Two of the most common challenges that couples face in relationships are issues communicating clearly and compassionately and trouble setting or enforcing healthy boundaries. In a relationship, communication means successfully letting your partner know what you need from them and what you’re experiencing. Strong communication will help ensure your needs are met and will help you stay more connected to your partner.
Boundaries help you determine with your partner what is acceptable or unacceptable in your relationship. This could mean adjusting the way you interact with friends, co-workers, family members, or each other. Boundaries can be emotional, physical, sexual, intellectual, or financial, and boundary setting is much more effective if good communication practices are already in place. Working on boundary setting and effective communication could provide great benefits to your relationship!
Tim McCurdy-Myers, MSc, RP, RMFT links trouble with boundary setting to attachment styles by saying “If you have an anxious attachment style, it can be difficult for you to set boundaries with people. People with anxious attachments often ignore their own needs to preserve a feeling of closeness in their relationships. You can learn more about your attachment style from Harvard University.”
Carling Mashinter, MSc, RP has noticed additional red flags that might indicate struggles with boundary setting: “experiencing anxiety and/or fear when considering setting a boundary, having significant difficulty identifying your own needs and desires, which impacts your awareness of your boundaries, and feelings of shame that interfere with your ability to acknowledge and communicate boundaries with your partner.” If you’ve noticed these struggles in your life, consider that you may need to work on healthy boundary-setting!
When people struggle with communication, they will fail to convey their thoughts and feelings to their partner, struggle to express their needs, fight through conflicts, and struggle to set healthy boundaries (Davin, 2022). When people struggle with boundary setting, they may create boundaries that are either too rigid or too porous, or simply fail to consider boundaries at all (Reid, 2023). A key detriment to unhealthy boundaries is that you will begin to disregard the values and limits of yourself, your partner, and your relationship.
Communication is not always easy, and some common challenges that contribute to relational communication barriers are poor listening, making assumptions, issues with non-verbal communication, distractions, defensiveness, emotional barriers, and lack of clarity.
Boundaries can be tough too, with the key challenge being communication. Your communication can go a long way to helping you create and enforce healthy boundaries in your relationships. Some other challenges threatening boundary health in relationships are a lack of awareness, fear of conflict, inconsistency, excessive rigidity, external pressures, and codependency.
We will dive deeper by elaborating on three of each of these communication challenges.
Poor listening: the most common form of poor listening skills presents as one or both partners failing to listen actively. This can cause misunderstandings, frustration, and the feeling that you’re not being heard. Some tips to improve your skill of active listening are to make eye contact with the speaker, pay attention to non-verbal cues, don’t interrupt, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t plan what you’re going to say next while they’re still talking, don’t impose your opinions, and ask questions when it’s your turn (Heart Matters).
Making assumptions: assumptions can lead to miscommunication and a shared lack of understanding. To avoid making assumptions, just focus on listening. Don’t plan your next move and don’t assume you know what your partner is going to say next.
Defensiveness: defensiveness can be a knee-jerk reaction for people when receiving feedback or criticism and can lead to the escalation of conflict. The best way to get out of the defensive mindset is to adopt a growth mindset and be ok working on yourself. Exercise self-compassion, assume your partner has good intentions, and don’t take things personally!
We already know that one of the key challenges in setting boundaries is a lack of clear communication, so if you can work on strengthening the above characteristics you are on a great path. We will dive deeper by elaborating on three more of these boundary-setting challenges.
Lack of awareness: a lack of awareness could present as either partner not being fully aware of their own needs or limits, leading to difficulty setting expectations. A good first step in boundary setting is to think of your own values, needs, and limits.
Inconsistency: inconsistency occurs when there are boundaries in place, but they are always enforced differently. This can lead to confusion, lack of trust, and the erosion of these boundaries. Ensure that once you’ve set boundaries you stick to them consistently to build that trust with your partner.
Codependency: codependency is an over reliance on your partner for emotional support or identity, which can lead to difficulty in the creation or maintenance of personal boundaries and an imbalance in the relationship. Always remember that you are a person first and a partner second!
There are so many moving pieces in a relationship that can impact your individual happiness and your success as partners. Our goal in this blog was to discuss the role of communication and boundaries in relationships, talk about some common failure points in considering these skills, and discuss how limiting these can provide solutions. We hope that you can make use of our advice to strengthen your communication and boundary-setting in your relationships!
As always, if you are looking to book an appointment with any one of the therapists at Relationship Matters you may contact us via email at email@example.com, or by phone at (226) 894-4112.