Are you finding it difficult to set boundaries with people especially those you care about and love? Boundaries not only keep us safe, but they also keep us happy. Written By Dr. Elinor Greenberg
Most of us wish that our mates could just read our minds and do what we want without ever having to say a word. We reason: “If they love us, they should just know.” Some of us also think: “If we have to tell them and then they do it, it doesn’t really count.”
The truth is that the people we love, are not mind readers. It is up to us to communicate what we want and do not want and then be prepared to negotiate any difference of opinions. If you frequently find yourself resenting your mate’s behavior and wishing it would change, it may be time to have a calm, non-confrontational talk about boundaries.
Why Do We Need Boundaries With People We Love?
Boundaries protect us while giving our mates important information about our likes and dislikes. They tell our mate: This is okay. That is not okay. Even someone who loves us is still a human being who is likely to assume that we will like whatever he or she finds pleasurable or acceptable—and we are probably doing the same thing to our mate.
All things being equal, even well-intended humans tend to prioritize their own needs and inclinations unless they have a compelling reason to do otherwise.
In order to know where you need interpersonal boundaries, you first have to pay attention to your own likes and dislikes. Give this step some serious thought. As Seneca, the Roman philosopher said: No wind is a good one if you do not know what port you are heading for.
It is best to orient your mate before he or she crosses one of your invisible lines. It is a mistake to just sit there hoping that you will get what you want and then reacting badly when you do not. Be proactive, not reactive.
Once you are clear about what you want, you need to find a way to clearly and calmly communicate to your mate where these boundaries are. You need to do this gently, without killing the romance or making your mate feel blamed or criticized. If you know in advance that a situation is coming up that may go bad because it crosses one of your invisible boundaries, it is up to you to find a way to communicate your preferences ahead of time.
Example—Betty and Morning Sex
The first time Betty and her new boyfriend Mark slept together; it was after they had gone out on a very romantic date. Betty had prepared for that date very carefully. She had showered, shaved her legs, brushed her teeth, put on her makeup with extra care, and dressed in her best date outfit and sexiest underwear.
She felt beautiful. They had made love by candlelight with romantic music playing in the background. They made love twice again during the night before they both fell asleep. Based on Betty’s earlier behavior, Mark had no way of knowing that Betty hated making love first thing in the morning—and Betty never thought to mention that fact.
So, when Betty was awakened the next morning by Mark sensuously stroking her body, Betty was appalled. She no longer felt beautiful. She smelled of sex, had a morning mouth, and needed to pee. All she wanted to do was get to the bathroom, shower, brush her teeth and repair her makeup. Then and only then might she feel ready for more sexual play.
Mark was puzzled and hurt by Betty’s rejection. He mumbled something about needing to get to work and quickly left. Luckily, Mark really liked Betty and, despite feeling rejected, he texted her and told her how much he had enjoyed their date. He then asked if she were free the next evening. Her warm and immediate reply reassured him.
Eventually, Betty felt comfortable enough to confide her true feelings about having sex first thing upon awakening. They are still happily together negotiating their differences and mutual boundaries.