Sometimes things in life happen to shake you and remind you of what’s important. And more importantly who is important. I’ve always been a people pleaser, someone who is “non-confrontational” and would put her opinions aside as to not “rock the boat” or start a debate. I was taught “children should be seen and not heard” and you wait silently while the adults are talking, don’t interrupt. I never knew that these seemingly harmless lessons shaped the way my relationships would be built in my adult life.
If you had similar experiences or feel like you are always putting your needs behind the needs of others, feel like there are strains in relationships because of a lack of communication I couldn’t suggest seeing a licensed therapist more. I’ve been with mine for almost 2 years, and our sessions have allowed me to explore these traits, learn about healthier habits and explore ways I can incorporate these new lessons into my daily life. I always thought it was normal to be a people pleaser and it was just something I had to live with but I’ve learned through exploring Codependency and setting boundaries that it’s not who I am but how I’ve been raised and I can change that.
A couple of weeks ago my therapist suggested I pick up a book called Set Boundaries, Find Peace by Nedra Glover Tawwab. I don’t know about you, but when I first heard the word boundaries, I got a sick feeling in my stomach “Boundaries are bad.” I always had a negative connotation when it came to setting boundaries, they always felt restrictive, or in my relationships like if I set a boundary the person wouldn’t like it, and they would leave me. Which as a Codependent people pleaser that’s the scariest thought in the world.
But I picked up the book, because at this point in my life I had been feeling hopeless, sad, confused, and I didn’t know how to fix the issues in relationships that mattered most to me. I’ve learned that setting boundaries is the best way to properly communicate your feelings in a relationship. They don’t need to feel nasty or restrictive, but expressing your needs and allowing your partner or loved one to do the same builds the foundation of good communication. And allows you to understand what the other person needs in that exact moment instead of guessing. For instance, if your partner likes to offer advice when you just want someone to listen setting that expectation of “hey right now I would just like you to listen to me, I don’t need advice” is the best way to vocalize your boundary for the situation.
Something I’ve struggled with having assumed expectations of a situation and allowing myself to get upset and even lash out when it didn’t go exactly as I pictured in my mind. But I didn’t outright express my needs or expectations of the situation and let myself down, not my partner. When you assume the person can read your mind and know what you want automatically chances are you’re going to be upset by the outcome of the situation. If you value eating dinner together each night express that to your partner. Tell them “I’d like you to be home for dinner by 7.” If you expect your partner to help out with chores, ask them to do specific chores. Their priorities may not be your priorities, and when you verbalize your expectations it allows for a conversation about it.
I’ve also learned that having to repeat your boundaries and allowing yourself to refresh and restate boundaries is important and doesn’t necessarily mean the person is ignoring you or that you aren’t confident in your boundaries. As humans, we change, relationships change, and so do our boundaries. If you can identify the reason for the shift, make sure you understand if this should be temporary or if it can/should be a permanent change, and how it impacts yourself and your goals for your relationship with yourself and this person.
Make a promise to yourself to set boundaries even when they can feel incredibly uncomfortable. Expressing yourself at the moment when you’re feeling upset or if the person has violated your boundary, restating that boundary and acting on the established consequence of that violation is the only way to establish healthy boundaries, but the key is these boundaries and consequences need to be verbalized from the beginning. When we assume the person will know or we don’t establish what will happen if the violation occurs we can’t assume the person will respect our boundary and this can also cause even more harm. For example, arguments or serious conversations in a text can be misconstrued and very difficult. So establishing the boundary that you will not have serious conversations with your partner via text message if they would like to continue the conversation they need to call you or see you in person, and then you must step out of the text conversation. Setting that boundary with an explained consequence is important. If it happens again and your partner wants to start an argument via text message you restate your boundary and that they can call you if they wish to continue the conversation.
Success relationships can have bad days, bad weeks, and even bad months. Successful relationships take time to build. Successful relationships are work, work on growing, not only within the relationship but within yourself. Successful relationships don’t avoid these challenges or dips, they know how to navigate them and grow stronger. Speaking up and standing by your boundaries is a great way to start improving your communication and allows both parties to speak freely about what they need. Nobody is perfect, speak to yourself and your loved one with compassion. Setting boundaries if they’ve never been set before can be difficult but it’s worth it in the end for better communication.