Being empowered in your relationship relies on three keys: managing relationship dependency, gaining emotional maturity, and setting boundaries – which means learning to say NO.
In short: sharing your boundaries – as well as eliciting and respecting your partner’s – will give each of you greater emotional independence, intimacy, and sustainability.
Learn to Say No – First Steps
The first step in setting boundaries however is knowing when something is a boundary. You can imagine doing whatever you are being asked to – and then seeing how you feel about it. If you get an angry, heavy, sick or shut-down feeling, or if you feel like distancing yourself from your partner, then you probably have a boundary.
The next step then is learning how to say “NO”. Most people think boundaries are a harsh rejection. However, it is possible to learn to say no lovingly.
Talk about yourself instead of your partner. You could say, “Hey, I know you want me to come to all of your company events. I really do want to support you, but I’m realizing it will put me way beyond my capacity for socializing, especially with strangers. I’d like to stick to only going to the holiday parties twice a year.”
How to Say No Without Hurting Someone’s Feelings
One of the more difficult aspects of setting boundaries is learning how to say no without hurting someone’s feelings.
Spoiler alert: even if you communicate your boundaries perfectly, you likely won’t avoid hurting their feelings. You may have even entered into the relationship, expecting to have deep intimacy without inflicting pain on your partner. Often however, you end up being less honest and genuine that way. And – it only causes more problems in the long run.
Once you internalize the impossibility of never hurting your partner’s feelings, you can be real with them. Being truthful and real always leads to deeper intimacy. This allows you to focus on being emotionally available and empathetic when a painful situation arises.
Learn to Say No Without Feeling Guilty
So you’ve set your boundaries. You know you’re likely going to hurt your partner’s feelings with them. How do you stick to your guns, say NO – and not feel remorseful?
You need to simply teach yourself how to say no without feeling guilty. It’s easiest if you remember that the essential purpose behind boundaries is to serve the relationship. Think of it this way: letting your boundaries be crossed will trigger resentment in you. You might start shutting your partner out. You could even begin to blame your partner – even though it’s really you who are not adhering to your own boundaries. Eventually, you could completely disconnect from your partner emotionally, or even leave the relationship.
In short, boundaries are the foundation of trust in a relationship and lasting intimacy. Your partner can trust you to be honest and stay in connection with them if they know you keep your boundaries too. They may be disappointed or upset by your boundaries. But it’s better to listen and empathize with their disappointment than to retreat into your own guilt.
You Can Do It!
While setting boundaries might feel difficult at first, it becomes much easier as you learn the proper language. Both you and your partner will get used to having them be a regular topic of relationship communication. For an in-depth look at why boundaries are important and how to set them lovingly, check out the book Making Love Real. Or if you’re interested in taking a deep dive into learning how to communicate your boundaries – join us for the Somatica Training.
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