If your partner gets controlling, says critical or mean things sometimes, or acts out angrily more often than feels acceptable to you, you can do something about it. Here's an in depth look at how to (it's all about key # 3 from “5 Ways to Improve Things When Your Partner is The Problem”).
In our intimate relationships we often unconsciously set up patterns that skew the power dynamic so that we are letting the other person figuratively walk all over us.
In order to establish a more balanced dynamic and feel more respected and valued again, teach him how to treat you by developing healthy boundaries.
Boundaries can mean many different things. Today we'll dive into one type only, but I'm mentioning a couple other types briefly so you can see how the concept of boundaries can support you on many levels.
We all need boundaries to take care of ourselves by not over-doing things or “under-doing” things. For Highly Sensitive People (HSPs), it’s especially important to know when to say no to things that will deplete us, instead of the yes you may be used to saying. Here is a post that addresses this a bit more, (personal story included).
We may also need energetic boundaries, especially those of us who are more empathic (this may be you if, for example, when someone you care about is in a bad mood you seem to absorb it like a sponge, getting into a bad mood yourself). These kinds of boundaries protect you from taking on what other people are feeling, and help you know know where you end and others begin. More on this another time.
Let's talk about the kind of boundaries that are like the walls of our home. In this case think of your home as your physical and emotional self.
We can either have good “walls” around our home or not. We need good ones to experience emotional and physical safety and to have healthy relationships. It is your job (not your partners) to establish and maintain your own boundaries/walls.
(Here are my boys helping to build our home's walls a couple years ago).
If you are an HSP, this might be especially challenging, because we often care so much about how others feel that we don’t want to “hurt their feelings” by putting our foot down in one form or another. But setting good boundaries is especially essential for us and our relationships.
Having healthy boundaries is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself, and for your relationship. Just like the walls of your house, they are a form of self-protection; a zone within which you can nourish yourself. And the first step to having a loving relationship is loving yourself.
Good walls make clear that your home is worthy of respect.
Healthy Boundaries Basics In 3 Steps:
1) Get really clear inside of yourself about what you will tolerate and what you won’t.
For example, an obvious boundary that many of us have is “I will not be hit”. Some of us have the boundary, “I will not be yelled at”. You get to decide what your boundaries are.
Setting a good boundary is quite different than sweetly asking him to do things differently (though that can work in certain instances). Nor is a boundary about manipulating the other person into doing something for you. Rather, it’s about being clear and strong about what you will do when your boundary has been crossed.
I like to think of this as a call for them to “stop”, rather than to “start” something.
Ask yourself which behaviors feel like a violation of your personal or emotional well-being. Then decide what you will do if that boundary is breached.
2) Once you know what your boundaries are, you can express them when there has been a clear boundary violation.
When someone crosses your boundary (yells at you, for example) you can inform them that they have crossed your boundary and what you are going to do about it (for example, leave the room).
This should be a clear statement with a clear consequence (an action you will take). For example, “This doesn’t work for me. If you yell again, I will leave the room.”
Side note: HSPs’s are very sensitive to loud or aggressive tones; it’s important to honor that sensitivity by creating a boundary for yourself around the communication styles that don’t work for you. Along the same lines, you may need to use what seems to you a more aggressive tone than normal if your partner is not a highly sensitive person. Non-HSPs don’t pick up on hints as well as you do.
3) The person can still choose to keep doing the behavior you won’t tolerate. It’s their choice! You cannot control them. But if they do continue it, you will take the action that you said you would — the thing you must do to meet your own needs of emotional safety, or physical safety — like walking out the door.
Actually do it, don’t just threaten to.
Over time these new boundaries will help your significant other understand what is okay by you and what isn’t, and will likely tame or eliminate their poor behaviors.
Though the intention is to care for yourself, it is truly a way to teach your partner how to treat you, which he may need! (It’s similar to parenting in that way!) Surprisingly, he may feel better for it, too! More dignity and a deep down sense of goodness…Which will also help his behaviors improve.
We all need some guidance about our behaviors from the people we are in relationship with. When it comes down to it, being in relationship with others is an incredible opportunity to help each of us become better, stronger, more loving, and deeply respectful people—which, at the end of the day, is what we deep down want.
Build good walls to keep the bad out and let the light in.
I often work with clients on boundaries to address their specific challenges with their partner (often their walls are squishy). What boundaries do you have in place already and how do you enforce them? Is it possible yours are too squishy, too? Comment or ask a question below.