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Elevate your game by understanding the elements of “boundary”

Boundaries are the invisible lines sitting silently below the surface of our encounters. Their silence is misleading because they are a major driver of many of our conflicts.

Photo by cottonbro
Photo by cottonbro

A conflict situation can be unpacked. The drivers of the conflict situation can be identified. When you diagnose the drivers, you find solutions. You don’t focus on your “opponent,” which does not serve a constructive purpose. You focus on the behavior of your “opponent.” By approaching conflict situations in this manner, you dispel destructive emotions, you rebuild trust and you solve the problem. This is the power of skillful conflict resolution. The end result also means more well-being for both sides. 

One such driver of conflict is unmet expectations in relation to a boundary and its perceived violation by you. Boundaries are a sub-conversation because we don’t directly observe them. Often we don’t speak about them or even verbally identify them. While a situation may feel uncomfortable to us, we don’t necessarily even know that it has to do with our failed expectations in relation to a boundary. However, a lack of clarity about boundary lines or a mutual consensus in relation to a boundary can give rise to conflict situations and quickly escalate them.  

For instance, you and your husband argue about weekend plans. He wants to spend part of his weekend with the boys. You don’t agree. You are irate that he would even think of leaving you and the children at home, while he tends to his fun. An argument ensues, leaving you teary and your husband mad as hell. Nothing is resolved. 

Just as a doctor has to diagnose the problem first, if you are aware of the sub-conversation of boundary, you can quickly diagnose that you and your husband have a difference of opinion about boundary lines. Whereas your husband believes having time alone with the boys is within his sphere of autonomy, you believe he is violating your boundary, perhaps even taking advantage of you. You view his request as unacceptable and contrary to your expectation of what a married woman with two children should do. If you don’t resolve the problem, which is a difference of opinion in relation to the boundary, one or the other of you may “win” the argument over this particular weekend’s plans, but the issue will keep coming up, eventually weighing a heavy toll on your marriage. The “loser” will come to resent the other side. Over time trust is eroded because the “loser” will doubt the other side cares for his or her wellbeing.  With each repeated experience of the same or a similar situation, the toll of the conflict and its underlying toxic emotions may erode the marriage entirely. 

However, once you diagnose the conflict as just a disagreement or ambiguity over the boundary line, you can constructively negotiate a boundary line with which both of you can live. If the husband and wife come to see that each of them simply has a different set of expectations in relation to this and similar situations, they may mutually come up with a solution that meets both their needs. It may not be your boundary or that of the other side, but a boundary that is negotiated between the two of you so you both own it.  

For instance, to negotiate the mutually agreed upon boundary line in relation to weekend plans, you can look to see how most couples around you with children decide their weekend plans. If you mutually agree that that “the others” are not a good standard to follow, or you simply don’t want to be bound by what others do, or it isn’t even clear to you how they do it, you may seek the assistance of a counselor or a mutually agreeable trusted friend to help you decide what a fair standard related to this boundary issue should be. You may also be able to do this entirely on your own. For instance, you may decide each of you can do what you want once per week, but that you only do things as a family on weekends.

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