Setting boundaries, the GPS for successful relationships

- October 15, 2023

Setting boundaries – “Relationships are one of the trickiest aspects of being human” as quoted by Counsellor Simone da Costa in our morning community meeting this week here at New Life Portugal…and yet we all need them. As humans we are naturally social beings, even if we tend to be more introverted, most of us can’t avoid having some kind of human interactions in daily life.

We hear sweeping statements like “relationships are the most important thing in life” or “relationships are the key to happiness”. Being of such high value and importance to us, it’s no wonder then that they are one of our biggest sources of stress and suffering.

From our most intimate relationships with our partners, family, friends, colleagues, to the more fleeting interactions with a customer service assistant on the phone, so often our experiences with others can somehow leave us feeling frustrated, unsatisfied, and even seriously stressed and depressed. So how can we demystify the art of successful relationships?

Here at New Life Portugal, our programme is tailored each week to focus on a particular theme, and the qualities of mindfulness that can contribute to improving the quality of your life in that area. It goes without saying that one of our regular themes, is that of Relationships and Boundaries.

So why do we pair the topic of relationships together with boundaries?

A great starting point to navigate the mangled highways of our many human interactions, is to have a good ‘Relationship GPS’, and that’s where boundaries come in, they are one of the most useful tools at our disposal to develop a much better relationship with relationships. By bringing awareness and intention to your boundaries, you step into the driving seat and start to direct your life experience towards what it is you really want.

Here are some different types of boundaries you could think about setting, and how they might be useful.

Nature is good - boundaries
Setting boundaries, the GPS for successful relationships…

Inner boundaries

We cannot always control the circumstances in our lives, or the behavior of others. What we do have autonomy over however, is how we act and respond, both externally and internally. When we bring our awareness to the thoughts and feelings we want to have, it helps us to pinpoint where our inner boundaries are. For example:

  • List Item with detailI want to experience more appreciation that disappointment
  • I want to feel more ease than frustration
  • I love and value myself
  • I want to feel more freedom and joy
  • I want to experience more connection and compassion in my relationships

Practice: Write a list of qualities you want to experience in your inner world to use as your inner GPS. It can be anything that feels important to you, something you want to experience or feel.

Having these positive inner boundaries, means you can encounter any situation, already knowing the direction you want to go. They help you to navigate from veering off into unwanted thoughts and feelings, back into your own lane.

Try it out, any time you notice you have gone off course and are feeling something uncomfortable, bring your attention back to your inner boundaries and notice how they bring you back into alignment.

External boundaries

Sometimes knowing your inner boundaries,  can also help to define your external boundaries. These can be anything from choosing how much time to spend with someone, or on a particular activity, to identifying behaviours in relationships that you will or will not accept.

Practice: List of 5 external boundaries you could set right now, to help bring you back into alignment with your inner sat nav.

Here’s some examples:

  • I’m going stop ironing the bed sheets, and instead spend 2 hours a week with my family doing something fun
  • I will no longer work extra hours without being paid
  • I’m not going to visit my parents every evening, I need a little more time to do other things.

There are many possibilities of external boundaries that might feel good for you. That’s just it, notice how good it actually feels good to set them! There is relief and freedom in knowing and defining what you do and do not want.

When we identify and articulate our boundaries, not only are we saying a loving yes to ourselves, but we are also clearly letting others know how they can relate to us, and where our yes is! ….It’s unlikely anyone is going to complain about crumpled bed sheets when they get to do fun things with you instead. It’s more likely that they will feel happy you set that boundary for yourself, and them.

Notice how this enquiry into your own boundaries makes you more curious about getting to know what boundaries other people in your life may have, and how understanding them, might make relating with them much less of a mystery!

Setting boundaries, the GPS for successful relationships

Practice the art of saying ‘No’

So by now you understand that the value of saying ‘no’ is that on the flip side, is always a loving yes and an invitation to something else we value. However, saying no can bring up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings like, guilt or fear, which makes it really tricky to do, so here’s some tips for mastering the art of saying no.

  • Speak authentically from the ‘I’tail
    This means speaking about yourself and how you are feeling, and trying not to blame or criticise other people. For example, you could say to your partner, “I am feeling really exhausted, I know it’s not your fault, I’ve taken on too much, and you do so much too, but I need to find a better balance, can you help me figure this out?”. Most people will react well if they can hear your genuine feelings, and they also don’t feel attacked.
  • Be inclusive and curious
    Whenever you communicate something that changes the status quo in a relationship, remember to be open and curious about how it impacts the other. You don’t need to compromise the boundary you have set, the idea is just that you remain open to an inclusive conversation, that will go a long way to softening your ‘no’. Who knows, maybe there is some movement that becomes possible and feels good to both of you.
  • Emphasise your yes
    Remember the positive ‘yes’ on the other side of the boundary you are setting, and share it. Often there will be a beneficial outcome for the other person from you putting this boundary in place. Even if it is just that they get to experience a happier version of you. Sharing something positive may help them to accept the change you are communicating.
  • 1Be understanding but not apologetic
    We often tend to start by saying something like “I’m sorry, but…” Whether it’s out of politeness or guilt, but it is important to learn to say no, without apologising because it devalues you and what is important to you. We are all equally important and you have every right to say no without condition. Try saying something like “I understand” .

Practice: Prepare for one of the ‘No’ conversations you would like to have using these tips. Notice how you already feel more relaxed and confident in yourself.  

Join us on Boundaries and Relationships week at New Life Portugal to like to experience putting healthy boundary setting into practice.

More information about how to set boundaries.

Liz Slingsby, Programme Manager New Life Portugal.

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