As you can imagine, after a year of writing about my intimate relationship with my partner while RVing, I sometimes think I might be running out of things to say!  Usually, though, that’s just about the time in our life together some wrench will be thrown into the day and voila! I have my topic.  The Art of Setting Relationship Boundaries.

So have you ever spent the whole day at odds with your partner over something as silly as a tomato?  Here’s the story.

We were making our lunches, and I looked over at the tomato after Stephen sliced it.  Have you noticed what a difference it makes which way you cut a tomato?  If you do it one way, all the juices come out.  If you cut the other way, your tomato slice is meatier.

I’d noticed Stephen apparently cutting a tomato this way before – (oblivious to the placement of the stem I thought) so I said, “If you cut the tomato across where the stem was it’s juicier.”

Brene always gets it right.

Blowback!  You would think I’d smacked him in the face!  “I’m 73 years old, and I know how to cut a tomato without you telling me how.”

“Oh my gosh,” I thought, “where did that come from?”  In my mind, I was not criticizing, and he was not going to convince me otherwise.

Time to retreat to our corners and figure out where to go next in the relationship adventure.

Do you have issues in your relationship that you keep revisiting?  For us, this loop happens when Stephen experiences me as treating him like a child and judging his behavior. 

Well at this point in our “discussion” I made the big mistake of inquiring whether his childhood may be causing what I saw as an overreaction, (he was not allowed to protest his treatment as a child and was severely punished if he did so).  So setting boundaries is new to him.   I understand it’s a process that can be ungainly at first and, of course,  I’m the recipient of this awkward learning curve.  It’s hard for me because I’m his only source of feedback, and it’s hard for him to give up his perception that I’m the enemy and not treat me accordingly.

Unfortunately and humorously, if you can look at it with some perspective, my boundaries are too strong boundaries and, I get my feathers ruffled when I’m misunderstood.

That’s the way it is in a relationship.  We bounce off each other.

The benefits of boundaries

So we are both in the cauldron – learning how to set boundaries that are not too weak or too strong.

Boundaries are lines we draw in the sand that protect us from the behaviors of other people. 


A line in the sand

Strong boundaries allow us to get close to others when it’s appropriate, and to maintain our distance when we might be harmed.

Weak boundaries happen when you put another’s needs ahead of your own – you don’t know how to say no and will sacrifice who you are for approval, love, and attention.

Like always, I resorted to researching to illuminate the situation.

It’s never too late to set your boundaries. If they’re too weak, you can:

*  Identify previous boundary violations that caused trauma in your childhood.

*  Increase Your self-awareness by identifying what you value and what you feel.  Self-understanding is key.  When you have weak personal boundaries, every act of compliance, self-denial, or neediness chips away at your self-respect and the respect that others have for you.

Ask yourself: Do you say no when you mean yes or yes when you mean no?  Do you feel guilty when you do say no?  Do you act against your integrity to please?  Do you adopt your partner’s beliefs or ideas, so you’re accepted?

For some people setting boundaries can be a scary thing – you learned early in life it can be dangerous as well.  Compliance kept you safe.  But as an adult, unless a situation is extreme, we usually participate in the violation of our boundaries by failing to defend them.  It goes something like this.  An event happens that triggers a sense of violation.  You automatically revert to the emotional age of the trigger, and your reactions are way out of proportion to the current event.

You are treading on dangerous ground!

My family dynamics led to me creating too strong boundaries and Stephen’s led to weak boundaries.  A match made in crucible heaven!  So the person with weak boundaries folds and the person with strong boundaries asserts herself too strongly and causes the person with weak boundaries to experience how dangerous it is to declare their boundaries!

Well now that we’ve got that figured out again…

How did we solve the current dilemma and come back into harmony?  It was actually pretty simple.  I said, “how about when I call your attention to something like how to slice a tomato differently, you simply say in as reasonable a voice as you can muster at the time, I don’t like it when you tell me how to cut a tomato, and I wish you wouldn’t do it.”  Is this the Art of setting relationship boundaries?

Wow!  That could have been so much easier…