Healthy boundaries are a key element of any healthy relationship. Boundaries clarify where each partner begins and ends. Boundaries are the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual limits we choose to help us distinguish what it is we are responsible for, what we can control, and what we cannot. Our emotional health is related to the health of our boundaries. Good boundaries enable us to define ourselves. Good boundaries also yield healthy relationships. In healthy relationships boundaries are flexible. They grow and change. Boundaries can be lowered to promote intimacy or extended to promote safety.
Intrusive boundary violations occur when a physical or emotional boundary is breached. Appropriate closeness is defined by context, by the comfort of each member of the relationship, and by the type of relationship. What is seen as a healthy boundary in one country or culture may be misunderstood or feared in another culture. Basic differences in culture and expectations can create a clash of boundaries. Four a couple to develop healthy boundaries, they must discuss their expectations for healthy limitations and establish mutually agreed upon boundaries*
- It’s never too late to build your boundaries. The easiest way to start:
- Increase your self-awareness.
- Identify violations and the offenders, understand them, and get care for that damage
- Examine the state of your boundaries in your present relationships and clean them up
Co-dependence describes relationships without clear boundaries. The concept of co-dependence provides a useful framework for examining how we interact in relationships with others. Our culture portrays romantic love, in songs, television, and movies, as being a relationship in which the partners are inseparable, are nothing without each other, and one in which each partner derives her/his very sense of self from the other. While portrayed as the ideal, this is actually a description of a very unhealthy relationship. When a couple becomes enmeshed, that is, when the individualities of each partner are sacrificed to the relationship, the individuals and the partnership suffer.
Feelings experienced in co-dependent relationships include:
- My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you.
- My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you.
- Your struggles affect my serenity.
- My mental attention focuses on solving your problems or relieving your pain.
- My mental attention is focused on manipulation you "to do it my way."
- My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems.
- My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain.
- My own hobbies and interests are put aside. My time is spent sharing your interests and hobbies.
If this describes you in your relationships, this is an area for potential growth for you.
Becoming aware of it is the first and most important step. After awareness comes the opportunity for change. By observing your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in relationships, you can identify changes you would like to make. You can start practicing new behaviors. Friends and family members may resist or sabotage your attempts to change. It may be helpful to seek counseling to assist you in making changes in your style of interacting in relationships.**
Healthy Love Versus Addictive Love:
All of us have a healthy impulse to find love, but addictions take us away from genuine love. A summary of some of the differences between healthy love and addictive love can help us find the genuine love we all seek and desire.
- Healthy love develops after we feel secure. Addictive love tries to create love even though we feel frightened and insecure.
- Healthy love is unique. There is no "ideal lover." Addictive love is stereotyped. There is always a certain type we are attracted to.
- Healthy love is gentle and comfortable. Addictive love is tense and combative.
- Healthy love encourages us to be ourselves, to be honest from the beginning with who we are, including our faults. Addictive love encourages secretes. We want to look good and put on an attractive mask.
- Healthy love is satisfied with the partner we have. Addictive love is always looking for more or better.
- Healthy love is based on the belief that we want to be together. Addictive love is based on the belief that we HAVE to be together.
- Healthy love teaches that only we can make ourselves happy. Addictive love expects that other person to make us happy and demands that we try to make them happy.
- Healthy love creates life.
Addictive love creates melodrama.***
*Katherine, A., Boundaries: Where you end and I begin, Fireside Publications, 2000
** Oklahoma University Women’s Outreach Center
***Diamond, J., Looking For Love in All the Wrong Place: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions, Putnam Publishing Group, 1988