You’re Pushing My Boundaries…

Could you imagine a city without stop signs or stop lights? Could you imagine a freeway with no speed limit signs or barricades to separate the two directions of traffic?

Ok, even I think the mental image is pretty interesting and possibly hilarious. But I must admit, in reality it would be a very scary place.

If you think of a street, there are several boundaries that we have to maneuver every day. We have to be aware of the lines on the road that can tell us where one lane begins and another one ends. We have to be aware of the speed limit signs to make sure we aren't speeding. And if we're on a freeway, thank goodness for the barricades that separate the two directions of traffic.

Imagine if we didn't have any of that.

When we think about the "What If" questions--like: What if all road boundaries were removed--many times we don't answer this question from the viewpoint of reality. We think about the "hilarity" of people not knowing what to do. The people screaming their heads off as they try to dodge incoming cars. The potential to drive as fast, or as slow, as you want. These things aren't reality so we can imagine it without hesitation and sometimes brush it off as "not a big deal."

I argue that it can be the same thing with relationships.

When we set up boundaries in our relationships (e.g., when we can start dating, when we can start kissing, when and where we can hold hands, how intimate we can get, when/if we decide to have sex, etc.), they are set there for a reason. Over the ten years I have worked with youth and adults, boundaries almost look like a "buzz kill" to some people (or in other words, it's a downer. It "takes the fun out of a relationship"). That's just like saying speed limits, traffic lines, and barricades take away the fun of reckless driving--s0unds fun in practice, but it's still dangerous in reality.

If you have set boundaries for yourself in your relationship and your partner tries to push those boundaries, it has already become an unhealthy relationship (and sometimes breaking your own boundaries can come with dangerous consequences). I have seen friends, students, and adults change their boundaries for a variety of different reasons. I'm not here to judge and say it's bad to allow your boundaries to change; boundaries change all the time and it's completely natural! What I'm worried about is if one of two things happen:

  • You change your boundaries because your partner is pressuring you (external pressure), or
  • You change your boundaries because you think changing your boundaries will keep the relationship together (internal pressure)

The key is the pressure. You should never feel pressured to change your boundaries. That's when I argue that it's become unhealthy.

Last but not least: Have boundaries. Create them. Figure out what you are and aren't ok with at certain parts in your relationship. When you're just friends, what are you ok with? When you start dating what are you ok with? When you start calling this person your partner, what are you ok with? Every time I talk to youth, I ask them, "When are boundaries usually talked about?" A majority of students say, "After it's already been broken." So I encourage you to set those boundaries and never apologize for them.

Boundaries aren't meant to be a buzz kill. They're meant to protect you, and they're meant for your partner to respect.