When we’re younger, getting upset with someone and saying “I don’t want to be friends with you, anymore!” is about the extent of what most of us are taught about the relationships that we do and don’t allow into our lives.
The trouble is, sometimes that continues into adulthood. I know that space. I spent much of my twenties deciding that if conflict arose in a relationship, I was bailing, done, over n’ out. I categorized the world into good and bad people, those who either were supportive or those who weren’t.
It was really–really–painful.
No one gets through life without experiencing at least one relationship where it becomes clear that something about the dynamic in the relationship isn’t really healthy and yet, the option to leave the relationship entirely and never be in contact with the person feels like it’s not the truly desired option, either.
With maturity, we stop wanting to cut and run when we realize that everyone else is just as complicated and layered as we are. We’re not all good, and we’re not all bad. The best and worst sides of ourselves come out at different times, depending on where we feel wounded and where we feel loved.
So what do you do if you’re involved in some kind of relationship, whether it’s with a friend, a co-worker, a family member, or someone else, and you realize that boundaries are needed, yet you don’t want to turn it into an “either shape up, or ship out” dynamic? In other words, you want to have relationships where you connect where you can, and practice healthy boundaries in those places where connection is difficult or conflicted.
Here are 5 ways to practice boundaries that release the current form of the relationship, so that it can become something else.
1.) There’s “releasing” by limiting contact on social media, with phone calls, with texts. In this case, I’m not talking about being passive-aggressive. I’m talking about honoring you. If the truth is that one phone call a month feels okay, but trying to talk every week feels like too much, honor that. If the truth is that seeing what someone posts on social media feels like a constant stream of drama, hide them from your feed rather than un-friend them.
2.) There’s “releasing” by limiting the information you’ll give someone. If every time you tell someone about where you’re at with starting your new business, they respond with all the ways in which new businesses aren’t likely to succeed…stop telling them about your new business. Interact on other topics, if they demonstrate that they simply are incapable in this moment of meeting you where you’re at. This is also the way to handle, for example, family members with extremely different political views. Rather than get into a debate over Tea Party politics at your next get-together, it’s okay to just not air your political views and talk about something else. In fact, it’s kindness.
3.) There’s “releasing” by being conscious of your part in all of this and choosing how you’ll spend your time. How much time are you spending, ruminating on what they said and why it was wrong and…? It’s a conscious choice to just drop it and let go, after all. Take personal responsibility for how you’re buying into the creation of a negative experience. If you’re constantly “feeling triggered” around someone, don’t put it all on them–you’re the one with the trigger, after all. Examine whether there is a belief system or stuck space that you in fact need to work through, in order to create connection.
4.) There’s “releasing” by speaking into how you feel, without justification for feeling the way you do. You can let someone know, kindly yet firmly, that there are certain things you don’t want to talk abut or hear. The script goes something like this: “I’m sure you’re trying to be helpful, which I appreciate. I notice that when you share _______, I feel _________. I gave it some thought, and I’d prefer it if you didn’t share that information with me.” Simple. To the point.
Yes, it’s always possible that in response to this, the person will feel offended, or demand justifications. You can always follow this up with, “I notice that I feel tense whenever you share __________. I’m sharing how I feel because I care about you and think there are so many other things we could talk about.”
5.) There’s “releasing” by speaking clearly and directly when behavior is disrespectful or inappropriate. Notice that this is, in effect, raising the temperature of the situation a little bit. Sometimes there’s a dynamic at work that is out-and-out unhealthy: For example, if someone is an alcoholic, giving them a firm boundary that you will not be around them when they are drinking. If someone tends to escalate an argument to raising her voice when she’s upset, or getting in pot-shots, it’s okay to communicate that you are willing to work things out, but that you will get off the phone if the conversation isn’t respectful–period.
Staying quiet and not speaking up when behavior is inappropriate or disrespectful only perpetuates the dynamic at work. Sometimes, when something has seriously crossed a line, it’s time to step straight-up and make no bones about it: this behavior is not cool, and will not be tolerated. End of story.
Finally–sometimes, none of these things really seem to work for creating safety and connection in a relationship. Sometimes, painfully, there’s “releasing” the relationship and practicing boundaries by limiting contact. When you’ve tried looking at your part, owning how you feel, and there’s just more drama and debate? Sometimes, an actual release of the relationship is the most compassionate step for everyone involved.
In fact, it was only when several people in my twenties released contact with me, altogether, that I got it: the only thing these relationships had in common, was me. I had to look at myself. I had to understand why I wasn’t truly connecting.
It was humbling, and hard, and painful, but it taught me a lot about how my ways of handling conflict weren’t loving–and it paved the way for me to create other relationships where I could use what I learned to create more connection.
Boundaries are not what you use when you want to be unkind–that’s just unkindness. Boundaries are a form of love. (Tweet-worthy!) They help preserve the spaces where you can meet your needs, and someone else can respond by choosing how they want to meet their needs. They often feel tricky and hard to implement, but the more we practice the courage to speak into them, the more available everyone is to show up fully in relationships.
Kate Swoboda, a.k.a. Kate Courageous, is a life coach, writer and speaker who teaches people how to practice courage in their lives and livelihood. Learn more about her and how you can practice courage in your own life and business on her website , or follow Kate on Twitter or Facebook.