Are You Confused About Boundaries in Relationships?

Many people confuse boundaries – which are a way of taking loving care of yourself – with controlling behavior toward others.

Marilee told me in one of our early phone sessions: “I set a boundary. I told him that he couldn’t speak to me that way any more.”

Jackson said to me in one of our early Skype sessions: “I earn the money. My girlfriend doesn’t work, but loves to spend the money I earn. So I set a boundary. I told her that she had to stop spending so much money and racking up credit card bills.”

Both of these people are confused about what a boundary is. They think a boundary is something they set for someone else, but they are wrong.

A boundary is something you set for yourself.

For example, if Marilee had said to her partner, “I’m no longer available to being spoken to like that, and every time you speak to me in a disrespectful tone, I will disengage and end the conversation,” she would have been setting a boundary.

The boundary she would have set for herself is that she would leave when her partner is treating her disrespectfully. For the boundary to have power, she would need to act on it every time her partner treated her badly.

Do you see the difference in these statements? If Marilee says to her partner, ‘You can’t speak to me like that anymore,” what power does THAT have? In reality, she has NO CONTROL over how he chooses to speak to her. What she DOES have control over is what she does in the face of his unloving behavior.

If Jackson says to his girlfriend, “You need to stop spending so much and racking up our credit card bill,” what might be the result? His girlfriend might go into resistance to being controlled by him and spend even more money. If Jackson were to set a boundary, he would say something like, “Your spending is over the top. It’s no longer okay with me. If you keep spending like this, I will cancel your credit cards.” Since Jackson earns the money, he would then be able to control how much he made available to his girlfriend.

Of course, for Marilee and Jackson to set a boundary for themselves, they have to be willing to lose their partner. In any relationship, in order to take loving care of ourselves, we have to be willing to lose the other person rather than lose ourselves by continuing to feel used or abused by the other person. It is not easy to commit to take loving care of yourself and risk losing your partner. But is the illusion of connection with your partner worth the reality of losing yourself?

In a caring, loving relationship, you can make reasonable requests of your partner and your partner will want to do all he or she can to meet your requests. But in a dysfunctional relationship, your partner might ignore your requests, just as Jackson’s girlfriend ignored his. That’s when you need to accept that the caring is getting lost in the power struggles and control issues. To get yourself out of the unloving system that the two of you have created, you may need to explore the issue of setting boundaries for yourself.

We train people in how to treat us. If we allow others to use and abuse us, then they will likely continue to do so. Since others generally treat us the way we treat ourselves, you might want to explore how you are treating yourself that may be leading you to feel used or abused in your relationship.

Before Marilee could set a boundary for herself, she needed to reach a place within where she felt good enough about herself to know that she didn’t deserve to be treated badly. In learning and practicing Inner Bonding, she learned how to love herself rather than continue to abandon herself. Within a few months of doing her inner work, she was able to set her boundary and act on it each time her partner was disrespectful. By no longer being available to being treated badly and by treating herself with respect, she was training her partner to treat her with respect.

Jackson also did his Inner Bonding work and reached a place where he was willing to set the boundary and act on it. The next time he received a big credit card bill for his girlfriend’s spending, he cancelled her cards. The result was that she left the relationship and Jackson had to come to terms with the truth – that she was in the relationship for the money and not because she loved him. He realized it was better that he find this out now before losing a lot more money. He also established another boundary for himself – he was no longer going to give his credit cards to his girlfriends.

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Margaret Paul, Ph.D. is a best-selling author of 8 books, relationship expert, and co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® process – featured on Oprah, and recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette. Are you are ready to heal your pain and discover your joy? Click here for a FREE Inner Bonding course: and visit our website at for more articles and help. Phone and Skype Sessions Available. Join the thousands we have already helped and visit us now!


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