What are personal boundaries?

“Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.” – Wikipedia

Most couples have problems with boundaries and this can create a lot unnecessary conflict. They just know that something doesn’t “feel right” but they don’t know what to do about it. I think the following explanation will help you understand yourself and your partner’s issues in the regard.

“The Orange Peel”

The outer skin – the protective boundary

Imagine an orange peel and notice the thick orange outer membrane. Think of it a barrier that protects us from other people. For example, when your spouse says something you hear as critical, you have to decide what how to process it.  A good protective boundary helps us assess the validity of the information and whether we should let it affect us. Does this person care about me? Is is true? Partially true? If the answer is no, then we should block it and let it go. Imagine a drop of water falling onto the floor and going “plop.”  It’s like dodging an arrow.

Those of us with a weak protective boundary seem “thin-skinned,” or easily triggered. Other people tend to “walk on eggshells” around them. Others don’t have boundaries, they have walls and don’t let anything in. Walled-off types are mean mean or depressed.

The inner skin – the containment boundary

This boundary protects other people from us. Do you tend to “wear your feelings on your sleeve” and just blurt out whatever you feel in the moment? Do you justify it by saying, “I’m just being honest.” If so, you need to work on your “inner skin,” your containment boundary (that is if you want to have less conflict and drama in your life).

A great example of a containment boundary Rumi’s Three Gates of Speech:  Before you speak, “At the first gate, ask yourself is it true? At the second gate ask, “Is it necessary? At the third gate ask, is it kind?”

Like most things in life, developing good personal boundaries is easier said than done. What it really comes down to is being mindful about our internal state before we engage. A great practice that I’ve referred to previously is to use the “stop-breathe-think” technique before speaking. It can work wonders!