Boundaries Aren't Permament

Healthy Boundaries | Boundaries in Relationships

I've gotten lots of questions in my Ask me Anything column lately related to healthy boundaries in relationships so I thought I'd spend a little time writing more about healthy relationship boundaries for a bit to help clear up a few common misconceptions.  

Before diving in below, you might want to read the first installment in this series:

Ten Common Myths About Boundaries

A Common Misunderstanding: Boundaries Aren't Forever

The first thing most people misunderstand is that boundaries aren't permanent. They are always temporary and always shifting.  

For example, when you go on a first date you might have certain boundaries (no kissing, no sex, no talking about religion/money/politics) but over time these boundaries will shift or change depending on how the date goes.  

If your date goes well and you build trust you might want more affection and will likely talk about deeper more meaningful topics.  The boundaries you set on the first date will soften. 

If that same date goes poorly or trust isn't built your boundaries might grow or harden (don't call me anymore, blocking them on facebook, avoiding them at work = more rigid boundaries).

Or you might have one boundary in a specific context that is different in other settings.  For example, I hug my very close friends hello (and often goodbye) but I don't hug my clients or colleagues hello/goodbye.  Or the way I greet someone at a Pride Parade is different than the way I might at a professional conference.  

You can probably come up with some great examples of your own changing boundaries depending on the comfort you feel with an individual person and the context where you meet them.

So boundaries shift over time and between contexts.  But often when we talk about them we try to think in absolute terms.  

We want to think they're a binding contract we'll never need to revisit.  But since boundaries change we have to be willing to renegotiate them.  

Why am I telling you this?

Knowing that boundaries change can help your relationship in a couple significant ways:

1) You can be more aware of the different contexts, times, and trust levels that soften or harden your boundaries. 

2) You might be able to tell people what kinds of behaviors and contexts increase your sense of trust and safety (softening your boundaries) in order to improve relationships.

3) You can practice more self-compassion knowing it is completely normal to have boundaries change, grow, and shift.  There's nothing wrong with you.  

4) You might be able to communicate when and where your boundaries harden with folks around you so you both know what to expect and what you need.

5) If someone has a hard boundary and it's a challenge for you consider (or even better, ask) what might help them feel safer, more trusting or comfortable in that situation, act, or space with you.  I'm not saying try to convince them or wait it out, but use that boundary as a way to connect and get to know them better.  There's likely some great learning in there for you.  

Having trouble with changing boundaries in relationships?

If you're struggling with this don't worry- lots of people have trouble with boundaries growing and changing over time.  Shifting boundaries don't have to be the end of your relationship, but it can be really hard to see a way out if you're on your own.  

Please do call me or connect with another professional who has lots of experience with relationships like yours for help.  We can usually find a new way forward for the two of you that doesn't entail breaking up.  

Polyamory Counselor Portland | Portland Polyamory

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
  • open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).


Myths About Boundaries

Myths About Boundaries | Boundary Myths

I've gotten lots of questions in my Ask me Anything column lately related to healthy boundaries in relationships so I thought I'd spend a little time writing more about healthy relationship boundaries for a bit to help clear up a few common misconceptions. 

So to start us off I'm listing the eight myths about boundaries that come up most often in my work.  They're super hard to combat because our culture reinforces them in a lot of funny ways (movies, tv, romantic fairytales...)

Holding on to these gets in the way of most of the relationships I see in my couples work.  Read on to see if any are holding you back in your own partnerships.

Relationship Boundary Myths:

Boundaries are permanent or forever

Boundaries shift and change depending on the situation and the relationship you have with each person you interact with.  So naturally, they change as you learn more about people and about yourself.  This is why we have to keep talking about them to keep our relationships healthy.

Boundaries should be the same across the board

Often in relationships, I see people compare the boundaries a partner has with other close friends to those in the relationship.  You might have a different set for your boss and your best friend.  

This kind of comparison just gets us off track because boundaries aren't the same across the board.  Boundaries just don't work that way.

Certain boundaries are to be expected

While there are some boundaries we culturally expect as a norm even these are based on assumption.  The more we can clear out assumption and get specific about what our partner needs the more we can really connect with them (and determine if we can respect their boundaries).

Start thinking about which boundaries you take for granted and check in with your partner about them.  

Boundaries are mean 

Boundaries aren't all about cutting people off or removing them from your life.  Boundaries are about getting clear with the people you love about how you can best support each other.  It takes real compassion and care to have a loving boundary.

You can't recover from a boundary violation

Many folks come to me after someone has broken trust in a big way in their relationship.  Often they've thought one boundary or another was a dealbreaker for them in relationships- but now they're stuck not wanting to break up with a partner who hurt them.  

I've been really touched by couples who work through really tough boundary crossing to repair hurt and rebuild trust.  You can learn to respect boundaries and change the way you negotiate them- it might just take a little help.

Boundaries are about yes or no

Most of us only think about boundaries when we're pushed to an extreme.  So we often think a boundary is all about saying no to something.  But boundaries can be much more nuanced- like asking for what we need, stating clear expectations, or asking people to slow down.  

Instead of a stoplight with only red and green there is a whole lot of yellow when it comes to boundaries.

You can change someone's boundary

It can be really hard when someone sets a boundary and that means I'm not going to get what I want.  I'll be disappointed at best, heartbroken at worst.  

And yet if I want to stay close or get closer to that person the only option for me is to respect their boundary as is- without pressuring them to change it.  Adding pressure by trying to convince them to change will only push them away, or force them to shift when they're not ready (leading to hurt or resentment later).

Some people are just naturally bad at boundaries

Nope.  This is just an excuse.  Few of us get any mentoring about boundaries as kids, some people have a much harder time respecting others' boundaries, and some people just don't care.  If you have trouble maintaining healthy boundaries or respecting others please call a professional for guidance.

gina senarighi | boundaries in relationships | relationship boundary

Gina Senarighi offers non-judgmental sex-positive, gender-affirming, LGBTQ relationship support online and in the Pacific Northwest. 

She often says, “I love love, in all its forms!”

She’s helped thousands of couples deepen their sexual connection, repair trust, and build sustainable lasting partnerships.

She uses her multi-disciplinary professional training to teach communication skills and help her clients handle conflict with compassion.

Gina has supported many couples experimenting with open relationships based in trust and integrity. If you’re considering polyamory you should check out her online resources here.

Although most of her couples are experimenting with less traditional relationship structures, even her more mainstream clients appreciate her open-minded non-judgmental approach and diverse expertise.

If you’re interested in taking this work further contact her for a free consultation.