The concept of boundaries is big, multi-faceted, and HUGELY important when it comes to relationships.
There are a couple of different ways to look at boundaries. The most commonly thought of version of “boundaries” is to put proverbial walls around you and the rest of the world… telling everyone around you, in no uncertain terms, what you will and will not put up with. Examples:
“No, don’t touch me. There’s no reason for you to rub my back. I didn’t ask you to do that. That’s weird. Stop it.”
“I don’t really appreciate jokes like that, to be honest. I don’t think they’re funny, and frankly… I think less of you for saying something like that.”
“I think what you’re doing to our friend there is pretty shitty. I won’t put up with it and if you continue to treat him that way I will have to do something about it.”
“Don’t come into my office unless you call or text me first. I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m in the middle of work.”
Sometimes putting up boundaries means showing some vulnerability.
“Oh, no thanks… I don’t drink. Stopped years ago.”
“I’m a bit overwhelmed right now and not really in a place to have this chat. Let’s put something on the calendar for tomorrow or the next day.”
“I’m not really comfortable talking about that kind of stuff with you. I don’t know you all that well and I think this is crossing the line a bit. That’s more of a conversation you should have with your husband.”
“You know… when you just dismissed what I said right there… that was kind of shitty of you. You do that a lot, and I’m not sure why.”
Sometimes that means playing the part of “the bad guy”.
“No. I’m not lending you any more money. I’m not a bank.”
“No, I don’t think you texting your coworker is a good thing. I don’t see why on Earth you would want to do that, knowing full well that it would upset me. If you want to date again, be my guest… but not as my spouse.”
“No, I don’t find you attractive when you’re like this. You’re overweight, you’re depressed… you’ve lost all your energy. You know this isn’t attractive, so by asking me that you’re just looking for reasons to make me feel bad or to validate your depression.”
There’s another side of “boundaries” that you don’t often hear about. Instead of “what I won’t put up with”, it’s more of “putting up walls around myself to prevent ME from doing the wrong thing”. Some versions of these boundaries may be:
“No, don’t bake brownies. If brownies are anywhere near me, I will eat the whole pan.”
“No, I’m not going out to the bar with you guys. I’m trying to stop drinking and I know I will just end up drinking nine beers if I go out.”
“No, I’m not going to give you my phone number. I’m married.”
“Stop sending me nude photos of yourself.. That’s not good. You know I’m married. Cut it out. I will also inform my spouse of this, just so you know. I don’t keep any secrets from them.”
There’s one not-so-nice truth when it comes to boundaries: Women have a much harder time putting them up.
As far as personality traits are concerned (Openness, Conceientiousness, Neuroticism, Extroversion, and Agreeableness), the most Agreeable people tend to be women. What is Agreeableness, exactly?
“ Agreeableness is a personality trait that can be described as cooperative, polite, kind, and friendly. People high in agreeableness are more trusting, affectionate, altruistic, and generally displaying more prosocial behaviors than others. People high in this prosocial trait are particularly empathetic, showing great concern for the welfare of others, they are the first to help those in need. “
Sounds great, but as with any good… there is also bad that comes with it. For those that are hyper-agreeable, they tend to have poor boundaries. They have a VERY difficult time saying no to others. They do NOT like conflict. They do NOT want to take on crucial decision-making or leadership roles. They don’t like to stand up for themselves. You do NOT want to put an agreeable person in a leadership role. Chaos will ensue.
A woman who gets a random backrub from her creepy boss as work is not as likely to say, “Dude. No. Stop.” She is much more likely to become anxious and ruminate for a while. “If I tell him to stop, he will think less of me. He will get angry. He will treat me poorly. He will make my work life more difficult. He will make me feel like an outsider in the group. Hey… a back rub really isn’t THAT bad, right? I mean, who doesn’t like a back rub? Maybe he’s just being nice. I guess it feels pretty good. Should I tell my husband about this? Probably not. He will just get mad at me or cause a scene.”
This is why it’s important that we hammer into the heads of our daughters at a young age: You don’t have to do what you don’t want to do. It’s okay to be a “bitch” sometimes. It’s okay to say, “No.” We all have to play that part on occasion.
This is also why it is important that we set our OWN boundaries within the relationship with our wife/girlfriend. You can think of them as sort of a Meta-Boundary. Super-Boundary. You need to identify where your wife’s boundaries are the weakest, call her out on them, tell her exactly what you’re willing and not willing to expect, and stress that the health of the relationship depends on it. An example:
Man: “Are you texting with Dave from work?”
Man: “You’ve been doing that a lot lately. Why?”
Wife: “Ugh… why are you being like this. It’s nothing. We’re talking about kids and work. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Man: “Let’s get one thing perfectly clear. There is absolutely zero reason for you to carry on in extended text conversations with other men. I can’t fathom doing the same thing with other women, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it bothered you if the shoe were on the other foot. Your next message to Dave should be one explaining that you don’t feel comfortable texting with him anymore.”
Wife: “First of all, you can’t tell me what to do. You’re being ridiculous.”
Man: “Okay… you’re right. You can do whatever in the world you want. I can’t stop you. What I can do is tell you that this is a major deal-breaker for me. This is how really REALLY bad stuff starts in marriages. You’re not stupid. You know it’s true. I won’t put up with it. Should I contact an attorney now or do you want to send Dave that text? I’m dead serious. I have zero hesitation about this… and I think you know I’m right, too. You’ve been caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Just be a good girl and put the cookie down, or else you can find a new husband. Clear?”
I can’t tell you how RARE the above scenario is. Most of the time, the men say something, a fight erupts, he’s made to feel guilty… then her behavior continues and escalates.
Many guys I talk to have the sentiment of, “I shouldn’t HAVE to put my foot down like that! She should know better.” Well… good luck with that, my friend. Welcome to being in a relationship. It means you sometimes have to play the part of the bad guy. Sometimes it means playing the part of the guy who has to “coach” his partner about how to better put up boundaries.