There’s probably nothing more difficult on the planet than navigating our most important relationships. There was no class on how to do it well, there is no degree you can acquire and because there are two people involved with their own needs and preferences, it can feel a bit unwieldy at times.
One of the skills we’ve not been taught is also the very skill that would help our partners be more successful in meeting our needs and that is the ability for each of us to set healthy and loving boundaries for ourselves.
When our husbands were young, it was considered a sign of strength to speak their minds. However, the same behavior was often taboo for young women. We became the nurturers, taking care of everyone else’s needs while ignoring our own. Therefore, we never became good at knowing exactly what we wanted and then asking for it. When we do not know exactly what we want and we cannot express what we need, how are our partners supposed to know how to meet those needs?
If our partners don’t know what we need, they’re left with only two options: either guess or give us what they would want – which will likely be unsuccessful approximately 100% of the time. Not only are our needs going unmet, but oftentimes we carry quiet (or not so quiet) resentments towards our partners as a result of them not giving us what we need.
Boundaries, at its most basic level, is simply telling the people around us what’s okay with us and what is not. It’s expressing what we need to the people who love us and genuinely want us to be happy. It’s telling the truth of who we are and allowing those we love to really know us.
Setting boundaries is not the same thing as complaining or nagging. I once heard someone say that a complaint is simply a request and it’s so much easier (and infinitely more kind) to simply state the request. Here’s how to do it:
Have a preference. When someone asks you where you want to go for dinner, rather than saying, “I don’t care,” stop and think about what you would really like to have in that moment. Take a minute to tap into what you really desire. Have a preference and know what you desire.
Express that preference. Tell the people around you what you prefer. If you want sushi, say so. If you want steak, great. This doesn’t mean you will get your way every time, (after all, relationships have compromise), but if you never state your preference, you’ll never get what you want.
Own your no. Saying “yes” to something when you really want to say “no” leads to people pleasing, never getting your needs met and over time, more resentment.
Contrary to what we’ve learned, saying “no” doesn’t have to be confrontational. It can be direct and respectful and done without hurting anyone’s feelings. My favorite approach is just to say, “That’s not going to work for me” with a smile on my face:
· “That’s not going to work for me…have a great time though.”
· “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but that’s not going to work for me.”
· “Would you mind stopping that? That’s not working for me.”
When in doubt, you can simply just say, “No, thank you. That’s not what I prefer to do.”
Learning how to set healthy boundaries is how we can create and sustain healthy, loving and lasting relationships. It’s how we honor ourselves while helping our partners be more successful at meeting our needs in the relationship. Stating what we need is not only the shortest path to getting our needs met, but it allows the people we love to really know us, to understand us and to know what makes us happy.