How to Deal With Relationship Boundaries Being Crossed

Rather than limits to freedom, boundaries are like guardrails that keep you safe.
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Deciding how to deal with relationship boundaries being crossed is critical to your own well-being and to maintaining the health of your relationships. Neither rigidly enforcing boundaries that are no longer practical nor allowing boundaries to be crossed without consequences are healthy. The ultimate goal is to remain true to who you are and to find compromise in establishing and maintaining rules you can live with.

1 Why Boundaries are Important

Charles L. Whitfield, M.D., psychiatrist and author of the book, “Boundaries and Relationships,” explains that boundaries help you define and remain true to yourself. They also help you to feel safe in a relationship, which builds intimacy and commitment. Boundary setting is about communicating your needs and setting limits for what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. However, part of establishing boundaries is also communicating potential consequences for crossing them. For example, you might tell your partner that you can't be with someone who takes drugs and if they do, you will end the relationship. Just make sure that the consequences are ones you can live with. Idle threats will likely hurt rather than help the relationship in the long run.

2 Boundary Conflicts Versus Violations

A boundary conflict occurs when you and your partner fail to agree on where to establish a boundary point. It most often occurs when needs conflict. Boundary conflict requires negotiation and compromise to be resolved. For example, you want to spend Saturdays playing basketball, but your partner wants to be with you. You compromise so that you play basketball every other Saturday. A violation, on the other hand, occurs when one party oversteps an already established boundary. Boundary violations, according to therapist Peter Gerlach in "Break the Cycle!," are more difficult to negotiate because they often involve a loss of respect and trust. For instance, in a mutually exclusive relationship, when one party cheats on the other, the person cheated on feels disrespected and trust is broken. Relationship violations are difficult to negotiate without the person whose boundaries were violated losing face. Without trust, the relationship is unlikely to survive.

3 Flexibility

While having clearly defined boundaries is important, it is equally important that these boundaries not be too rigid. Whitfield states that boundaries must be flexible enough to account for growth. Being overly rigid prevents you from growing physically, emotionally and spiritually and prevents the relationship from growing and developing too. Flexibility only works in healthy relationships where both partners are equal and emotionally healthy.

4 Get Rid of the Guilt

Psychotherapist Karen Kleiman, in her article "10 Tips for Setting Boundaries and Feeling Better" for Psychology Today says it is perfectly okay to say no to doing things you don't want to do and okay to accept offers of help without feeling guilty. Get rid of negative thoughts and self-doubts that make you feel guilty and keep you from expressing your own needs and keep you from setting healthy boundaries. Tell yourself its okay to be you and to express yourself honestly.

Based just outside of Harrisburg, Pa., Catherine Donges teaches adjudicated adolescents in a residential treatment facility in York, Pa. Donges earned both her Master of Arts and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Wilkes University and a Master of Science in education from Capella University and has written both a women's fiction and a young adult novel.