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Walls and Boundaries

...staying protected and connected

This is some wall. If nothing else, the automatic machine gun tower should convince you.

A wall lets no one in and lets no one out. It is only about protection and survival. it does it's job well, but unfortunately, it destroys any connection. It makes prisoners of everyone involved.

A boundary is different. (This is vitally important to know if you're in a couple, or actually, in any meaningful relationship.)

A boundary does this:

  • It protects you while keeping you connected to others.
  • It sets a standard for your behavior -- not someone else's behavior.
  • It doesn't shift suddenly because of someone else's behavior.
  • It is fluid and flexible, loving yet firm.
  • It covers any situation -- physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, social, intellectual, financial, etc.

Here's a pretty common example: You are feeling out of touch with your partner and you go to her and say, "I don't think we're doing well. I feel lonely and you feel really distant to me. I'd really like to talk about us." (This is the grown-up version of "You never pay attention to me and I can't believe I married a cold fish like you!")

Let's say your partner/spouse erupts, saying, "Not this again! Why can't you just be happy just once!" (That's a wall, by the way. A wall of emotion. A wall of defensiveness. A wall -- because it protects them by keeping emotional connection at bay.)***

And let's say you've got your Boundary 101 Manual firmly in hand and you respond from a place of calm, not attempting to control your partner's reaction. (Even though you're dismayed and disappointed by this undoubtably sucky response,.)

This is how your boundaried response might look:

"It seems as if you don't want to talk about it, but it is really important to me that we do. This marriage means a lot to me and i want to make it better."

Or...

"It's hard for me when you react like this because I don't want to upset you. However, working on us being closer is a top priority for me. If now is not a good time to talk, could you name a better time?"

Remember: a boundary is something you set for your own behavior. When the world -- or your partner -- erupts around you, you stay in your lane, your boundaries in place, protected and connected to those you love (including yourself.)

*** why would one person want to keep someone they love at a distance. Ahhh, that's a long story that every couples therapist could go into. Short version is people tend to fall into one of two camps: 1. Love Dependent/Anxious Attachment/a "wave" or 2. Love Avoidant/Avoidant Attached/an "island.' They tend to attract each other and the avoidant tends to come from families with abuse and/or in which emotions were discouraged (or treated with contempt). Smothering, controlling and/or raging parents can create the conditions for adults to react to "intrusion" by shutting down.  

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