A guest post by Ken Myers
I have to admit, I was older when I really started taking relationships seriously. I never really gave it much thought as a young person. I figured things just happened, right? You met a person, you dated a while, fell in love and everything worked out. However as the years passed I realized that the real world does not work that way. Only Hollywood and romantic novels work out that perfectly. Instead I found myself going from relationship to relationship and wondering why I could never seem to find my special someone.
After much frustration I gave up. I just stopped dating for a few years. I figured that if I was going to be lonely and miserable I might as well be that way by myself, not compounded with someone else’s misery. This time alone helped me to clarify a few things in my life.
For one thing I learned who I was and what I really wanted. Many times in the past I had let partners run over me because I was afraid to tell them no. I was afraid they would stop loving me if I did not do exactly what they wanted. Needless to say, this left both of us in a foul mood. I was just an echo of their thoughts and feelings and I myself felt empty and unsure. Who wants to date that, right?
As I spent some time alone I had to invest in my own interests and desires. To do that I had a lot of trial and error efforts to find out what I really liked and what I did not like so much.
This also affected my other relationships, like with my parents and siblings. Because I was learning for the first time who I was without them, they had some trouble getting used to my changes. I started to stand up for myself and refuse to just go along with the status quo. At first we fought a lot but after I found ways to explain my motivation and show them how selfish they were being they gradually came to understand why I needed to change. It was not an easy path for any of us. Things had been done the same way for my whole life and now suddenly they had to change.
I also moved away from home, something I had not done on a long term basis. Even when I went off to college I would often come home to eat or visit and everyone saw it as just a temporary living situation. When jobs were scarce and I had to move back home after college everything went back to the way it was since I was a child. It was only after my years of not dating that I could work up to being an independent adult and move out on my own. I had to learn how to set up boundaries in my life, even between my family and I.
Boundaries are vitally important. I learned that to have a truly loving relationship between adults, even non-romantic relationships, it is important that you each have boundaries. These can be as simple as times you go to bed or wake up or something more complex like you requesting someone to stop making negative comments about your weight or someone to stop involving you in their crisis. It is not wrong to tell people no or request that they avoid certain things around you. That does not mean you are telling them what to do with their lives, rather it is allowing you to live your life to the fullest and include them in it.
No matter how much you love someone you cannot be around someone who does not respect your boundaries without getting hurt or angry. I remember I used to get into big fights with my mother because of the negative comments she made. I would be hurt so then I would get angry at her. She could never understand why I was angry as she was “just making conversation.” After I learned more about setting boundaries I was able to confront her directly and tell her when she was offending me. That did not solve the problem immediately, but she made more of an effort to change her conversation.
When I did resume dating I am afraid I was a little overboard as far as boundaries went. While it is good to have boundaries, you should not use them as a wall to hide behind. You should be flexible with things that are not vital and yet stay strong with important issues. This balance is hard and can only be learned over time.
Anyway, I went back to dating with a big wall up. I was not unfriendly, I hope, but I was distant. That is until I met my partner. Despite my cool demeanor, my partner took a liking to me and pursued the relationship. I was attracted, yes, but I was also fearful of rejection. After some time I finally loosened my tight grip on my fears and found myself falling in love.
As our relationship grew I learned what having good boundaries are all about. It made it possible for me to tell my partner what I liked and what I did not like. Instead of just going along with anything I had my own ideas, wants and needs. Separating the wants and the needs was hard at first, but eventually I learned how to communicate what I needed effectively.
This has transformed our relationship. Instead of the unhealthy relationships I had before, where I took all the crap and gave all the love until I was empty of love and full of crap and had to dig myself out, now I was giving and receiving love in equal measure, staying full and satisfied. Yes there were certain things I had to take they were not great, but the rewards were many and I am not perfect either.
The point is to create strong boundaries before you get in a relationship. Then communicate those boundaries with your partner in a healthy way so that you can both benefit. There is no point in having a relationship without boundaries. It will fall apart. Like the saying “good fences make good neighbors”, good boundaries make good relationships. Find out who you are and what your needs and wants are before you get into a romantic relationship with another. It will save you a lot of heartache in the long run.
About the Author:
Anne Lyken-Garner is a published author, editor and freelance writer. Her specialities include relationships and confidence building. You can find her inspirational memoir here.