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The Relationships In Your Life That Are Desperately In Need Of Boundaries

"You best teach others about healthy boundaries by enforcing yours."—Bryant McGill

Love & Relationships

Boundaries. Whew. I can't even begin to count how many life dramas that I personally could've avoided if I had simply known how to set the proper boundaries; not once the ish had already hit the fan, but from the very beginning. Everyone's story is different, but I think the reason why I struggled so much with it is because I'm a childhood abuse survivor. Abuse is all about violating and disrespecting someone's boundaries. And so, as you're in the process of trying to heal from that, it can be a lifelong journey, learning how to set boundaries and make good and damn well sure that people honor them.

It took me getting into my 30s and learning how to set some boundaries in the form of self-control within myself (which is a part of what my abstinence path has been about) that I learned how to establish boundaries with others. I read books (Boundaries is one that's a must-have). I paid attention to the wisdom of people like author and speaker Brene Brown ("Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others" is a great quote of hers). I spent time alone so that I could figure out what I needed so that I could build my relationships around that. I've "updated" my boundaries when necessary too.

And what I've learned from all of this is there are certain relationships where boundaries are an absolute must. The ones that I want to expound on today are the following seven.

Boundaries with Your Parents

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Parents. Boy oh boy. Although I am not a parent myself, I am at the age where a lot of my "love" nieces and nephews are in their 20s. Just this past weekend, I saw one of them and, while I try to be intentional about treating children of any age like "little individuals", I had to remind myself that I have to come at her a different way and respect whatever it is she has going on…differently. Why? Because she's an adult now. She has her own life. All I can do is offer insight, but she's got the full right and freedom to do whatever it is that she wants to do.

It's kind of baffling, how a lot of actual parents of actual adult children don't seem to adhere to this same mindset. It's like they think that we're "grown enough" to live on our own but not grown enough to make decisions they don't agree with or like or, that it is totally ridiculous of us to tell them "no" sometimes.

I will say this—it's an epidemic, how poorly boundaries were taught in a lot of households that some of us confuse overbearing parents with toxic ones (you can read my take on toxic relatives here). On some levels, I do get how, after birthing someone and raising them for 18 years, allowing them to live their own life can be a hard pill to swallow. Still, it must be done. And so, if you are trying to figure out how to establish boundaries with your parents, check out the article "Do Not Obey Your Parents" that features a great role play example of how to say "no", no matter how much pressure or emotional manipulation your parents try and put onto you. Then check out "10 Signs You Might Have Unhealthy Boundaries With Your Mom". You might be surprised by how much you'll be able to relate to that one.

Healthy parents know that their job was to help you to become a mature and responsible adult. Once you are at that point, a part of what comes with adulthood is doing what's best for you, regardless of if they like, understand or agree. You are their child yes, but you are no longer a child.

Do not feel guilty in the least for conveying that—in your words as well as your actions. (If you are a parent of adult children, all of what I said still applies; just in the reverse.)

Boundaries with Your Spouse

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Out of all of the boundaries that I'm going to set out to tackle today, I think that the most difficult to maneuver through is setting some appropriate ones with your spouse. After all, they are so close to you that, at least most folks, share a bed, bills and a last name. But marriage is not to be a dictatorship in either direction because no man wants to have sex with his mother and no woman wants to have sex with her dad. That's why it has to be a daily conscious decision to not act like your spouse's parent. Instead, treat your union like the most sacred of partnerships.

Being that boundaries are limits, as far as limits go, the first thing I would say is that your marriage vows (at least traditional ones) address boundaries of loyalty and fidelity. Aside from that, there needs to be a mutual understanding when it comes to expectations. There needs to be no abuse, of any kind. But it also needs to go deeper than that. Married people should agree to not speak negatively of one another to other people. They need to not withhold sex as a way to get what they want or to "teach a lesson". They need to respect one another's view and needs. They need to avoid going below the belt during arguments. They also need to give one another some space.

I could go on and on, but this is an article and not a book on the topic. Luckily, there is a great book that addresses all of this and more. If you are married or are contemplating getting married,Boundaries in Marriage (by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud) is definitely worth adding to your own personal library.

Boundaries with Your Significant Other

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The reason why this gets its own section is because far too many of us make the grave mistake of treating someone we're dating as if they are already our spouse when they absolutely are not (check out "Why You're Always The One Who Prepares A Man For His Wife" sometime). And because they aren't, it is perfectly fine—encouraged even—to get out of anything that no longer serves you well. It doesn't have to be about abuse, them seeing other people without your knowledge or them taking you for granted. It can be as simple as you are dating to see what you want and don't want and, as you discover what that is, you are willing to release who you're with in order to get to the man who complements you best…and most.

I say it as often as I can because it's the truth. Your taxes say that you're single until you are legally married. Not until you've been dating someone for a long time or even until you are engaged. So, no matter how "into someone" you may be, it's OK to have firm limits and to end the relationship, for no deeper reason than you're single and you want to. It's one of the joys of singlehood. Embrace it. Unapologetically so.

Boundaries with Your Friends

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Friends—good friends, that is—are one of God's greatest blessings. Hands down. And, to tell you the truth, if you've got healthy friends, this section isn't really necessary to read. I say that because it's been my personal experience and observation that the right kind of friends will honor your boundaries as you do the same. But if you've been on an emotional roller coaster ride in some of your friendships for so long that you don't even know what kind of limits to set, here are a few that you most definitely should. Express your expectations. Never tolerate disloyalty or disrespect. Do not let them monopolize your time, space or resources. Make sure they know that their opinion is not the gospel and they are your friend, not your parent. Pay attention to any behaviors that look like narcissism, always playing the victim role in order to get their way and/or being an emotional vampire. Take an issue with them gossiping about you or breaking confidentiality. Look out for jealous friends (a total oxymoron) and opportunists. Oh, and if they can't forgive but always want their mess and mistakes to be excused? That's another huge red flag.

Again, a good friend already knows all of this, but if you're constantly getting your feelings hurt or even your heart broken by a friend, chances are, it's because either no boundaries are in place or, they keep disrespecting them—and you keep allowing it.

Boundaries with Your “Enemies”

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It might seem strange to have a section on enemies, but just hear me out for a sec. If you respect Scripture, even a little bit, and you live on this planet long enough, certain verses start to make more and more sense to you. Take "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:43-48), for example. Love them? If you could love them, y'all wouldn't be enemies, right? Oh, and for the record, enemies aren't just folks that you have knockout-fallouts with. By definition, an enemy may be someone who you choose to distance yourself from because they bring harm into your space, on some sort of level. You don't "hate" them; they just aren't as good for or to you as you know you deserve.

Anyway, it's a good idea to set boundaries with these kinds of people, just so that there can be peace in the midst of it all. Try and keep whatever your issues are with them private (mutually so). Avoid that cryptic-and-somewhat-silly passive aggressive banter that some people do on social media (mutually so). Whatever was shared between the two of you when you weren't enemies, it's important that you both honor that confidentiality. Should you see one another, no one has to sit in the other's lap, but do try and be cordial (and concise).

It takes quite a bit of self-awareness and personal maturity to realize that just because someone may be your enemy, you don't have to constantly be at war. But if you're able to set limits and honor them between one another, you'll be amazed by how at peace the two of you can be. Even if you're not exactly friends (or friends anymore).

Boundaries at Work

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As I was in the process of writing this, I skimmed this write-up on Vice's site—"The Backlash to the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Is Finally Here". It made me think about all of the articles I've read about how employees are working ridiculous hours with no breaks or bumps in pay. Yes, I've had the sandwich (in Durham; can't seem to get a hold of one in Nashville) and yes, it's good. Really good. But I feel a little guilty eating more of them if it comes at the expense of folks being overworked, underpaid and totally miserable (several employees have expressed those exact sentiments to me).

Thinking about what so many Popeyes employees have been going through made me also think about some conversations I've had with some of my friends about the stress and drama that they go through at their job.

A lot of it is due to a lack of boundaries. You know—constantly doing other people's work; always doing what doesn't fit their job description; doing work that they don't get paid for; enduring their employer and/or employees talking to them any ole' kind of way; being expected to honor the employee handbook when everyone around them doesn't; being called in on off days…the list goes on and on.

If this is something you can totally relate to and it's got you on the brink of straight-up snappin', when you get home tonight, have a glass of wine and read "6 Things You Don't Owe Your Boss". For now, if you just want the list, it's this—your health, family, sanity, identity, contacts and integrity. Any workplace that challenges this is a place you need to leave—quick, fast and in a super-duper hurry!

Boundaries with Your Church

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If you've ever caught an episode of Larry Reid Live, you know that he is…something else. When it comes to the Church and some of the totally toxic things that transpire within it, he holds not one thing back. Some folks find him insightfully amusing while others, well, absolutely do not. But if there is one thing that I think every church-going person should watch, it's his breakdown of the Jezebel Spirit and how it functions in the Church. Then, after watching that, get free some mo' by reading "Jesus Set Boundaries".

Let's end this article with this point as it relates to where you may attend on Sabbath or Sunday. If the leadership pressures you to give outside of tithing (especially to the point that you can't pay your own bills); if they expect you to be there at the drop of a dime, regardless of what you've personally got going on (whether you're married or single); if you feel manipulated into doing things; if they act like what is going on inside of the church walls is more important than what is transpiring within the four walls of your own home; if they think their vision deserves more attention than your own; if they are never open to correction or rebuke (I Corinthians 5:12 speaks of church folks needing to be more concerned with what's going on inside than outside anyway) and/or if you feel taken for granted or mistreated and, when it's brought to the leadership's attention, it is not promptly addressed—these are just some examples of your boundaries being violated…yes, at your very own church. And violated boundaries, including at a place of worship, should not be overlooked.

A wise person once said, "If someone throws a fit because you set boundaries, it's just more evidence that boundaries are needed." That said, don't you, for one moment ever, feel guilty about setting a boundary. Be clear. Be firm. Be kind. But yes, set them—for the sake of your health, mental sanity and overall quality of life. Amen? Hallelujah indeed.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

I'm Good Luv, Enjoy: How Saying 'No' Keeps Your Life Balance In Check

Unhealthy Workplace Stresses You Need To Break Free From

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Ending Your Marriage

This Is How Emotionally Abusive Friends Act

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Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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