Have you ever skipped going to the health club one day because you just absolutely had no motivation to get all sweaty and tired? Or what about gorging on a half-gallon of ice cream to cope with your stress? Ever leave the mall wondering what the heck you were thinking maxing out your credit card? Do you work more hours at your job than need be? These are situations where a boundary violation of the self has occurred and we’ve all been there.
Boundaries are the limits we set around ourselves to keep safe, centred, and accountable. They are usually drawn from our values and they define who we are and what we will and won’t accept in our lives to keep our integrity and well-being intact. The more aligned our behaviour is with our defined boundaries, the more balance and harmony we tend to experience in our lives.
When we act outside the confines of our boundaries, our self-esteem can take a hit and we actually can create a whole host of other stressors that will disrupt us and leave us feeling badly and out-of-integrity. It is human nature to stumble outside our boundaries from time to time, but when it becomes a way of life, underlying issues may be at play that will require some attention and intervention to avoid ongoing conflicts in one’s life.
Not only do we have self-imposed boundaries, but boundaries also pertain to our relationships. A healthy relationship is comprised of two men with a solid sense of self and identity. Boundaries help protect the partners of a couple from abuse or outside influences of others. They help create a sense of security in the partnership, allowing safe communication of needs and feelings between the partners that helps to solidify a positive connection and intimacy. Boundaries help cement what is deemed appropriate and inappropriate conduct both within and outside the context of being a couple and help to define who you are and what you stand for as life partners.
Boundaries & Relationship Types
Here’s an illustration as to why boundaries are important to your relationship. Take out a piece of paper. At the top of the page, draw two circles on opposite sides of the page. This represents the type of relationship where the couple identifies themselves as a pair, however they have little connection with each other and live parallel lives with minimal contact, sharing, or interaction that would support an intimate commitment. This relationship exhibits boundaries that are too strong to allow closeness and which there’s too much separateness and division between the two men. Little will grow from this except more of a “roommate feeling” and dissension. This style has too much individual identity.
In the middle of the page, draw two circles with one on top of the other. This relationship type is called enmeshed, where the couple is practically one whole. You are your partner; you live and breathe your partner with very little independence and individuality. You are merged together so completely that you lose your sense of self because you’re so fused and any perceived threat that exists to your relationship is thought of as devastating. The problem with this relationship style is that partners can feel suffocated and overly-dependent on each other; controlling behaviours are not uncommon and you can feel restricted and trapped. This style has too much couple identity.
At the bottom of the page, draw two circles that are mildly intertwined at the sides. This is a healthy relationship where the partners are slightly merged. There is a healthy balance of separateness and togetherness. The couple is flexible, honouring their uniqueness as individuals and their shared connection as partners. Because of this balance, “fresh air” is constantly being breathed into the relationship, revitalising it and making it exciting, unlike the staleness of the former relationship type where everything is about the other person. This style works because the boundaries aren’t too rigid or loose and they take into account that healthy relationships have both individual and couple identities. This is what you want to shoot for!
Boundary Violations In Gay Relationships
We’ve talked about self-oriented boundary violations like straying from your diet or cheating on a test. Violations in your relationship with your partner can be particularly damaging, however, as they can diminish your trust in each other and cause significant conflicts and emotional distance that can tear down the foundation of commitment you’ve built. Again, it’s human to stray from our boundaries at times, but when it becomes pervasive and isn’t talked about with your partner to try and remedy it, serious consequences can arise.
Here are some examples of common boundary violations in relationships to give you a better idea of what we’re talking about:
You drink too much at the bar with your friends and flirt with all the men near you while your partner is away on business
Your partner pressures you to experiment with sexual practices you’re not comfortable with
You don’t stick up for your partner when your family badmouths him
Your partner makes other things, like work or his hobbies, more of a priority than spending quality time with you
You don’t voice your opinions about the way you would like things to function in your relationship and then harbour feelings of resentment toward your partner when he makes all the decisions
Your partner strays from your monogamous relationship by cheating with someone he met on the Internet
Negativity, jealousy, passive-aggressiveness, lying, withdrawal, blaming…these are also “red flags”
And the list goes on and on! It is only a violation if either of you behave in a way that contradicts the relationship vision or mission that the two of you should have and should continue to be co-creating from the inception of your partnership. Communication of your expectations and values is critical from the very beginning of your relationship and should continue to be re-visited periodically to ensure you both are still “on the same page”. Your relationship and the players involved in it will grow and change, which is a normal part of your maturation, and you’ll need to be open to this and make revisions to your original “contract” as necessary.
Tips For Boundary-Setting Success
As an individual, determine whether you struggle with maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships and life in general. Difficulties with boundaries can come from many sources, including: being raised in a dysfunctional family where unhealthy boundaries were modelled, low self-esteem, lack of individual identity and co-dependency, poor assertiveness and social skills, being in an abusive or toxic relationship, being easily guilt-prone, having addictions of any kind, having power/control issues, getting a sense of validation for catering to a relationship partner, etc. Try to identify where your struggles with boundaries originate and keep track of what triggers your self-sabotaging behaviour. Work aggressively at overcoming these personal hurdles to promote a more solid and confident sense of self.
Take a class on assertiveness training or get some counselling to help you build skills in identifying your needs and feelings and how to directly express them without guilt or qualification.
As a couple, plot out a relationship mission statement that specifies your values and expectations for behavioural conduct as individuals and as a couple. This be