I have been reading the book Beyond Boundaries by John Townsend. He and Henry Cloud wrote the original Boundaries books with all the affiliated products. Understanding boundaries is key in healthy relationships.
When I am involved with a client as a recovery coach, I help the client identify their core values and what needs come from those values. Here is a synopsis of what Dr Townsend has to say in Beyond Boundaries as well as some of my thoughts for my clients. I hope it is helpful!
There are two types of boundaries: 1) defining and 2) protective.
You recognized your defining boundaries when you acknowledged your values and what needs come out of those values. There is as a general rule very little variation or change in those defining boundaries.
Protective boundaries are part of the work you did on codependency as well as identifying (and being) “a safe person” as well as the toxic relationships you identified and created action plans around.
Think of it in terms of your body. Your skin pretty much doesn’t change except for aging through the years. It’s the container that holds us together and by which people recognize us. When people see you, they identify you through your appearance.
Now think about your clothing. We wear clothing to protect us from the elements around us. We change our clothing according to how cold, warm, casual, or formal the circumstances and elements around us are.
Our defining boundaries might change a little but not that much through the years, like our skin. Our protective boundaries may change based on the elements around us, like our clothing. You adjust them based on how safe you are. In some relationships you may only need the emotional equivalency of shorts and a T shirt. In others you may need bomb squad gear.
Set and keep your defining boundaries—your skin—as a permanent part of who you are. But allow some wiggle room in your protective boundaries based on the amount of safety you need in a relationship.
You have to understand that the other person has a choice. Anyone at any time can reject your boundaries. It is the tough reality. You have to accept that reality. Your choice to have a boundary must be protected and his/her choice to not agree with yours must also be protected.
For example, if your partner is refuses to recognize that his/her actions are destructive to you, it is essential to set a boundary around that behavior. If it is angry outbursts against you, you will need to explain you will leave the room and, if you have to, the house until your partner recognizes how deeply his/her anger is hurting you. Your partner may not accept that boundary and get angrier and meaner. Your partner may decide to leave the relationship rather than change.
So is it worth it to set those boundaries? In a case like this did the boundaries cause the breakup? The problem was not the boundaries. You didn’t leave your partner or your commitment to your partner. It was the partner who made the choice to leave; you did not force the partner out. Your partner’s relational terrorism cannot be allowed to keep you from doing the right thing.
The point is this: your boundaries will create a space, a separation between you and someone in your life. That person will have the choice to bridge the separation by making changes and becoming more loving or to increase the distance by moving further away or even leaving the relationship.
You can do everything you can to keep the relationship together but you can never, in your own power, make a person stay with you. Staying or going is always a choice, one that every person has.
So did the boundaries work? They were set as a protective limit. Boundaries aren’t guarantees of responsibility or concern in someone. But they can:
- Bring reality and clarity
- Protect you
- Show someone the path to change
But boundaries do not remove the other person’s choice. So from this perspective, they do work. They protect you even if the outcome is different than you hoped for. You have to understand that this is still good news. It is diagnostic. It gives you the information you need about the character of the other person and the problem you are experiencing. Better to have a doctor’s diagnosis for a problem than to avoid making the appointment and allow the problem to do more damage.
If you have kept a journal through the process, you can now revisit those early entries before you set the boundary and focus on the peace in your life without anger and blame.
You can grieve the loss of your “dreams” for the relationship but understand that you are being re-created for a better future.