of our needs, we simultaneously and automatically begin to take better care of other people’s emotional needs.
Having solid boundaries helps with maintaining mutual respect and attraction and appreciation between you and your romantic interest. They are also proven to increase confidence and self-respect in the person establishing them. In fact, they are a side effect of having higher self-respect and lower neediness in general.
We can define healthy relationship boundaries as basic guidelines that establish what behaviors you will tolerate and which ones you won’t. They are also heavily tied to responsibility. The stronger our boundaries are, the more responsibility we take for our behaviors and emotions (like we should) and the less for our other people’s behaviors and emotions.
Put differently; if we make anyones feelings and actions our sole responsibility, we’re naturally going to try to keep them happy — often forcefully — which lowers anyones’ attraction (fixer mentality).
Conversely, it’s the same shade of shit when we hold our date or lover fully responsible for our feelings and actions. This attitude makes us hand them our independence, often even our dignity (breaker mentality).
Both extremes suck and indicate a fatal boundary issue on our part. But it gets worse.
For example, we may make the person we’re seeing responsible for how we feel while being unable to say “no” to their desires, or we may decide we’re solely accountable for their satisfaction and begin forcefully helping them to be happy while being unable to accept any help ourselves.
In any case, there are four boundary related issues we can hold — each one with a unique twist.
And the worst thing?
We can have more than one issue at the same time.
Four types of boundary issues
We can presuppose that having no boundaries in a relationship solely means you cannot say “no,” however, the real answer goes far beyond our inability to say “no” to people — but it does start there.
Issue #1: Being unable to say set any boundaries in your relationship (nice guy/girl syndrome)
Nice guys and girls, wusses, pussies, manipulative fucks, or whatever cute name you have for them are people who do everything they can to please the person they like or love. And all of them possess the most common boundary issue on the planet — a difficulty saying “no.”
I like to think of them as mozzarella — they’re sticky and creamy, and when put on a hot plate, they melt and turn to liquid.
To put the smooth metaphor in more realistic terms, let’s pretend your partner asks you, if you’re the two of you are having a date night. Now, you have a tough exam in two days that you need to study for, but does that stop you? No. You respond with, “sure, let’s have one right now,” even though, deep down, you don’t want to.
The nice guy or girl – doesn’t want to disappoint the person they’re going out with. Hence, they disregard their emotional needs and do what their love interest asks — they melt and fuse with the desires of everyone around them instead of staying firm and robust, a.k.a emotionally centered.
People with this boundary issue also often don’t believe they’re worthy of love or a hot date or a decent relationship. Just the opposite! They think that if they don’t continue pleasing the dates they are going out with, they’re going to dump or reject them, so they never speak their mind.
These are the people who will pretend to like the same movies, video games, or foods as you, just so that you both get along.
“Oh yes, your highness, you think Jurassic Park was a shitty movie? Sure I do too.”
“Sure Chad, I also think I should clean the dishes every night, while you scroll through Reddit!”
““What? You think all men are pigs and only care about sex, well yeah, we kind of are if I think about it…”
These are the people who would rather lie and hold things in, instead of saying what they think aloud and getting into a potential but necessary argument.
These are the people who are more concerned with how other people perceive them than how they perceive themselves.
Ultimately, these people, are often the epitome of a neediness. They are submerged upon layers and layers of dense fears: fear of showing flaws, fear of not being loved, fear of rejection, fear of conflicts, fear of hurting another person, fear of being vulnerable, and the fear of not being enough — classic.
As a side-note, please don’t mistake nice guys and gals for bad people, even though their behaviors are often fucked up. They simply don’t know how to function in any other way. The sudden emotional attachment they make with people is their default psychological function, the same as their yearning for the approval and recognition of others. And their low self-esteem doesn’t help.
Issue #2: Being unable to set flexible boundaries in your relationship (frightened kitten syndrome)
While nice guys and gals have difficulty setting any boundaries in their relationships, these “frightened kittens” as I like to call them, set inflexible and unmovable ones, where nothing comes through them, not even the good in life.
We can compare these people to the avoidant attachment types — they fear closeness, have a tough time opening up, and run away or withdraw from individuals who want to get emotionally closer or who keep offering help. The people with this boundary issue cannot even ask for help in the first place!
Interestingly, one can have both boundary issues simultaneously: the infamous nice guy/girl syndrome and the frightened kitten syndrome.
The worst from both worlds
A colleague of mine had is the perfect example of someone having both the above boundaries issues woven together. Emotional issues oozed out of his every pore, and his foul stench could be detected from afar.
He kept pretending everything was fine and dandy and retained a fake smile, but deep inside, he was like mashed potatoes mixed with tequila and sour milk.
Try that combo at a party. I dare you.
Working with him for a few months resulted in no issues, but soon he fell into a highly agitated state for some reason, and suddenly being inside the same room with him became toxic and troublesome. In fact, working with him began to feel like someone was slowly pulling my fingernails off with heavy-duty pliers while a Ricardo, the Brazilian male stripper, was butt-fucking me.
Whatever help I offered my boundary-less colleague, he shyly refused, and whatever opinion I expressed, he always mirrored it, and never really revealed what he truly felt.
No wonder he was also a chronic liar, telling everyone different things regarding his pay-check, contacts, social life, or future plans, out of straight fear of embarrassment. And to be honest, he made a great deal of chaos in the firm we’ve been working at.
In essence, this coworker had zero boundaries on how people should treat him, and had inflexible ones around how he should treat others. And don’t get me started on his sense of false pride and ego related issues. Talk about a disorganized attachment style!
BOUNDARY Issue #3: Possessing the Breaker mentality
People with the breaker mentality hold others responsible for the way they feel instead of taking any responsibility themselves. Moreover, they nag, blame, and criticize others who supposedly hurt their feelings so that they don’t have to feel responsible for their own pain.
These people believe that the only way for them to receive love is by projecting responsibility on to others.
In concrete terms, this means that a person with a breaker mentality, for instance, expects his date or partner to make them feel loved, appreciated, and thoroughly cared for. However, in actuality, no one but himself is responsible for making them feel those things. It’s each individual’s responsibility to take good care of themselves.
Breakers can also go to extremes where they begin manipulating and controlling others to meet their needs.
Here are some spicy examples of how people with the breaker mentality roar, “fuck your boundaries!” with a smirk.
“No, you can’t go out with Cindy because I’ll get jealous again.”
“Order a salad. You know how I get when you begin eating poor animals in front of me.”
“Block all the men you talked to or dated if you want to continue being my girlfriend. You know how insecure I get.”
Surprisingly, there’s a sad side to people with the breaker syndrome — they often don’t know that they’re disrespecting your boundaries; in fact, they probably don’t even realize that boundaries exist in relationships. That’s why they often get bewildered when you ask them to respect yours.
Boundary issue #4: Possessing the Fixer mentality
People with the fixer mentally hold themselves responsible for other people’s emotions, to the point where they want to fix all their issues because they feel guilty. For instance, they would believe it’s their fault that their date or partner has challenges and/or feels bad.
And deep down, they also falsely believe that the only way they’re going to keep seeing a date is if they act their best to make them happy. This leads to overcompensation, and overcompensation leads to rejection.
And when it comes to relationships, fixers believe that the only way they’re going to receive love and affection is if they solve all the problems their partner has. That’s why they keep buying them gifts, proclaiming their love and continually texting or calling.
And while these kinds of deeds are great for the first few weeks of the relationship, it gets old, unattractive, and repetitive quickly. Even worse, it makes the person you’re seeing feel as they owe you something when you overdeliver with generous and needy gestures.
Fixers, in general, have to realize two things: First, that there’s nothing wrong with helping people, but obsessively craving to fix their issues is suffocating. And second that it’s not their responsibility to make someone feel a certain way in the first place.
The breaker-fixer spiral
We can draw many similarities from observing a breaker/fixer dynamic in a relationship or dating context compared to the one between the avoidant and anxious type in the realm of attachment theory.
As the avoidant and anxious type attract each other due to their push-pull dynamic, so do breakers and fixers. The result is a turbocharged cycle of D.R.A.M.A. on steroids that can go like this:
The breaker never takes any responsibility for their actions or behaviors and keeps blaming others for their shortcomings while the fixer thinks the breaker’s failures and negative feelings are all their fault. That’s why the fixer showers the breaker with gifts and compliments to a suffocating degree. In essence, they are trying to make the breaker feel better.
One shields themselves from any responsibility; the other makes themselves exceedingly responsible — like it’s all his fault. The breaker keeps blaming others, the fixer keeps blaming themselves for the breakers’ sorrow, and the cycle repeats.
The only way breakers can break free from the drama is by taking full responsibility for their feelings and behaviors for once. And the only way fixers can get out is if they dismantle their falsely attributed responsibility and stop trying to make everyone happy.
We can even argue that whenever we are dealing with a boundary problem, there’s presumably a confusion of responsibility in a relationship between the two people.
Consequences of poor boundaries
The most notable aspect of relationships where both people possess some kind of boundary issue is the constant struggle to keep things stable.
Drama driven boundary-less relationships often fluctuate in intensity. You could be on cloud nine for the first two months of your relationship, but after a week, you end up ending things with your lover. Then you might get back to seeing each other after a few days, and part again shortly afterward.
In general, your relationship might feel like butterflies and rainbows for a week, and like hell for the next two or three weeks. And this chaos keeps looping back around whenever you feel like the drama is finally stabilizing.
One person blames and plays the victim, while the other one chases and tries to fix everything. However, it doesn’t stop there.
While the torturous drama loops are the main culprit of boundary-less relationships, other problems also pop up:
Getting used: If you can’t say “no,” you can very well be taken advantage of and used.
Breaking trust: Instead of getting into a civilized confrontation, you let your date or lover take advantage of you without ever vocalizing your opinion. And if you keep letting anyone take advantage of you for too long, it eventually leads to breakage of trust from their side — and that’s challenging to repair.
Pointless arguing: You can get into pointless debates and conflicts that drag for days or, in some cases, even months before the couple calls it quits.
You begin to lose yourself: You can start to sacrifice your values and bend your identity for others, which leads to feelings of hopelessness, unworthiness and dread.
You begin to repel others: You can become so obsessed with making everybody feel good that you become smothering, needy and a pain in the ass to be around.
HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES
Setting boundaries is different for everyone, but it’s merely about understanding, discovering, and setting your limits.
So what is your limit?
In other words, what behaviors are you willing to accept and which ones you won’t tolerate? Decide on those and pick the consequences that follow when you get mistreated.
Often these consequences need to be lovingly, yet directly vocalized to your date or partner if they mistreat you.
Now, some of you might be ok if your date demands you to call them five times a day. Some might find that crazy.
Our values and the things we tolerate are different; that’s why everyone has slightly different boundaries. But, let’s assume you’ve decided which ones you will have.
Now the only thing left to do is decide how you will respond to situations where someone crosses your limits. Here are two short but sweet examples of how to react when that happens:
YOUR DATE: “I don’t want you to meet your friend Luke. You know how jealous I get when you see other men, even if they’re just friends from childhood.”
YOU: “I understand but, Luke was there for me when I was going through a tough time in my life, and I was there for him. He means a lot me, and I have no interest in putting my friendship on hold because you’re jealous. I would love to keep seeing you, but not if you can’t respect my decision to hang out with an old friend.
YOUR DATE: “I want you to always return three hours earlier from work from now on; I feel pissed that you’re spending more time there than with me.
YOU: “Well, we can have Sundays off to enjoy each other’s company, but other days, I just have to work. I love what I do, and It gives me a lot of fulfillment and meaning, please be so kind as to respect that.”
YOUR LOVER: “(yelling): Why haven’t you taken out the garbage, why isn’t the grass mowed, why are you not ready yet, we’re about to be late for lunch with my friends.”
YOU: “Ok, you know I really care for you and will get the chores done after lunch as I promised, but you have to stop with the yelling because it’s making me feel like shit. If you keep screaming, I’m going to spend the night at uncle Jim’s house.
Setting rock hard boundaries in your relationships could also mean that you don’t let yourself tolerate crappy dates who have a history of cheating, per se, or ones who can’t take any responsibility for their actions.
As we discussed before, boundaries are all about responsibility — when we establish them, we begin taking responsibility for ourselves and developing self-control. It’s also attractive when we have them.
BOUNDARIES VS THREATS — THE COMMON MISCONCEPTION
While establishing boundaries is a healthy, mature, and self-empowering act contributing to your overall emotional sanity, giving out threats is not.
In fact, giving them out is a toxic practice performed by control freaks and weak people since they force the opposite person to choose not just any option but also a bad and painful one. And the scary truth is that many individuals can’t really distinguish a threat from a boundary. Let’s resolve that problem once and for all.
Boundaries never imply any physical harm if someone breaches them, which means you won’t choke your date or lover if they keep shouting at you, nor will you begin screaming back and throwing barbs at them. What you should actually do in that case is remove yourself from the encounter to cool off. The other person probably won’t like that, and it will hurt them, but it’s not like you’re physically or emotionally harming them, so it’s not a threat.
Let me be even more precise with the differences between boundaries and threats by providing you a few examples:
Note: keep in mind that these are not things you would naturally say to someone, but only think and then execute.
Boundary: If you keep shouting, I will hang up the phone.
Threat: If you keep shouting, I will punch you in the face when I see you.
Boundary: If you don’t let me pick my own music in the car, I will bring headphones next time.
Threat: If you don’t let me pick my own music in the car, I’m going to delete all the songs saved on your iPod.
Boundary: If my date doesn’t respond to my text in the next two hours, I’m just going to go to the theater alone.
Threat: If my date doesn’t respond to my text in the next two hours, I won’t respond to her for a whole day, even if it’s an emergency.
Boundary: If you keep arguing with me, I’m going to end the date and go home.
Threat: If you keep on arguing with me, I’m going to begin screaming and flailing at you and bombard you with F-bombs.
COMPROMISES IN BOUNDARIES
There’s one common question on boundaries in a relationship that I’ve come across on the internet, and it goes like this: “How to strike a balance between having solid ones and making compromises?
Let’s unpack the question so we can better understand it:
“What to do in cases when my date or lover expects and wants me to do something that I’m not too crazy about, but it wouldn’t hurt performing it from time to time?”
Let’s assume your partner or date wants a good “night text” every Saturday and Sunday when you don’t hear from each other. Now I get that doing this might get tiring, but making a small sacrifice here and there is healthy, sometimes even necessary for a great relationship to blossom or continue.
So, in this case, I would give the person you’re seeing a surprise “good night” text once in a while if they ask for it. Now, the number of messages you send doesn’t matter that much. The point is to do that loving action with the right intentions.
With that said, when you call your date or lover even though you desperately don’t want to do it, you have a boundary issue. Or if you’re doing it because you’re afraid that they’re going to like you less or leave/reject you, it’s again, a toxic boundaries issue. Put differently, your intentions are unattractive and unwelcome.
What attractive sacrifice looks like, for instance, is calling the person you’re seeing not only because they told you how they miss you but also because you want to do it— because you want to show how much you care about them.
Basically, you sacrifice a bit because you feel like it.
Whenever you’re not sure if what you’re doing is a result of shitty boundaries in a relationship or if it’s a healthy sacrifice, focus on your intentions, focus on one question: “why the hell am I doing this?”
Is the intention wholesome, or is it based on fear and anxiety? Are you thinking about what scary event may or may not happen, or do you just perform certain deeds with a “no strings attached” attitude?
CONSEQUENCES OF NEWLY SET BOUNDARIES
While you might think setting boundaries is hard work, that’s actually the easy part. The real struggle is keeping your boundaries intact when someone doesn’t respect them or reacts negatively to them. Interestingly, that “special angry someone” might discharge two common reactions when they hit your freshly made boundaries: raw anger and guilt-tripping. Let’s explore further.
Pure ungovernable outrage is a character defect of a self-absorbed person and a typical reaction to firmly set boundaries. The people who get angry because of your limits are just not used to hearing “no” and turn into an emotional cluster-fuck as soon as they do.
If your date or partner is angry with you because of your boundaries, they might be afraid that they will lose you if they can’t control and mold them. They might also be worried that they’re not good enough for you, and behind that worry, is always fear. Most often the fear of loss.
When you encounter anger as someones reaction upon your boundaries, be sure not to mirror their attitude. Getting outraged yourself will only magnify the current conflict. Therefore, instead of being vicious, keep your composure and warmly state your boundaries and what you’ll do if they are not respected.
Being guilt-tripped is when others try to make you feel bad for the decisions you made by playing the victim and saying things like, “How could you do X.Y.Z., when I was always there for you.”
It’s a weak tactic used by insecure and controlling people. In essence, guilt-tripping is just a way for the other person to cloak their anger, sadness, and emotional pain in a subtle, passive-aggressive message instead of owning up to their feelings and telling you what’s bothering them directly.
Here’s an example: you told your grandmother how you don’t have the time to visit her this weekend, and she responded with, “Yeah, I thought you have work to do, I mean who would spend time with an old lady like me. But do you remember all the things I’ve done for you, how can you not return me the favor and come visit for once?”
Here’s another example: your friend whines, “Why don’t you visit us anymore? We always stuck by your side. I guess you must have other, better friends now, right?”
In the context of your dating, guilt-tripping can look like your date telling you, “Yeah, I thought you’re still going to meet with your friend Luke, you always liked him more than me, anyway.”
And in the context of romantic relationships, guilt-tripping can look pretty similar. Perhaps your partner tells you, “Yeah, I thought you’re still going to meet with your friend Tamara, you always liked her more than me. To be honest, you probably don’t even care about me anymore. Go, have a great time. I’ll be fine.”
I don’t know about you, but if there’s anything that makes my blood boil is when somebody tries to guilt-trip me. Seriously, the first thing I think about when they do is how I’m going to punch them in the face.
The way to handle guilt-induced messages is to point them out to the person expressing them as soon as you notice them. Don’t engage with people who guilt trip you, don’t explain yourself, don’t get pissed off. Calmly and with composure, call them out on their bullshit endeavors.
In the end, whatever adverse reaction you get from guilt-trippers, you have to be able to keep your boundaries, or you will end up like all the infamous nice guys and gals: taken advantage of.
Ultimately, your date or lover may react with anger, guilt, and general drama, but it can also escalate further. They might threaten you how they’re going to disappear or leave you if you don’t block all your ex-lovers, per se. Or they might say how they’re going to stop seeing you, or actually DO stop because of their frustration that you’re not doing what they want.
But here’s the deal: if you let go of your boundaries, you’ll lose the respect your date or partner has for you. And then consequentially their trust and attraction. In the end, you’re going to end up rejected, dumped, or in a dysfunctional relationship. So never, lose your boundaries.
In general, we need to view boundaries in a relationship as a quality control mechanism. Some people will respect them and live by them, while others will rebel, cause drama, or threaten us because of them. Some will stay because of them; others will leave and reject us because of them, and guess what? It’s a win-win situation. If they leave, they weren’t a good match in the first place, and if they stay, it means you have a pretty healthy individual on your team, who puts up with your wants, needs, and desires. If that’s the case, congrats. Go nuts!
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