It may be true that love has no boundaries, but people have boundaries, even those who are in-love. Perhaps it is a paradox that love is boundless and people need boundaries—especially in relationships.
How do you set boundaries with someone who you literally have no control over?
This question demonstrates a common misunderstanding of boundaries. It asks about control and it seems the there is an assumption that a boundary is a method of controlling another person. Let’s begin by defining boundaries; I will return to that question when I address Setting Boundaries later in this series.
Personal boundaries define the expectations of treatment within relationships, they are “guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.”
Please notice an interesting part of that definition. It includes within it, the response for crossing someone’s boundaries. Boundaries must have consequences, without them, they have no meaning and thus no power.
Boundaries are for both the protection of self and the protection of relationships. For those of you who are Standing for your marriage, that is pretty important; boundaries are beneficial to Standing. They help you stay off of the doormat and empower you. They outline for you and others where you begin and others end. They free you from being imprisoned within the enmeshment of other people’s problems, helping you to detach and remain detached while keeping you safe and self-assured enough to also remain connected and empathetic.
A boundary marks our limitations of comfort—go beyond the boundary and we become uncomfortable. Consider the differences in various cultures of the amount of personal space two people maintain between them while speaking. In some countries, the space is much closer and a person from a culture who is accustomed to greater space may feel uncomfortable or even violated with the foreign culture’s level of closeness. Boundaries outline our personal and cultural comfort zone. Boundaries give you a choice regarding what to allow and what to keep out. Without healthy boundaries you risk enmeshment and loss of Self—where do I begin and where do you end? Unhealthy or nonexistent boundaries are the mark of a person who is unable to detect safety versus risk or danger. Without boundaries, you are more likely to be abused and victimized. Boundaries are a sign of strength and they keep you secure.
Boundaries are for You
Boundaries are about what you will accept and allow. They aren’t about changing someone else’s behavior; they’re about you and what you can control. Setting a boundary doesn’t mean the other person must follow it; but it does mean there are consequences for not following. When setting a boundary, it’s important to understand that it’s similar to asking a yes or no question: though you may want and expect a yes answer, by asking you accept that the person may answer with either yes or no.
Boundaries set limits on what you will tolerate and are thus about self-care and self-respect. When you set and maintain a boundary, you put yourself first and send a message that you value yourself. With strong boundaries you are creating a space around yourself for healing and Mirror Work. While your spouse has gone off on their crazy downwardly spiraling MLC journey, you get to go on a journey too; setting boundaries will help you to keep your journey from spiraling out of control in tandem with your spouse’s. It does not do this because people will follow and respect your boundaries—that would be a bonus! Setting boundaries is empowering and boosts confidence which in turn helps calm your mind and brings or restores peace. These are a set up for personal success.
Categories of Boundaries
These are often considered to be part of physical boundaries; I have separated them in order to provide more detail. Material boundaries go beyond limitations on your possessions—who may touch, use or borrow, though those are important. Material boundaries are also about limitations upon your personal time spent in service—is someone always asking you to do them a favor and are you able to say no.
Service boundaries may become an issue as your spousal role changes. Who does what now that your MLCer has moved to the basement and refuses to socialize with anyone in the household? Who does what now that your MLCer has moved out and is living with a friend or the alienator or their parents?
Physical boundaries define your space and the types and levels of personal contact you will permit. The amount of personal space often depends on the nature of a relationship. The boundary between a parent and child—even an adult offspring—is less than two random people, though it may or may not increase with age. An intimate bond or relationship also opens up this space, but what happens now when one person wants to leave or does leave the relationship? Your MLCer may be the one who changes this cultural boundary or it may be you—depending on comfort levels.
For some situations there may be a period of hypersex in the days and weeks just after Bomb Drop, but then this changes and the intimacy decreases as the space boundary increases. Some MLCers may try to break through an intimacy boundary with flirtatious teasing and taunting—this is more common with Clinging Boomerangs and may increase with cake-eating that happens in later MLC.
Mental values define your thoughts, values and opinions. Can you think for yourself or do you rely on others to do your thinking and to tell you your opinions or what you value? Are you able to share your opinions and accept the opinions and beliefs of others with an open mind? Or do you feel that you must agree with others? Do you surrender who your are—what you believe and value—and merge with others instead? Or do you become overly emotional, angry, defensive or argumentative? Strong mental boundaries mean that you have a strong sense of Self, you know and accept what you value and you accept and how others differ from you.
Strong emotional boundaries are about taking personal responsibility for your emotions and separating the emotions of others from your own. Empathy is important, but it is also important that you are able to keep the emotions of others that you let into your heart separate and not let them intrude into your identity. It is common to say and believe that someone else can make you happy—typically a spouse; this is completely untrue and gives that other person responsibility for your happiness, something which is not within their control. Blaming others for how you feel and the state of your life based on how you feel or accepting that blame from others is a sign of weak emotional boundaries. Accepting guilt that is not yours—toxic guilt—or trying to instill guilt in someone else for how you feel crosses emotional boundaries. People who use Emotional Blackmail against others or who accept it have weak emotional boundaries. Emotional Blackmail may be something you experience from your MLCer and your MLCer may be the target of Emotional Blackmail from an alienator.
This is the first in a series about Boundaries. Stay tuned for the next installment coming soon.