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.
When do you establish a boundary?
This question is simpler than it appears. The short answer is you set boundaries whenever you become aware that one is needed. I tell my clients: Don’t worry. It is never too late to back up!
Related: 10 Reasons Why Boundaries Don’t Work
Many of us only discover that we need a particular boundary until after we have repeated experiences that we do not like. This could be after a day or after two years. It does not matter. I suggest that you say something that:
- Acknowledges that you are asking to make a change in the spoken or unspoken relationship “rules.”
- Says what you prefer now (the new boundary).
- Explains why you want the change.
Example—Mark unexpectedly brings friends home
Mark and Betty ended up living together and were very happy. Betty initially loved that Mark was so relaxed and spontaneous and often surprised her with a new fun plan.
After a while, Betty realized that there were some areas in which she did not like to be surprised, such as when Mark spontaneously invited a new couple to dinner with them without asking her first. Here is what happened.
Betty got home from work exhausted. All she wanted was to shower, get into a lounging outfit, the order in food, and watch TV with Mark. Mark suddenly showed up at their door with another couple he had met that day and cheerfully announced:
Get dressed. We are going out to dinner with Tommy and Jen. They know a great new Brazilian restaurant. You will love it.
Betty’s internal response: Oh crap! Who are these people? I really do not want to do this.
Betty put on her happy face and went along with Mark’s plans. Later, she realized that she needed to tell Mark that she wanted to change the way that they had been handling things. So..the next morning during breakfast, she said:
Your friends were great, and I had a good time, but I found out something interesting about myself. I was so tired by the time I got home from work, that I think sometimes I just need a rest. At the very least, I think I need a heads up to prepare myself mentally for going out—especially when I am looking forward to a quiet night alone with you.
What I would really like is if you would call me first before making unexpected plans for us. That way, if I am really not up for going out, I can let you know before you make plans. And, if we both do decide to go out, I can have more time to get ready.
Mark was surprised but agreed. Now there was a new boundary in place—no new plans for the two of them without checking with Betty first.
Please note some boundary making suggestions imbedded in the above example:
- Betty made it about herself: I discovered that I need…..
- She did not criticize Mark at all.
- She waited till the right time to tell Mark what she wanted to change and did it in a friendly and upbeat way.
- There was absolutely no angry attack.