“We are strong no one can tell us we’re wrong
Searching out hearts for so long
Both of us knowing love is a battlefield”
– Pat Benatar “Love is a Battlefield”
This article refers to personal boundaries, mainly between men and women who wish to create intimate relationships. This can be a challenging human endeavor, to say the least, mainly due to the many differences and needs experienced between the two genders.
This is one man’s opinion – my own.
Defining the term
Boundaries. Some definitions…
The word describes basic lines of demarcation that separate one or more persons from another, meant to keep out intruders, and to protect those who create them.
The term has also become a buzzword in modern psychology, which describes rules that individuals create to ensure self-care in their personal relationships. After all, most of us want to feel connected to others, maintaining friendships and intimate relationships, while respecting and fulfilling our own needs.
Boundaries are also promoted as a healthy way to create safety and avoid inappropriate actions and expectations from others.
Personal boundaries exist in many kinds of relationships: friends, co-workers, parents, children, lovers, spouses, etc.
Because of this, boundaries tend to be set up very early in a relationship as a means of creating both safety and autonomy.
Gender & boundaries
At the risk of generalizing, most men want to assure themselves that they won’t have to make drastic commitments, which could cramp their style, while women often want to assure themselves that they won’t get emotionally involved with someone who may be unsafe.
Of course this tendency goes both ways.
Perhaps one or the other wishes to avoid mistakes of the past in which they fell for the other, too quickly, investing a great deal of time, energy, and money, only to be left feeling very disappointed and tragically abandoned.
And so many of us carry old wounds that make our boundaries more rigid and impermeable, just when the possibility of intimacy with another becomes a real possibility.
We want to make absolutely sure we won’t get hurt or overextend our commitment.
I suspect this is why it is so challenging to find an intimate relationship these days, especially for those over the age of 40.
The dark side of boundaries—a barrier to love?
With all that said, could it be that transpersonal psychology’s brainchild – boundaries – has actually become more of a barrier to fulfilling, intimate relationships?
Boundaries, usually set for one’s personal protection, also have a dark side.
To create a boundary is to say “no” as a means of personal defense, usually based on some kind of fear, sometimes rational, sometimes irrational.
For instance, in geopolitics, boundaries become firm lines in the sand, which no one may cross over, or they suffer harsh consequences. There are endless intrigues, negotiations, conflicts, and exclusive alliances that keep humans apart, suspicious of one another. Countries have to appeal to organizations like the United Nations, to keep from obliterating each other. Just look at North Korea or Iran – modern day boundary nightmares!
Boundaries between individuals can create a similar kind of rigid separation.
When initially meeting a potential partner, one’s defenses appear almost immediately, so that he or she will feel safe. Then other becomes a potential threat instead of an ally, ultimately threatening our autonomy – our sense of a protected, individual self.
How many of us have wanted to get close to someone, only to be thwarted by all the psychological and physical hurdles we have to jump over? Just giving someone a hug can become an issue to be negotiated!
How many of us have decided that a potential partner is inappropriate for us after only one or two dates because of some misinterpreted remark, or the angry complaint that he/she touched us without asking?
Then, intimacy becomes a deal to be negotiated between staunchly defended individuals, instead of an easier and more natural means to love, compassion, and mindful surrender.
The irony is that, especially in the dance of modern romance, when boundaries become the first thing to establish, we often say “no” when what we really want to say, is “yes.” Again, this fear-based putting up of boundaries with firm and absolute “no’s” can sometimes be a healthy response to a real perceived threat. But the setting up of impervious, emotional walls can cause any relationship’s potential flowering to abruptly die on the vine.
Relaxing the boundaries
For a relationship to be truly intimate, personal boundaries must be loosened or sometimes even dropped, and never uncompromisingly solidified.
This conscious letting go of some boundaries can often be a very scary prospect, indeed! (Remember Pat Benatar’s hit song from the ‘80’s, “Love Is a Battlefield”?)
In her insightful book, If I’m So Wonderful, Why Am I Still Single?, author Susan Page describes what she calls healthy dependency, in which two individuals drop the assertiveness they have been trained to wield, and instead, enter a state of humility, openness, and yes, even some helplessness.
Should it happen right off the bat?
Of course not.
If two people are to learn to share, there must be some healthy boundaries set, while others must be relaxed to ensure true intimacy. It’s up to each individual to decide what those are, knowing that safety is necessary for trust to be established—a “must” for any enduring love relationship.
And, if the potential relationship makes it past that challenging, yet exciting initial stage (the honeymoon period), the existing boundaries can appear even more complex, when they should actually be more relaxed.
As an example, a woman might not want to accept an invitation back to a man’s apartment during a first date, but may accept a safer invitation to a party instead.
(Note: The former invitation does not necessarily make this man a sexual predator!)
A man may not want to go to a baby shower with his potential new girlfriend, but might accept an invite to dinner with some of her friends and forego watching his Sunday football game at the local sports bar with his buddies.
A man or woman’s autonomy doesn’t have to be compromised by sharing what makes his or her potential partner happy.
But in order for a relationship to have a chance to grow, boundaries need to be relaxed in some way—right from the beginning.
I believe that our modern pop psychology has made personal boundaries so important, that it is easy to confuse them as being the ultimate form of self-care. If self-care also includes creating a loving new relationship itself, boundaries can often be antithetical, especially if they are maintained over an inappropriate length of time.
Perhaps more men and women could find the love they seek if personal boundaries weren’t considered so crucial. Then, instead of maintaining protection, there might be more adventure and possibility of fulfilling romance, in which both could learn how to say “yes” more often, as they courageously take up the challenge of creating an unknown future together.
Safety vs. risk
As a new relationship develops, we must ultimately walk the line between personal safety and risk.
With the risk of intimacy comes the ultimate prize, what I consider the pinnacle of human existence: true connection and eternal love.
After all, isn’t that what we all want?
And, if true connection and eternal love is what we really want, we’ll have to relax our boundaries and bravely take on the risk of love.
Such is the challenge of modern relationships.
I’d like to thank my good friend, Scott Shuker, for so graciously and enthusiastically contributing this article to my website. I really appreciate his candid and honest views! Now, we’d like to hear from you, your thoughts and remarks, regarding the subject of personal boundaries and love relationships! Please leave your feedback in the comments section below. We appreciate it!