The connection between boundaries and love is often misunderstood.
Setting boundaries is perceived to be an act of pushing away, of putting distance between you and the other. But a boundary in its most sacred form is simply delineating between what happens within a certain space & what does not. In this sense, creating boundaries is a drawing in rather than a pushing away.
Setting boundaries is as much about what you are saying ‘yes’ to as it is about what you are saying ‘no’ to. It is actually generous to reveal your boundaries, and a deep act of vulnerability to ask for what you need.
Personally, I love boundaries!
Partly because I love them, and partly because I work with so many people who struggle with them, I wanted to clear up this misunderstanding of what boundaries are.
Often, people who have an aversion to boundary setting or receiving, view it as an act of separation, in opposition to love. But the act of setting or holding a boundary is not correlated to having an open heart, or a closed heart, or anything about how much one person loves another.
In fact, I believe setting boundaries is actually an act of great love!
I have set boundaries & have had boundaries set with me with a wide open heart, where the space between us is deeply receptive while there is a boundary being set. And I’ve also had the experience of somebody not setting a boundary and being disconnected and closed in relationship to me.
Of course, our boundaries (like all communication) will be received better if set with an open heart, especially if they are with people who we love and want connection and intimacy with, but whether we have an open or closed heart is irrelevant to whether we are setting a boundary are not. So let’s set that piece aside for now, and just talk about the connection between boundaries and love.
When I work with my clients, I often hear things like:
‘But we love each other so I guess I need to learn to be OK with (insert behavior they are totally not OK with)’ or ‘I’m not getting what I want, so I’m out of here.’
But neither of those are what I could call setting a loving boundary.
Begin by Slowing Down
Many of us have never taken enough time to truly know & feel what we do & don’t want – in our lives & in our relationships. To become more intimate with our own needs & desires requires slowing things down.
I remember when my son was young, he used to say ‘no’ to everything first. You could say:
‘Hey Trent would you like some ice cream?’
And he’d say, ‘No!… I mean yes.’
By saying no first, he was slowing things down. Some part of him needed to set his boundary first and then he could take the step forward and say yes. He was discovering more of who he was in the process.
If you are new to saying ‘no’, or setting boundaries, sometimes a good first step is to assume ‘no’ first. By saying ‘no’, or ‘not right now’ or ‘I need to think about that & get back to you’, you slow the interaction down enough to be able to tell whether you are truly a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
It’s an enormous act of self-love to set a boundary. Not only can I love who I know myself to be by setting the boundary, but I also discover more of who I am, as I go.
Setting boundaries is an act of love for the other.
I believe it’s not just an act of self-love to set a boundary, but an act of love for the other as well. There are a few reasons why I believe this.
First, it honors the other person as a whole being.
If I am willing to set a boundary with you, I believe you can receive it & I trust you enough to speak it in the first place. If I don’t want to be close to somebody, I will just distance myself. Setting a boundary requires that I step in closer. If I am setting a boundary with someone, it means I’m engaging in the relationship.
It is also an act of love and generosity to not withhold parts of ourselves from them.
Both the things we are not OK with & those things we desire in the relationship.
Secondly, when my children are acting out (and this happens with adults all the time too!) they sometimes get spun out & lose their minds a little bit. They’ll say things they don’t mean, or kick & scream. Something I say to my kids when this happens is ‘I love you too much to let you act like that,’ because I know they don’t want to hurt me, or each other & they don’t want to break anything. But, in that moment, they are having strong feelings that overcome their ability to make good decisions about how to behave.
Setting a boundary with them in that moment is an act of love. It’s setting a container. It says ‘this is what happens inside this space, and this is what doesn’t happen inside this space.’
Self-Centered vs Healthy Boundary-Setting
There are self-centered ways to set boundaries, which is more along the lines of:
‘I’m not getting what I want so I’m out of here’ or ‘I deserve better than this.’
Then there are healthy ways. An example of this is:
‘In order to____, I would need____.’
As in ‘In order to continue talking about this with you right now, I would need you to stop stomping around the house.’
I love this format because it takes radical self-responsibility while also asking for what you need. It’s saying ‘even if I’m the only person in the world who needs this, that is what I need.’
It does not say ‘You are a bad person & if you really loved me you would already know this!’
It is a radical act of love for the other person because it does not assume the other person is behaving in this way on purpose to aggravate you.
So many of us assume if the other person isn’t doing the thing we want or need, then they must not want to, aren’t willing to, or won’t – but often we’ve just never asked.
It’s important in relationship to giving the other person all the information they need to make their own choices.
It’s vulnerable because it acknowledges that we actually do have needs.
Most humans have a desire to be self-reliant. We tend to be afraid of needing anything from other people. And there is also a more new-age belief that we ‘should’ be able to ‘be ok’ with any behavior from other people & simply ‘rise above it’ or ‘not take it personally’
But, frankly, I don’t believe that’s true. We DO need other people, and we DO have limits.
This format also takes out the judgment of whether that other person wants it, or anybody else wants it, and its honors that I want this – that it is true for me.
I believe creating boundaries is sacred work.
To hear me go into more depth on Boundaroes & Love, watch the video below:
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Hi. Thanks, this sounds loving and healthy. I myself am having big issues with my partner. For example he very scared and then runs away in the middle of us getting close not setting any context. Often while having stated before: “I can listen!”. This upsets me so much that I don t give him space. So I guess I am not accepting his boundaries, right? On the other way, often, I don t even know what I want myself. I can t feel myself at all and am totally confused. So, what should I do? Say no?
Thanks so much for reaching out!
That sounds painful…
Without knowing you & partner at all, it is hard to really give any solid suggestions.
However, one thing I would say, is that perhaps it would help to set very clear (and short) time frames for your communication about intense topics (assuming that is where he is running away).
For instance, if you need to talk about something you know often creates tension between the two of you, is to set some structure ahead of time:
i.e. I want to hear everything you have to say about this topic for 5 minutes. Will you also listen to me for 5 minutes?
Then we will take a break & not talk about this topic AT ALL for 10 minutes.
If possible, you can come back to the discussion for another 5 minutes & then drop it for the rest of the day.
This takes skill on your part to be able to *truly* let go of what you are talking about at the set time.
Another possibility is to let your partner know (at a time when you are NOT in any intense conversation): “In order to have these vulnerable conversations with you, I need to know you will stay for the amount of time we set & then let me know that you will come back to the conversation later. Are you willing to do that with me?”
Lastly, when there are topics that are very sensitive, it can often be useful to have the outside support of a therapist or coach; someone who can slow the conversation down & make sure you are each actually hearing each other.
Most of us, when we feel intense emotions, have a VERY hard time hearing what our partner is ACTUALLY saying…
I hope this is helpful & please feel free to reach out to me directly, if I can support in any way.
“I love you too much to let you act that way” sounds a bit condescending and insipid to me. I think what is REALLY true, and honest, is to feel and say, “I love mySELF too much to let you treat me that way.” I think this models what you want your partner, daughter, boss etc. to learn…how to respect themselves so much that they refuse to tolerate disrespect from others. And it affirms your own self-value. This, then is very self-protective. “I Matter too much to mySELF , to allow myself to be treated poorly.”
Harmony, thank you for your words of wisdom….
Thankyou for this post and video. I am just realising now how important putting such boundaries in place are in all relationships, but particularly in intimate ones. I feel like this is the start of me stopping pushing men away because I thought they were never good enough! Blessings
Thanks Mel, I’m so glad it was helpful.
I am in the process of creating an EFT Tapping Course to help women whose Mothers are Narcissistic to learn how to create healthy boundaries with their mothers and I found your talk to be very helpful in framing some of the things I want to get across. Many thanks for your perspective.
Alice Grange, aka the Tapping Detective!