Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This quote encapsulates what most healthy relationships really look like — two individuals who support each other on their distinct journeys, rather than two people who become lost in one another. Much of this comes down to having and maintaining clear boundaries, even within a romantic relationship.

Why do we override our boundaries?

We may override our boundaries for a variety of different reasons: it could be that we are seeking love or acceptance from others, it may be that we are seeking approval and to be seen as being helpful, or it may be a reflection of our own sense of low self worth where we priortise the needs of others above our own. Whatever the reason, learning to set boundaries is an important step towards having healthier, happier relationships, and whilst it may be difficult to do at the start, it is a skill that can be learnt if we are willing to accept the emotions that setting boundaries triggers in us.

The importance of boundaries

It’s somewhat counter-intuitive but setting boundaries can actually bring you closer to others in your life. It allows you to feel safe in your relationships, and when we feel safe we can invite people to be closer to us, we can be more vulnerable with them and we are less scared of getting hurt as we are able to protect ourselves.

“Personal boundaries are the limits we set for ourselves as individuals in relationships,” psychotherapist Deborah Hecker writes“They protect our sense of personal identity and help guard against being overwhelmed by the demands of others.”

Boundaries are crucial because they prevent partners from becoming enmeshed. Contrary to the long-held notion that being in an intimate relationship is about two people “completing” each other, relationships are healthier and more sustainable when each person maintains their own identity while the partnership is built on mutual respect, trust, and growth.

What are the signs that you are overriding your boundaries?

We can get so used to our patterns of behaviour that we are sometimes not even aware that we are overriding our boundaries. However, there are some tell-tale signs that we can pay attention to when we are around other people these might be changes in our emotional state or they may be changes in our behaviour. Some signs include:

  • Feeling numb
  • Being resentful of particular people
  • Holding people at arms length
  • Feeling like you are always living other people’s agendas
  • Being stressed
  • Feeling uncomfortable

How can you begin to set boundaries?

When you notice that you are overriding your boundaries, particularly when it is happening repeatedly with certain people or in certain situations, there are four steps you can set to establish boundaries.

1. Identify your boundaries and feel them: we can sometimes get caught up in thoughts so a helpful way to stay connected with the emotions is to observe how your body feels physically. Do you for example feel a knot in your stomach, or is your throat feeling constricted?

2. Need: ask yourself what you need in this situation physically, emotionally and mentally. If a friend continually drops over to your house uninvited to stay and this bothers you, perhaps you need your friend to leave and give you physical space.

3. Avoiding: ask yourself what emotion you are avoiding. When we let our boundaries get overrun it is often because we are avoiding another emotion that we see as being negative, we may for example continually give because we feel that they might reject us if we don’t, in which case we are letting our boundaries be overrun in order to avoid the pain of rejection.

4. Set clear boundaries: tell people what is not ok for you. Be very specific and open about what their behaviour is, what it triggers in you and what you need from them.

You have a choice — continue to feel like you do when your boundaries get overridden or feel the pain of the loss of the relationship. There is no right answer but to feel happier it’s important to make a proactive choice.