5 False Facts About Boundaries Everyone Believes To Be True
VonLaura Doyle |Updated: 12/16/2022
In relationships you have to set boundaries.
Everyone knows that.
But what if not?
Since borders are places on the fringes of countries where soldiers stand with guns to defend their territory, you have to ask yourself: do I really want this in my marriage?
I know I don't.
Barbed wire and gun turrets don't do much for intimacy.
You might be thinking, "That's a different kind of boundary," but in my early marriage, there wasn't much of a difference. I meet many other women who are just as confused as I am.
They say, “I set a limit. I told him it's not okay to drink late with friends and leave me home alone with the kids."
Or, "I told him he needed to end his friendship with this woman at work because it violated my boundary."
Or, as I used to say, "I don't like being spoken to like that, and I won't accept you violating my boundaries."
Of course I want to honor myself. I want to say how I feel and what I want. I want to feel important and wanted.
I want to be treated well.
Today I have all of that in my marriage. But setting boundaries never helped me get there.
Here are 5 false facts about borders and what to do instead:
1. Boundaries make relationships better.
In the bad old days when I set a boundary it came out of anger (or if I'm being more honest I was actually hurt) and so it came when I got to speaking my truth laced out with sarcasm, criticism and resentment.
For example, when I said, "I don't like being spoken to like that, and I won't accept you violating my boundaries," it included a pretty loud subtext that he was an idiot and just pissed me off.
I was a big fat hypocrite who criticized him for being critical and blamed him for blaming me.
That was pretty sure I wouldn't get a good response, like an apology or a hug, because that's not how people are made.
Even if you're married to a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, I promise you, if you're on the warpath, they'd rather get caught in enemy fire than try to hug you.
Whenever I feel criticized I become defensive, no matter how right the other person is. It stands to reason that my husband reacts in the same way.
Criticism has never improved our relationship. Not once.
So I only speak for myself and avoid criticizing him to teach someone else how to treat me and still maintain the intimacy I value so much.
I say what I mean, but I don't say it that way.
One way to do this in this example would be to simply say "Ouch!" and nothing more. I honor myself by admitting that I'm hurt, but I don't criticize or blame my husband.
It takes a little getting used to, but the response is so much better than I've ever gotten from "setting a limit".
2. Boundaries are a way of taking care of yourself.
Another common pothole I often fell into was embracing my husband's problems as my own instead of trusting him to figure things out on his own (as he had done for 32 years before I met him).
This has led me to pursue things that were not my concern or area of expertise, even though they exhausted and stressed me out.
For example, I took it upon myself to help him find a better job, which meant appointing myself as his career advisor, revising his resume, and (you're welcome!) finding him job leads.
When he didn't appreciate any of it, I was upset!
I set a limit by saying, "Well, then you can do all this on your own without my help because you don't appreciate anything I do."
In hindsight, I'm sure he was relieved! Except for the part where I explained what an idiot he was for not thanking me profusely.
As you can imagine, that didn't exactly make him feel in love with me.
These days I stay out of trouble like that by minding my own business first. It saves me a lot of completely unnecessary resentment.
If no one asks me for help, it means they don't need or want help. If they did, they would tell me.
Even if they point it out, I don't have to read anything into it, and I don't usually do it.
That's because I trust that other people are the experts on their own lives and can speak for themselves when they want something from me. That includes my husband.
I listen and even empathize at times, but I refrain from blaming myself for solving my husband's problems unless he asks directly, and even then I sometimes use magical expression to cause trouble avoid.
What is that sentence, you ask? Glad you asked...
3. You shouldn't let yourself go beyond your limits.
If you think of your own limits as a mere mortal woman, rather than turrets, and if you think of acknowledging those limits before you cross them - not after - then this one is indeed true.
Deciding that my husband had overstepped my bounds used to be license to screw him.
But in hindsight, if I've been overwrought, exhausted, or otherwise out of shape because my limits have been pushed, there can only be one person truly to blame: me.
I'm the one who gave himself away by staying up too late to take him to the airport or feeling too lonely just waiting for him to come home when he was out with a friend, or worked too hard to pay all the bills I was afraid he couldn't handle.
These days I'm pretty good at asking myself if I'll hold grudges before I do something, and that does me great good.
When someone asks me to do something that overwhelms me, exhausts me, or throws me out of shape, I respond with this magical phrase, "I can't."
It pays to be brave enough to disappoint my husband sometimes because it helps me maintain my dignity, stay comfortable most of the time, and avoid a blast.
I have to reiterate: If I'm overstepping my limits and my husband happens to be around when I decide to go over budget, there's no way I'll be able to get angry at him to restore my self-esteem.
But acknowledging my own limitations upfront has been a life saver and a marriage saver.
A college student experimented with this phrase when her husband asked her if she could water the neighbor's lawn that day. She just said, "I can't." And he just said, "oh." It was awkward for a few moments when he then figured out Plan B, which was for him to do it later that day. He solved the problem himself, and she didn't overexert herself, get angry, or lose her dignity by informing him of her limitations.
4. Boundaries lift others up.
That's just not my experience — not the way I've used boundaries or how I see other women using them, which serves as an attempt to control someone else.
Because borders are secret ultimatums or threats. It is human nature to rebel against an ultimatum or a threat.
Being threatened brings out the "I'll show you!" in all of us.
I remember thinking that if I made threats, my husband would realize how thoughtless he was and reconsider his actions, but it never worked, not even a little.
It didn't protect me from suffering what I took to be his bad behavior.
My notifying him has only given us wall-to-wall animosity.
These days I'm not at all tempted to make threats or ultimatums because my husband is inspired to make me happy.
All I have to do is be my best self (the me I've always wanted to be anyway) and my husband will respond to me better.
5. Boundaries are non-negotiable.
Boundaries are often things like, "I'll let you know now that I'm never going to your brother's house again," or "Next time you need a ride to the airport, don't ask me."
But these kinds of announcements — the kind that are from now and forever — are just sideways forms of saying, "I hate you right now."
You may feel good about yourself at the moment, but you leave little room for the possibility that you will see things differently in the future.
They are certainly not conducive to intimacy as they tend to leave a cold frost in the room.
I realize my relationship requires constant negotiation and there are very few things I can decide about now and forever.
Instead, I prefer to check every moment with myself and decide whether to go to his brother's house or drive him to the airport.
Maybe I will, or maybe I can't and still be my best self - the calm, self-possessed. Not the angry and resentful one.
However, I know I can honor myself when this situation arises. And I don't need a strong military for that.
It is true that we are always teaching people how to treat us.
Setting boundaries has never gotten me the tender, playful, passionate treatment I have now. But focusing on and honoring my own feelings and desires helped me give everything I wanted when I thought I needed all that defense.
By Laura Doyle
Hello! I'm Laura.
New York Times bestselling author
I was the perfect wife - until I actually got married. When I tried to tell my husband how to be more romantic, ambitious, and organized, he avoided me. I dragged him to marriage counseling and almost divorced him. I then started talking to women who had what I wanted in their marriages and that's when I got my miracle. The man who wooed me has returned.
I've written a few books about what I've learned and accidentally started a worldwide movement of women practicing The Six Intimacy Skills™ that lead to amazing, vibrant relationships. What I'm most proud of is my playful, passionate relationship with my hilarious husband John - who dressed himself before I was born.
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I definitely appreciate this article. However, I have a support group for Christian wives of alcoholics and addicts and LOVE Boundaries is a MUST. These are set to protect us and our children from the chaos and pain of addiction. For example, I've set the limit that if he's drunk I'll just walk away to go to my sister's house with the kids because it hurts them so much to see their dad like that. I also set the line that there will be no sex while drunk. This isn't meant to deprive him, but to save something very intimate for a time when it might mean something other than sloppy drunken sex. It also tells my husband that when he is sober he is free to experience the joys of family life and marriage, but when he is drinking that experience is his only. It also proves to my girls that I can be both a strong woman and a good wife, drawing a biblical line in the sand, and that my husband can't treat me a certain way (when he's drunk, there is language and behavior that is destructive and frankly demonic).
I love that the message behind this article is that we don't set boundaries out of bitterness or revenge, but there is a place for them when they are not set with respect for your husband, but with love and therefore your marriage can thrive. Before I set those boundaries, I pretty much let him walk all over me and treat me worse than I would treat an enemy (when he was drunk, of course) because I thought I was the good, submissive Christian wife. After months of prayer, I realized that valuable as I am to the Lord, this is not exactly what is being asked of me. So, yes, there is a place for boundaries, loving boundaries that create an atmosphere in which marriage can thrive, not revenge or disrespect.
Recelle, I understand that you've found boundaries helpful in your difficult situation. What I hear you saying is that putting off sex until your husband is sober feels more self-honouring, and I totally understand why you feel that way! I would do the same in your situation. I also hear you say it feels more honorable for you and your children to leave once he's reached a certain level of intoxication, which I can understand. These are good examples of making decisions that honor you in the moment and teach your husband to treat you differently. You can't control his drinking, but you can control yourself and your reaction, and I admire how you found a way to do that that isn't bitter or vindictive.
Rachel, basically you follow what Laura teaches. you just don't talk You say you "can't have sex high and you leave, so you basically say ouch"
I respect you so much and pray for your family.
I have been separated from my husband since last March. He hurt me so much. He left our family 3 weeks after our house burned down and we have been in an insurance dispute ever since. On top of that, he is dating another woman. He stays out a long time. He leaves my teenage daughter home alone when she stays with him. I'll definitely try "Ouch". But when I tell him "I can't" about something, I'm afraid of his anger. He is extremely forgetful. He exaggerates so much. He yells at me sometimes and is nice to me around others. So I'm confused. He wants to file for divorce in March and I've been begging him to talk to me. At first he told me it would do no good. He's made up his mind. Our marriage is over. And the next day he softened and said I could come over and talk to him anytime but he didn't know what to say would change his mind... now I'm scared. I don't know what to say. I said I love you, I miss you. But I don't know what to do or say. Any help from any of your ladies would be appreciated. There are times when he texts me that I want to acknowledge him, so I say "I hear you". I've actually used it a lot on most people now. Sometimes I say... "I'd like to run, but it's too cold outside" and he offered me the use of his treadmill. But he does it to be nice, not to be my husband. (According to him). And hiking is one of my favorite self-care activities.
Tina, I'm sorry to hear what you're going through with your husband. Living under the threat of a divorce you don't want creates a lot of anxiety! I can see that you are committed, so there is definitely hope for your marriage. I love the treadmill story - that's great! I would be happy if you received support in implementing the intimacy skills, as there is a lot at stake for you. I invite you to apply for a free introductory session to see if working with one of my coaches might be right for you. It will be so valuable to you! You can do that here:
Speaking of limits, I'm wondering how I should take my husband's recent decision to apply for jobs in the US when we live in Canada and have a teenage son and 11-year-old daughter, and the fact that I the (much) higher incomes have earners, which means it's a bigger risk for me to leave my job to move with him if he gets the job - and I probably won't do that. I'm just trying to figure out how to talk to him about this. I know he's making this decision out of a desperate feeling that he needs to try and get better opportunities than he's getting here, but this potential move will leave me with two children - one who will need a lot of my support for school the moment — and a demanding job and life he must try to manage without his help while moving to a place where all he has to do is manage himself. Really fight...
Nicole, we are sorry to hear you are going through such a stressful situation in your marriage! That sounds difficult. I can understand why that would be a struggle. I see a few ways here to achieve the desired outcome and I would appreciate if you could get assistance implementing intimacy skills to achieve this. This is fixable! I invite you to apply for a free introductory session to see if working with one of my coaches is right for you. You can do that here:
With a Masters in Counseling, I respectfully disagree! It seems that your own understanding of boundaries needs some clarification. I am saddened that this message is being sent to women when healthy boundaries are sometimes necessary and very helpful.
Amanda, thank you for your feedback. I trust that you and all of my readers are the experts on their own lives and will do what is best for them, although I have shared my experiences of limitations on this blog.
Thanks for the contribution. I thought it was a very good overview of unhealthy boundaries.
I've also had "professional" counselors who spoke of boundaries and did nothing but step between our one-flesh marriage with toxic guidelines that lacked grace.
Thanks again Laura for these insightful posts. I can truly tell you are after marriage and relationship instead of encouraging women to focus on themselves. I like that about your brand.
As a former client of a professional with a Masters in Counseling Services, I am aware that you have been taught "different rules". In real life, however, your rules for setting boundaries did nothing to improve my marriage. The intention of setting boundaries is to protect yourself. If you go through all of Laura Doyle's work, you will realize that there are other ways you can protect yourself without harming yourself or others around you. Experience speaks for itself.
So, to all the lucky women getting these posts, kudos to you and don't give up! So sad for the rest of the women trying to be helped by our professionals who don't have the real intimacy skills.
I would like to know some examples of healthy boundaries. I have been in a relationship with highly toxic elements for 17 years and have played a co-dependent role many times.
Over the past year through therapy I've learned to be kind to myself and that sometimes it feels like telling my partner that I won't support them anymore, that they need to get their own car, and so on . It feels good. But now that I'm reading this post, I recognize myself in some of those mistakes. So where is the balance – what do healthy limits look like?
Sarah, great questions! I love your beautiful accountability. That was my dilemma too – how do I get what I need? I got my answer in the Six Intimacy Skills, which have nothing to do with anything I've ever learned in therapy. The skills helped me honor myself, maintain my dignity, stop raving, stop being codependent, and make my husband ambitious and madly in love with me. I lay them out step by step in the book The Empowered Wife. You can read a free chapter here:
Wow, didn't I learn to read that. Excellent advice. I definitely need to reflect on myself. Thanks
What about boundaries with other women? I'm not asking about cheating - rather about unlimited friendships. Just letting go and taking care of myself seems like tolerating a lack of boundaries that may be inappropriate, but setting boundaries feels parental.
Kelly, that's a great insight you have here — there's parenting or control that doesn't feel good or conducive to intimacy, and there's ... giving up control of someone you can't control. At least those are the only options I've ever found. The intimacy skills have helped me figure out what I can and can't control. It turns out I have a lot of power now that I know how to use it. We all teach others how to treat us, including our husbands, and their drive to make us happy is very strong. When we are respectful they tend to rise up and become their best selves. That connected me more than ever did not condone.
Laura, this is one thing my husband says I do... "Control." He's not specific. He says I can't stop it. You're right, I can't control what he's doing or what he's doing. I hate knowing he's with another woman. I hate it when he leaves my daughter late at night. I hate this message he is sending to my daughter.
Tina, I was the same way - very controlling and I couldn't give it up! But when I discovered the intimacy skills, they helped me become my best self, the woman I wanted to be all along. If I can do it and thousands of other women can do it, so can you! It helps a lot to have a guide by your side. That's what I want for you.
laura Do you have coaches who have experience with complicated situations like mine? I'm really ready to do something. I've been without my husband for almost a year and feel like I'm running out of time. I tried space. I tried to be quiet. I tried to be peaceful. I've tried to tell him how I feel or I'll miss him. But since he's separated from me, I just feel lost. I think if he lived here I might have better chances. But you are the experts!!
Tina, that's a lot of commitment from you! And yes, almost a year is a long time to endure this situation. We have trainers who have first hand experience of situations like yours and I am confident that you would find tremendous value in having the personal attention and guidance of such a woman. There is nothing like it. They can make your marriage vibrant and amazing again! We are here to support you with this.
Do you have any advice on how to set or not set boundaries in a relationship? When a friend keeps speaking out of two corners of his mouth... one day, "I love you, and my life without you is terrible," and another day, "I don't think you'll be biblically obedient enough that I'll ever marry you." what should a girl do My solution was to call it quits, but he's still texting the same messages on different days. I'm sick of the roller coaster ride of emotions that comes with it. I have asked him not to contact me unless he is willing and able to be in a relationship with me as he knows my interpretation of biblical submission. Should I ignore or acknowledge His sweet, loving messages?
Rose, that sounds incredibly hard! I'm sure you love this man, otherwise you wouldn't be writing to me about this problem. This relationship could be everything you dream of even though you broke up with him. I would love for you to get your hands on the Six Intimacy Skills I lay out step by step in my book The Empowered Wife. You would find it so valuable! You can read a free chapter here:
This article is definitely a good overview of how the word "boundaries" is being misused. I believe that setting healthy boundaries actually means caring about what's on your paper (not his) and keeping your side of the road clean.
Good limits don't come with any announcement. If you have to say, "That's my limit," it's a pretty good bet that you're doing something other than setting a limit. But something you advocate saying, "I can't," when a request from your husband would affect your self-care is actually a very good example of setting a healthy boundary and not letting it be crossed, and with good reason . Refusing to attend to your husband's business is also a good example of boundary setting that is good for both of you.
Laura, my point is, you actually advocate setting good, healthy boundaries in a relationship, and they are necessary. You just call them different.
Fernanda, agree! You are absolutely right. I think it means honoring myself, acknowledging my limitations, and focusing on making myself happy, because the word limitations conjures up angry, critical comment. Thanks for clarifying.
Saying "I can't" is actually a limit 🙂 but I understand what you're saying here. Thank you Laura for all the great work you are doing!!!
Thank you Brenda! I understand what you are saying. I think of "I can't" as an acknowledgment of my limitations as a mortal woman who was so great at intimacy. There is no anger or resentment in it, and maybe there are no boundaries either, but I certainly see that there are often references to boundaries in anger and resentment. That's why I make the distinction.
The original authors of the "boundaries" concept, Cloud and Townsend, defined boundaries more the way you advocate, Laura, by saying "I can't" when you can't. You don't say that with any anger or resentment in it, just say it as a fact, and then don't back down even if the other person gets angry or tries to get you to back down (the other person might get angry, but you ( the boundary setter) shouldn't. In their book, they're okay with a bit more explanation, such as, "I can't pick you up and take you to the store today, but I will do it tomorrow when it's our designated shopping day." , at the request of an elderly parent to a daughter to please pick him up to buy the item he desperately needs right now, but not with resentment or anger.And like I said before, if you actually need to use it when you use the word Set "boundary" (as in some examples in your post), you're not doing it right.
I believe the original concept of boundaries as formulated by Cloud and Townsend is very good and very necessary in all kinds of human relationships. But from what you write, the concept may seem watered down and/or misconstrued in people's understanding. It sounds like "boundaries" has become a buzz word or something now, but the original meaning has been lost. So people are throwing the word around like some kind of magic spell and as you point out that doesn't have the desired effect, certainly not the desired effect of actually honoring yourself in your boundaries and showing the others in your life how you can too you honor But as Cloud and Townsend put it, it's about honoring yourself and your limitations (including your desire not to do something—you don't need a reason to say no, right?) and teaching others to do the same do you. Really, the only difference between what you advocate and what Cloud and Townsend advocate is that you choose fewer words. They say a woman should just say "I can't" without further words, while C and T would advocate completing the thought more, like "I can't help you clean the garage right now." Or C and T would advocating saying, "That really hurt me when you did it..." while pledging to just say "ouch." So I assume you actually refined the concept of C and T boundaries further to be effective with even fewer words (and you give excellent reasons for using fewer words). "That really hurt me when you said..." is actually pretty clunky and awkward (in addition to sounding critical and therefore disrespectful to say to a husband). "Ouch" gets the job done much more gracefully and graciously.
Hi Laura, last year we were happy when I told you that after my husband cheated on us we came back with his bipolar issue.
It was ok for a while, but after September he doesn't want to be with me anymore.
And screamed all the time and with very, very bad words. It all started when I tried to set boundaries because he can't drink. So it was terrible.
I am in a very difficult situation now. and he asked me for a divorce.
I'm very, very sad and feel like I can't go any further with this.
What is your advice Laura? What I can do?
Mercedes, I'm so sorry! That's very difficult. However, this is not hopeless. I see women in similar situations turning things around and making their marriages amazing again using the six intimacy skills and a guide. I would be happy if you get support. This deserves a longer conversation. You have more power than you realize. I invite you to apply for a free introductory session to see if working with one of my coaches is right for you. You can do that here:
Thanks for the good memories. Sometimes I get angry and bitter when my husband doesn't behave the way I want him to. I feel very angry when he doesn't take care of himself. I suppose I could do the "spouse who fulfills the prophecy" thing. Sometimes it feels like the more respect I show outwardly, the more I cook inside. But looking at myself, there are many things I need to take care of in my own life in order to get things done and improve. I should tackle this project first. Thanks again.
Dot, I know what you mean - I get it. I admire you starting with the woman in the mirror! I like this.
I get a little crazy when my husband keeps using my toothbrush and drinking from my water glass and eating my food off my plate. He knows no bounds when it comes to my personal belongings. Aren't some borders healthy? Normal? I literally react. It's been like this for 10 years now and he hasn't learned that I don't like it!!! What to do???
Tonya, it seems appropriate and normal for you to want your own personal toothbrush, water glass and plate of food! What comes to mind here is expressing a wish in an inspirational way. Your man wants to make you happy, but if he's heard just one complaint, he might not know how! I had the same problem, and in this free webinar I'm going to explain what works like magic: how to get respect, reconnect, and revitalize your love life. Here you can sign up:
My husband is addicted to video games. You have become very important to him. I let him know that it bothers me in both healthy and unhealthy ways. He's trying to gamble less, but he needed someone to help him take care of his house online. He found someone who is a woman. That bothered me a lot. I know jealousy is wrong. But I think it's wrong for him to have a woman in his video game house where he spends most of his time.
Andrea, I understand why your husband's video game addiction and online connection with this woman would bother you and make you jealous. I admire you for reaching out to be supportive and committed to your marriage. If I can get my husband off the couch and make my marriage playful and passionate again, I know you can too! I have a free webinar coming up that will help you with that. It's called How to Get Respect, Reconnect and Rev Up Your Love Life. You can sign up for it here:https://lauradoyle.org/swewtraining/
What I'm hearing from this is that healthy boundaries are about ourselves: "I can't."
Unhealthy boundaries are set for others and motivation comes from ego.