I have the same conversation Every. Single. Day. “Did you tell your spouse that you were overwhelmed with having to (INSERT RANDOM HOUSEHOLD TASK HERE) every single day for the last couple months? No? Oh, you didn’t want to make them upset or start a fight. I see. Yes, you’re right; it is much easier to keep it to yourself and then quietly stew and then hate your spouse and end up in therapy because you’re anxious, overwhelmed, and feel unappreciated.”
OK, so maybe it doesn’t go EXACTLY like that, but that first part is legit.
Today, I want to write about emotional boundaries because this topic keeps popping up in my life. I hear so often that people I love and care about (that includes my clients, btw) are sacrificing their own happiness, their own health in order to prevent discomfort for others or to prevent an argument in their relationship. We just don’t want to rock the boat.
You guys! Our HEALTH is at risk when we don’t speak up for ourselves! And I know this to be true because I avoided it for years. You know what it got me? It got me sick, stressed, anxious, and on the verge of an eating disorder. In the end, it got me a separation and my child being raised in two homes. So, trust me when I say, we have to separate emotionally. It’s important not to be more worried about their feelings than our own. We have to be more concerned with our overall health and sustainability than or our short-term comfort. We have to be willing to rock the boat sometimes.
Alright, so back to that pesky word we hate so much: boundaries. The only definition of emotional boundaries that I rely on is simply the question: “What is mine to take on and what is not?” Basically, what I mean is that we are not responsible for other people’s emotions, and they are not in control of ours. If someone doesn’t like how we feel or what we have to say, we do not have to change our story. I tell people to think about using the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter. Say what you’re feeling as respectfully and lovingly as you can, and then put on your invisibility cloak. You’re not responsible for doing anything about their feelings towards your statements.
Now, let me say, please be willing to engage in a conversation with them about what is going on. But, by no means are you obligated to change your truth during that conversation. We have a right to experience our emotions and are responsible for controlling and expressing them appropriately. Our partners have the same right and responsibility. By changing or withdrawing our truth, we are attempting to control the situation in order to manage our own discomfort. This really isn’t fair to anyone involved. How many times have you been upset with your spouse when they weren’t even aware something wasn’t working for you? We have to give them the chance to not be the villain in our story.
We’ll talk about some constructive communication techniques in future posts, but for now, keep in mind this idea. Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman says the first 3 minutes of the conversation determine the outcome. In other words, how the topic is brought up for discussion and early interactions matter. (You can read more about Dr. Gottman’s research and this idea of gentle startups on The Gottman Institute’s blog https://www.gottman.com/blog/softening-startup/ )
Emotional boundaries help ensure we all get to take full ownership for our emotional experiences. This leads to greater comfort and confidence in our emotional process. As we get used to owning our emotions more often over time, we learn to understand and process them better. This also lessens our physical, mental, and relationship distress over the course of our lives. So, don’t be shy to speak up and express a need; just make sure you have your emotional invisibility cloak ready.
Want to learn more about emotional boundaries and how they impact the intimacy in your relationship? Check out my ebook The Intimacy Secret: Nurture Yourself and Connect with Your Partner