setting boundaries

Setting boundaries: Why they are essential in every relationship

Setting boundaries and communicating them to those around you is essential in every relationship; for your partner to know what you want and what you don’t. For your mother-in-law to see what you will accept in your relationship and what you won’t. For your kids to understand that Mom is a person in her own right with wants, needs, and time she values. For your friends, your work colleagues, your boss, the PTSA, you name it; setting boundaries and keeping to them will make your life easier in the long run, even if it feels awkward initially.

I challenge you to give it a try!

Why we have a hard time setting boundaries as women

When we are born, we are a clean slate; we haven’t yet learned what is acceptable to fit into society. We naturally ask for what we want and say no to what we don’t by crying and showing pleasure through gummy smiles and giggles to the adults around us. Our simple needs of warmth, comfort, love, and nutrition are met. 

As we grow older, those around us influence us to conform to social norms. Girls are taught that they should be kind, sweet, and nurturing. We learn from other people’s actions around us; perhaps our mother said yes to everything and put herself last, being the martyr, and you learned that that is what mothers do. To be accepted in our culture, school, extended family, TV, spiritual organizations, and peer relationships inform us of how we should behave.

Girls are taught not to answer back, not to stand up for themselves, and be agreeable. When we have children, we expect to put their needs before our own; that is what makes a ‘good mother, ‘ right? It feels natural to do this because we are nurturers by nature.

But we can be good mothers; indeed good people, and still have boundaries.

Boys and men have less trouble setting boundaries than women because they are taught to express their opinions freely and not worry about saying what they need. Of course, boys are conditioned around having to be strong and not showing emotion, and their emotional intelligence suffers, but that’s a topic for another time!

Consider your partner’s relationship with your children. Do they love him any less when he puts himself first from time to time?

Learning to say ‘no’

Many of my clients have a hard time saying no. We want others to like us, to be considered helpful and kind (you learned that was a badge of honor for a woman in childhood), and we get confused that if we say no, we are being unhelpful and mean. 

Standing up for ourselves can be seen as bossy—another no-no for a nice girl.

Firstly, we must start believing that what we want and need is important. I often marvel at how my husband easily says no; he has not had the same stories told to him about having to be compliant. When he says no, it’s readily accepted, and no one thinks less of him or likes him less.

Setting boundaries how to say no

So how do we start to say no? I’m not going to lie, it’s going to feel hard, awkward, and uncomfortable. But the only way to learn to do it is to jump right in.

Take a deep breath and say “no” or “no, thank you”; that’s all. You don’t have to feel that you have to add an excuse to it to justify yourself.

Once people get used to hearing you say it, and this might take a while if they expect you to say yes because that is what you always have done, they will respect you for it and perhaps even start trying it themselves. 

You are setting the trend, and that’s great!

It’s worth understanding too that if the person you are saying no to has difficulty setting their own boundaries, they may not respect yours. You will have to repeat yourself multiple times on different occasions to get the message across. Keep at it; it’s worth it.

Remember, we don’t have to be a martyr to be loved.

Georgie Coote

Asking for what you want

Another side of setting boundaries is asking for what you want or need.

My client Susan had been putting herself last for so long that when her kids left home and she could start doing things that she wanted, she found it hard to communicate this to her husband. 

He was so used to making the decisions on where they went or what they were going to do that he didn’t think twice that her needs might have changed now she felt able to put herself first. 

Susan started feeling frustrated and trapped within their marriage and sought my help. We worked together to help her communicate her needs, wants, and desires to her husband and work on acknowledging the guilt she initially felt doing this.

She became empowered in their relationship, and this new dynamic between her and her husband invigorated their relationship. They have never been happier.

Setting boundaries with your adult kids

Once your kids have grown, especially if they have been used to you putting them first before all your own needs, it is time to set boundaries around your relationship as a mother of adults.

I see a lot of my clients struggle with their adult kids reverting to the relationship they had when they lived at home as soon as they set foot through the door. Expecting parents to pay for everything, meals to be made, washing to be done. 

It’s also easy for us as parents to revert to the parental role and continue to do all these things automatically. 

Whether your adult kids are visiting or moving back home for a short time, it’s worth sitting down and making some boundaries around your relationship. Your relationship will mature into one of friendship and respect for each other, and they will start to get to know you as a woman rather than a parent who has selflessly given them your all.

It takes practice to set boundaries.

It takes practice whenever you start something new, a new habit or way of doing things. Sometimes it may feel so hard that you don’t hold your ground as you would like to; that’s ok, give yourself some leeway and self-compassion and decide how to make it more successful next time. Keep at it, it’s so worth it.

Connect with me if you need support putting yourself first, creating boundaries or communicating your needs.