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July 15, 2019

Setting Boundaries In Your Relationship

Last week I posted on our Facebook page a little article about actress Anna Kendrick. In it she recounted breaking up with the man she was dating because he wouldn’t stop tickling her, even after she asked him to stop. If you missed it, you can read it here.

I’m sure some of you will read the article and wonder if Anna wasn’t being a bit too sensitive. Others will think she completely over-reacted. I can actually picture some of my past clients who would have rolled their eyes and said something like “Really? She broke up over tickling? He is better off without her.” But others of you will get it. You have been – or you are currently in – a relationship where you know exactly why Anna broke off her relationship. It isn’t because the guy justtickled her, even though that is what he told his friends. Anna said it best, “No, I broke up with you because I told you something was important to me, and you didn’t respect that.”

Often, small encounters we have with our partner highlight really important components of a healthy relationship. Or, as in this case, they shine a spotlight on what’s missing in the relationship. This situation was indicative of a much bigger problem in their relationship, and this guy didn’t get it.

Here’s the thing, it was “just tickling” and he still couldn’t give her what she asked. He wasn’t willing to accommodate even a very small ask because on some level he got some enjoyment out of it. I think Anna was wise to recognize the implications early, and to end the relationship because his selfishness and inconsideration doesn’t bode well for him in any relationship.

I see this kind of behavior play out in relationships all the time. One partner tries to communicate a hurt or a want and the other partner minimizes and/or denies any wrongdoing. If you are in a relationship where you are feeling dismissed or devalued, you must become a pro at setting boundaries. Remember, setting limits is taking action on your part. You cannot control what your partner does. You can only control you and what you will tolerate.

Anna left her relationship because this guy was pushing past her limits. Sometimes, setting boundaries does mean withdrawing or leaving, but not always. You may be in a marriage and you don’t want to divorce or break up your family because your spouse isn’t respecting a desire. If you’ve tried being honest and very direct about how you feel and nothing is changing, it is time to bring in an expert. We can show you how to set limits that will get your partner’s attention without using the divorce card.

I’ll be honest with you though. Most people in this situation struggle with being honest, direct and consistent. Most of the work in therapy is focused on YOU, and teaching you how to better respond and take action when something like this is occurring. After all, even the best therapist can’t make your spouse listen to you.

I had a client once whose wife regularly exploded in a rage when she was challenged, disappointed or frustrated. Her husband was so tired of walking on eggshells and was pretty direct in telling her how he felt. It was refreshing to see, but didn’t do much good in changing things. His wife was simply not willing to see this situation from his perspective. She would blow up, releasing all the mounting pressure in a stream of verbal and emotional abuse. The release would make her calm down and feel better and she would wonder why everyone else wasn’t over it also. She felt he was too sensitive and often took the position that her anger was justified. She came from a family where everyone exploded and said exactly what they felt, so she was frustrated with her husband for being “milk toast” and would even tell him to “grow a pair”. She also had no qualms about coming after me during a session. It was tough, but she needed a strong therapist, one who could calmly stand firm and call out her bad behavior. It wasn’t until her husband moved out of their bedroom and put the marriage “on hold” that she started listening. I’m happy to report this couple is doing well now. He is using healthy boundaries and she is managing her outbursts; and over time they have become some of my very favorite clients. But boy did they make me work hard!

We can also work with you to help you find the strength and courage to stand up for yourself. We can support you and give ideas on how to set limits in less drastic ways than leaving which still can get the offending spouse’s attention. The worst thing you can do is collude with your spouse in minimizing the hurt and damage that is building over time. You aren’t being too sensitive! Don’t be the doormat in your marriage.

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Bonnie Estes  |  Contribution: 870