Stop Running: Relationships and Boundaries

This is an article I wrote for The Stability Network.

Relationships, amiright? Just the word makes a lot of people run for the hills. What we run from is the thought of defining them. We’re running from the intimate conversations needed to maintain and acknowledge our relationships – and to manage our fears and insecurities in relationships.

Relationships come in many forms. Co-workers, friends, cousins, partners are all titles given to people in relationship with us. When we give people these titles, we then give them a level of access to us and our inner worlds. We regulate those levels by setting boundaries. I know. Another word to get you sprinting. Well, while you’re doing your quick sprint, we’ll be getting into everything related to boundaries.

What is a boundary?

According to Prentis Hemphill a boundary is “the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.” People have shared so many definitions of boundaries with me, but Hemphill’s is my favorite. A boundary instructs those in relationship with you how to engage with you safely and respectfully. There are many types of boundaries, from physical boundaries like how close you allow people to sit or stand next to you, to intellectual, like whose critiques of your work you listen to. They help people know exactly how you want to be treated. They also help you get to know the people around you better.

Why do I need boundaries?

Without boundaries people in relationship with you are unaware of how you’d like to be treated in the relationship. For example, last week my friend sent me a meme with homophobic text. I let them know I did not want anything like that sent to me. They apologized and agreed to respect that boundary. Had I not set that boundary, I would have left someone I’m in relationship with to believe I accept that type of behavior. When we set boundaries we preserve the relationship, our own mental health and redefine “the distance.”

Who should I set boundaries with?

My quick answer is everyone. Everyone you come in contact with should be aware of your boundaries. Explicit boundaries may not always be possible, so I encourage all to communicate specific boundaries with people who need to hear them. For example, I share my communication boundaries with people before the start of any interview. While I don’t share other boundaries, those are the specific boundaries needed to be shared in the moment.

How do I start?

We all have boundaries, but many of us are not aware of ours. Setting boundaries with others starts when we identify our needs and the behavior we deem harmful. Once we have those identified, we can articulate them to ourselves and gradually start articulating them to others. Practice makes you confident. Practicing vocalizing your needs as simply as possible to yourself or a safe person.

Here is an example of how to think about setting a physical boundary:

  1. Recognize the harm – People touching my hair without permission.