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Boundaries are guidelines that dictate what behaviors you’ll tolerate and which you won’t. For example, “I will tolerate my ex calling me out when I’m acting needy or immature, but I will not tolerate them not showing up for our date.”
Boundaries are also interwoven with responsibility. The stronger your boundaries, the more responsibility you take for your behaviors and emotions, and the less responsibility you take for the behaviors and emotions of others. In fact, the whole point of boundaries is to use them to eventually arrive at a place where you take full responsibility for your behaviors and emotions.
Boundaries often receive a bad rep because people feel establishing them is selfish and thus unattractive, but that’s bullshit. Healthy boundaries radically increase your self-esteem, self-worth, and lower neediness. In fact, they are a recurring side effect of having higher self-esteem, self-worth, and lower neediness in general.
Therefore, the sturdier your boundaries, the easier it will be to gain your ex’s respect, generate attraction, and ultimately, get them back. Yet, developing such boundaries is easier said than done.
Two Types Of Boundary Issues
People with poor boundaries come in two flavors: Pleasers and Breakers.
Pleasers are the people who take too much responsibility for the emotions and behaviors of their ex. They feel unworthy compared to them and usually overcompensate for their inferiority and avoid rejection, conflict, and disapproval. They also believe that if they can fix all their ex’s problems and make them happy, they will receive the validation and affection they crave.
Breakers are the people who take no responsibility for their behaviors and emotions. Think of them as the entitled assholes who think they’re flawless and never make mistakes. They believe that if they put all the responsibility on their ex and keep playing the victim, they’ll receive the validation and affection they want.
Now, the Pleasers and Breakers often wind up together and form what’s called an on/off relationship: one where there is a perpetual struggle to keep things stable and to prevent breaking up and getting back together all the time.
The hallmark of such relationships is a constant flux in intensity. You could be on cloud nine for the first two weeks, then in hell for the next two. Rinse, recycle, repeat. Think of them as a rollercoaster; at some points, you’re up, and at others, you’re down. There is not much “in between.”
Overcoming Boundary Issues
The Breaker/Pleaser problems and dynamic are identical to the Avoidant/Anxious problems and dynamic in attachment theory. Therefore its solutions follow the same advice.
The Breaker never takes responsibility for their actions or behaviors and keeps blaming the Pleaser for everything. Therefore, for them to stop breaking up and getting back together with their ex, they must a) realize that they’re not special or whatever dumb arbitrary definition they’ve invented for themselves, and b) take more responsibility for their actions.
Conversely, the Pleaser thinks the Breaker’s failures and bad feelings are all their fault. And so they shower them with validation and affection and solutions to their problems to make them feel better. Therefore for them, to stop breaking up and getting back together with their ex, they must realize that making themselves fully responsible for the feelings and behaviors of their ex and forcing their attention upon them will only end in misery and frustration.
Examples Of Unhealthy Boundaries With An Ex
Some examples of a Pleaser’s unhealthy boundaries:
- Sorry, I can’t go to the cinema today. I’m still waiting for my ex’s call. She said she would call me when I explained to her how I wanted her back.
- My ex cheated on me then dumped me. I must make it up to him. I better show how much I’ve changed and how much he means to me by setting up a surprise date.
- I would love to go study abroad. But now is not the right time. I’m trying to get my ex back.
Some examples of a Breaker’s unhealthy boundaries:
- No, you can’t go out with Cindy because I’ll get jealous again. I don’t care that we’re broken up! Don’t date other people.
- If you want me back, block all the men you talked to or dated. You know how insecure I get.
- My ex is so stupid. She always takes too long to make me coffee, and I’m always late for work because of her.
- It’s my family’s fault that my relationship didn’t work out. I should’ve never listened their advice.
Examples Of Healthy Boundaries With An Ex
Figuring out what healthy boundaries look like is often a challenge. Hopefully, the example below clears some of your confusion. It outlines a situation between two exes who are trying to rekindle their relationship.
The Insecure: You know I love you, but I need you to spend more time with me. I’m really trying to make this work again. You didn’t respond to my message for over 3 hours, nor have you answered any of my calls. Why would you do that?
The Secure: I told you, I was staying at my grandma’s — and you know where she lives. In the bloody mountains, where there’s virtually no cellular network, let alone a stable internet connection. Geez. I told you this already last week. And besides, we’re not officially even together yet. Please, just give me some space.
The Insecure: Fine, whatever. I just wanted you to know that I’ve gone ahead and finished editing your master thesis and have already sent it to your school faculty. I felt generous.
The Secure: Um, thanks, but you didn’t have to do that. I didn’t even ask you to edit my papers.
The Insecure: It’s okay. I wanted to do it. I want you to be done with school and find a great-paying job. That’s why I even went and looked for some new job openings for you today.
The Secure: As lovely as that sounds, you really don’t have to do these things for me. I can do them myself. Plus, I’m not even sure I want a full-time job yet. I’m thinking of adding another major to my CV. Maybe psychology or something similar.
The Insecure: Oh, I know that. I just figured it makes sense to help you out as much as possible. I also went ahead and discussed how to rent an apartment with my father, so we’ll have everything ready for when we get back together.
The Secure: Look, I’m not ready for that yet. We’ve only been on a couple of dates since our breakup. It’s way too soon to think about getting back together, let alone moving in together.
The Insecure: But I love you… I want to take care of you and make this work this time.
The Secure: I love you too, but you have to let me do things my own way and at my pace. You have to let me come to you. What you’re doing is not healthy. You’re rushing things. We’re not even together, and you’re already thinking about us moving in together? You haven’t even consulted me about it.
The Insecure: I can’t believe how selfish you are! I do everything for you, and now you’re blaming me for it and telling me how you’re not ready?!
The Secure: If you really cared about me, you would stop trying to control my life and let me live it independently. I won’t get back with you if you don’t let me have my peace.
Boundaries for being friends with an ex
The first thing to know about being friends with your ex is that you shouldn’t be friends with them. It won’t help you get them back, and it certainly won’t make you feel better. Even if they offer you friendship, decline and respond by telling them your true intentions — that you want to see them romantically.
The only time a somewhat friendlier dynamic is acceptable (not to be confused with actual friendship) is when you have kids with your ex, work together, or share a home. These situations involve an entirely different array of boundaries called communication boundaries. And while I have covered them in more detail in my article on no contact, here’s the gist:
- If you live together, find another place and move out, or make an agreement with your ex to move out. Basically, find a solution — any solution — where you don’t have to reside together anymore.
- If you have kids together, schedule times when each person will see them, how you’ll handle them and their expenses, and any complications that may arise. If you find this too tricky due to a toxic ex, hire a lawyer to help you out.
- If you work together, simply avoid them. If you can’t avoid your ex, at least minimize your communication with them.
Boundaries For When An Ex Asks For Help
Many people are asking questions framed as “should I help my ex with XYZ if they ask for it?” My immediate answer is no. And while there is an exception that I’ll get to at the end of this section, for now, let’s discuss why your ex wants help. Usually, it’s because of one or more of three reasons:
- They want to gauge whether you still care for them and get your validation.
- They want to string you along and keep you as plan B if their dating life isn’t fruitful.
- They know you’re a doormat and simply want to take advantage of you.
Generally speaking, the more you help your ex out, regardless of why they need you, the quicker you’ll diminish their attraction. Because through giving them aid, you condition them to believe your attention is abundant regardless of how they treat or had treated you. Plus, wanting to help someone who dumped you is a glaring boundary violation that always comes off needy.
So, to reiterate, after breaking up with your ex, don’t do them any favors. You don’t owe them anything. A part of getting them back is reestablishing yourself as someone who is thriving without them — someone who doesn’t have time for their bullshit. And saying yes to their “favors” says you’re anything but that.
The only “favor you should agree to is if they invite themselves over to your place or have a legitimate need of you. And when they do have a legitimate need of a favor, help out quickly, and don’t use it as an excuse to start talking with them. Formally address the logistics, handle the burden, and go back to no contact. Always prioritize your needs and your emotional recovery, not your ex’s.
Boundaries Vs. Threats
The main difference between boundaries and threats is subtle, yet still noticeable. Below are a couple of examples. Just remember that they are not necessarily things you would say to someone, but rather things you would think first and execute on later.
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 respond to my text in the next two hours, I’m going to go to the theatre alone.
Threat: If you don’t respond to my text in the next two hours, I’ll shit on your doorstep.
Boundary: If you keep arguing with me about our breakup, I’ll end our date, and go home.
Threat: If you keep on arguing with me about our breakup, I’ll strip myself naked and start yelling, “BLOODY MURDER!”
Boundaries Vs. Compromises
On average, rekindling a relationship has a lot more to do with setting boundaries than making compromises. Compromises should only become a recurring theme when you’ve actually got back together with your ex.
Therefore if your ex wants a “good night” text every other weekend when you don’t see each other, AND you’re in a committed relationship with them, feel free to send them the text. It’s not that big of a deal, even if you don’t feel like doing it all the time.
But if they want that same “good night” text AND you’re not committed, then they are crossing your personal boundaries, and you should communicate that to them and not send the “good night” text.
On the flip side, if it’s you who gets the sudden urge to send your ex a “good night” text, but you’re not together yet, don’t do it. It’s a violation of their boundaries. You’re not a couple, after all.
How To Go About Setting boundaries with An ex
Setting boundaries with your ex is different for everyone, but at its core, it always comes down to deciding on three things:
- What behaviors you’re willing to tolerate and what behaviors you’re not willing to tolerate.
- How you will respond to situations where your ex crosses, tries to cross or disrespects your boundaries.
- Communicate your boundaries clearly.
While you might think setting boundaries is hard work, that’s actually the easy part. The real struggle is keeping the boundaries intact when your ex doesn’t respect them or reacts negatively to them — which is bound to happen at some point. Although, to make things smoother for you, here are a couple of pro tips:
- Define your boundaries and the consequences when your ex crosses them before any backlash. It will be difficult to think of the consequences for them once you’re in the middle of a heated argument or disagreement.
- If your ex gets angry because of your boundaries, avoid mirroring their attitude or you’ll just magnify the conflict. Instead, keep your composure and calmly state or re-affirm your boundaries and what you’ll do if they are not respected.
- If your ex gets passive aggressive or starts to guilt-trip you, immediately call them out on their bullshit with a calm yet earnest tone. Don’t explain yourself, get defensive or angry. Keep your composure throughout the conversation.
When you assert your boundaries, your ex will always respond respond in one of three ways:
- By threatening/warning to end the date/relationship if you don’t sheath your boundaries.
- By actually ending the date/relationship.
- By respecting your boundaries and continuing with dating or being in a relationship with you.
If you let go of your boundaries while not wanting to, you’ll lose most, if not all, respect your ex has for you. Because by failing to keep your boundaries erected, you only condition them to treat you more disrespectfully. Hence the saying, “What you tolerate, you encourage.” And that will eventually cause mutual trust and affection to dissipate along with respect and ultimately plop your ass into a toxic relationship that is fated for failure.
Basically, whenever your ex responds negatively to your boundaries, you’ll probably just break up again or get rejected regardless of how you handle the situation. But there’s a sunny side to this. Rejection and heartbreak are good. They are life’s filtering mechanisms. They slaughter relationships that don’t (or wouldn’t) work and lead you closer to finding those that do.
The transition certainly feels like being dragged across broken glass and razor wire, but a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with someone who respects and loves the authentic you is worth those bitchin’ cuts — and probably a few broken bones, too.
Don’t cave. Keep those boundaries intact.
If you need more help getting your ex back, check out my Radical Re-Attraction Course. With over 8h of video, 300 pages of writing, and personalized 1-on-1 coaching, I'll walk you through every step of the re-attraction process from start to finish.
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