Setting healthy limits in your relationship - what gets in the way?

Most of us would agree that it's a good thing to be able to negotiate what is and isn't OK in your relationship. This may include anything from how we behave with other people we may be attracted to, or who may be attracted to us, to the more mundane level of who does what at home (housework, parenting etc). 

But many people find it difficult to either make these agreements in the first place, or once they have been made, to stick with them, or to enforce them when they have been breached.

So what gets in the way?

Here is a short and by no means exhaustive list of common errors a lot of couples and families fall into.

* I assume that you should 'just know' what I think is and is not acceptable, so have never initiated a discussion about it, or developed an agreement. When my partner crosses my line, I get angry about it, they become defensive, and nothing gets resolved.

* We've made an agreement, but when my partner breaches it I get angry and rip into him/her about it, rather than taking the time to work through why the breach occurred. It may have happened because we have an agreement that has passed its 'use by date' and has to be revised. It may be that my partner breached our agreement because we haven't talked about another issue that has been festering. It's really important to understand WHY the breach has happened, and to address this, AS WELL AS ensuring that the person who has not been true to their word is taking responsibility for repairing the impact of their breach.

* We've been unable to reach an agreement, even though I have tried to let my partner know every way I can that this situation/behaviour is really NOT OK - s/he either dismisses my concerns, or gives 'lip service' agreement without changing what s/he does in response. In this situation it is important not only that partners take the other's concerns seriously, but also that they are prepared to have the hard conversations about what is getting in the way of reaching a shared understanding. This may be more about core values and beliefs driving each person's behaviour - "I just can't accept.... even though you need me to". It can be very challenging to grapple with these in a meaningful way in order to then develop agreements that do not violate either person's bottom line.


In most cases, it is useful to expect that agreements DO need to be developed and regularly reviewed, and where possible to view breaches as an opportunity to re-visit your agreements, look at why they are not working with a genuine desire to understand rather than blame the other person, and to accept the inevitable fact that with the best of intentions, we will all breach agreements at some point. What's most important is that we develop the skills to repair breaches and allow our agreements to change and evolve over time. 

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