In this article, Intimacy Expert Laurie Handlers continues sharing about the power of boundaries, how to troubleshoot when it's not working, and the 8 keys of setting boundaries.
People tend to freak out a bit when a boundary gets set. It’s because many people think that saying no is the same thing as saying I don’t love you. You think a boundary equals a rejection. Or maybe you think, because of the way you were raised, that you don’t have the right to set boundaries at all, and neither does anyone else. This confuses the rights and responsibilities you each have concerning your boundaries.
It’s not your lover’s job to be the watchdog of your boundaries. Your boundaries are your responsibility. If you can’t say no to something and mean it, why should your partner do it for you?
Stop and examine your beliefs. Why do you betray yourself and second-guess your boundaries? Do you think that betraying your boundaries will make your partner happy? What is it that you hope to gain by sacrificing yourself anyway? Why do you let these violations go on unchecked, and does it really help your relationship? How do you feel about your partner if he or she just lets you walk all over his or her boundaries? Do you think it fosters respect, intimacy, growing closer? Or will it activate reptile brain’s instincts of fight, flight or freeze?
It can be difficult to simply state your boundaries and requests. Standard operating procedure is to wait until you’re so angry that speaking up is not the issue, but rather a question of whether you can control your reactions so as not to physically kill the other person (or yourself). So the flip side of that reptile-brain anger – feeling victimized, and all that pitiful-me stuff – is really just the same thing. You’re still trying to get people to respect your boundaries without you having to say what the hell those boundaries are calmly, clearly, and without apology.
Having clear boundaries to begin with is helpful. In other words, to respect them properly, you have to know your boundaries. Dang it, where are those suckers? The body already knows, but the mind keeps interfering. The mind has opinions about whether the boundaries are acceptable or not, about whether they’ll be acceptable to other people or not, and about whether you can honor them and still keep the status quo. You learned long ago to tune out your natural boundary signals. Now you have to do some remedial work. In the same way you have to check inside yourself to Speak Your Truth, you’ll have to learn to check inside to Set Your Boundaries.
Until you give yourself permission to have boundaries, everything in the world is going to come at you and enter your space. As long as that’s going on, a part of you might feel victimized. When you consciously choose for yourself, without apology or blame, you can find real bliss in a relationship.
Giving yourself the right to choose what you want and don’t want in your life is a very powerful and self-loving place to be. It’s the place where intimacy thrives. To go a step further, once there really is trust in a relationship, the boundaries can be renegotiated. Boundaries soften when there is true heart and soul connection, with mutual respect for each other’s boundaries.
To practice setting and holding your boundaries, first refrain from doing things automatically (like touching another person and allowing them to touch you). Get permission first. After years of bypassing boundary signals in an effort to get along in romantic relationships, boundaries are usually muddiest with the people you’re closest to.
Again, just because you’ve been together for some time, does not mean you are not both entitled to boundaries with regards to body, space, possessions, money and so on. See how it feels in each moment, rather than operating in an automatic way with an arm thrown around the shoulder. Then you can make your inevitable mistakes and clean them up, as well as find out where your and other people’s boundaries are.
When you’re practicing at home, practice a little bit on harmless topics. Your goal is to set a clear boundary and stand by it without wanting to either die from guilt or rage. Keep it reasonable. Ask to have the television on more quietly. Mention that you’d like help with the dishes. You’ll have to do it more than once, by the way, so don’t lose heart if your first effort fizzles. Notice something that’s out of alignment about your boundaries and make a request about it. If you can’t, then tune in to your body and Be Your Own Witness for a while. Practice some Emotional Release. Then, when you’re ready, try speaking up again. And again. Which is not the same as nagging, but simply expressing your inner truth.
Focus on what you do want, rather than on what you don’t want. Whatever you put your focus and energy on is usually what you get. The more you focus on what you don’t want, the more power it gets. Once you distinguish what you do want, focus on that. Speak it; ask for it; refine it.
I am not advising you to deny when something feels wrong, not at all. If necessary, put your hand up and say simply, “Wait a moment.” Express what you want in positive terms. Instead of saying, “I hate you for interrupting me,” say, “I want to finish what I’m saying before you begin to speak. Can you honor that?” Do you see the difference?
If you’re dealing with other human beings you will always be negotiating and renegotiating boundaries. Sometimes there are going to be mistakes, intentional and unintentional ones. What do you do when you realize that you agreed to something that isn’t actually okay with you? What about when you think you did that to someone else?
First of all, STOP. Whatever’s going on, just stop it. Stop right there and speak your truth. It doesn’t have to be elegant; it doesn’t have to be strong or decisive or witty or anything else. It doesn’t have to be okay by other people. It only has to be your truth. If all you can manage is one word, just say, “Stop.” That’s enough. Then, when you can, state your boundary and make your request. You can even say, “I have a boundary about that.” This makes things very clear between you. On the bright side, it’s never too late to reset your boundaries. It’s never too late to clear up a boundary incident. Sure, it would be nice if you could speak up in the moment of the violation, but it is perfectly okay to speak up whenever you’re ready. If that’s three years down the line, so be it. Don’t let the fear of foolishness stop you. Spill the beans. Speak up. You’ll get that weight out of your cells, you’ll get the benefit of the emotional release, and your body will appreciate you for it, no matter when it happens.
The key to boundary work with your beloved is to make sure you ask. After you ask, make sure you listen. The most honoring and tender thing you can do for your lover is to listen properly, without inserting yourself into your partner’s space. Make room for your lover to answer, and then don’t take the answer personally. Respect his or her space as you would wish your own to be respected. You can probably understand this concept when you apply it to someone you love. Now apply it to boundary work with yourself. Ask yourself what’s going on with you. Ask yourself what you want. Ask yourself if you like this. Ask yourself if you want to keep going. Then listen to the answer. It may not be what you expected. Tough luck! Honor it anyway. If you can do that with yourself, you can do it with your lover. If you can honor your lover, you can honor yourself. It’s reciprocal. It’s a positive feedback loop.
So remember to ask, and remember to listen. When you Set Your Boundaries, you open the door to pleasure that will continue for the rest of your life. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and setting your boundaries is part of that enjoyment. Setting boundaries allows you to feel safe, secure, respected, valued, so you can live fully, embracing all of life.
1. Boundaries are a healthy way of owning your feelings and space and respecting your own inner truth.
2. Everyone has the right to set their own boundaries.
3. Everyone has the right to have their boundaries respected.
4. There is a difference between boundaries and barriers. One supports healthy relationships, the other halts them.
5. Both partners in a relationship are responsible for their own boundaries, but not each other’s.
6. Respect yourself enough to maintain your boundaries and be flexible enough to know they may change over time and from one relationship to another.
7. Ask permission regarding another’s boundaries, such as touch.
8. Don’t take another’s boundaries personally.
This is an edited excerpt from Laurie’s latest book, SEX HAPPINESS & The Tantric Laws of Intimacy. To find out more, see www.lauriehandlers.com.
Laurie Handlers is a Tantra Teacher, an intimacy coach and a Spiritual Leader. She is the host of Sex & Happiness Podcast and the internet radio show Tantra Café.
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