As I think back to all the stages of my life, one of the key lessons I have learned is how to set boundaries for myself in any relationship. When I really like someone personally or professionally, I tend to go out of my way for them. While this may seem harmless on its surface, even generous, the truth is that those constant over extensions came at a price: meeting my own goals.
Giving feels so good. Some of us have it in our temperament to give. Others have been taught to put themselves second by their community. I often got verbal and physical signals from my family and my community that mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunts come second. Fathers, brothers, sons and uncles come first. Growing up Catholic, I was taught that the meek shall inherent the earth. As a school girl I took that literally and often gave up everything for others in my family and even for strangers without boundaries. Hearing and seeing these messages overtime gave me a warped sense of what giving means in the context of my own life.
As an adult, I had weak boundaries and resulted in a lost expression of who I wanted to be in the world. I put everyone first-- social justice advocacy, my family’s needs, my ex-husband’s needs, my friend’s needs, and my work and volunteerism. Being like this led to real problems for me – health issues, exhaustion, unbalanced relationships, frustration, and a muted self-expression. Until I was fed up.
In the last ten years, I began to set boundaries in different places of my life. I began to protect my time and see it as my most precious commodity. A divorce from my husband, breakups with friends and deep shifts in my career, created space to find out who I wanted to be. While these changes were hard and even at times deeply painful, I grew to know myself again as I learned to trust my own thoughts, feelings, intuition and spirituality.
This silent space also showed me how depleted I was and how much farther I wanted to be in my own personal goals. So I began a journey to defend and protect my time vigorously and to begin lifting my voice up again so I could once again become visible, find genuine relationships and grow those relationships from a place of grounding.
People often ask me if I have regrets. I have no regrets about the past. Every moment led me to this more authentic, bold version of me. As I look back at all those relationships, I hope these tips will make your relationships with the people you love and care for more meaningful. It’s not always about walking away. Sometimes it’s just about defining who you are today and sharing it with the world:
Identify Your Values
Values make up part of the engine that is our core belief system. Before, during and after a relationship, check your values. Values help us make important decisions about what matters the most at any stage of life. While values are flexible and can change, there are some values you may not want to live without. When you think about a potential partner, don’t compare them to past partners. Compare yourself and them to your own values. (See exercise below)
Be Seen. Be Visible.
Being visible might seem like a strange action to highlight. After all, the whole point of the relationship is that you’re getting to know someone. In the past, I have made myself small in a relationship. When you’re really into someone, sometimes you just get in this cycle of pleasing them and forgetting about your own needs. Your partner can’t get to know you if they can’t see your personality and learn about your needs. Figuring out if this is the right partner requires Conocimiento (mutuality) and for that you have to be visible. Let them see you.
Break out the Financial Spreadsheets.
We all have spreadsheets about the people we are dating, whether it’s a literal one or a checklist in your head. Often that spreadsheet is based on things you’ve seen your partner do. But if you are thinking about living together or getting married, serious value based questions are key. Most people don’t talk about each other’s finances, as if the magical fairy is just going erase your financial past. The truth is that most serious relationships break up over money. The deeper truth is that most relationships break up over what to do with the money. Your finances and how you manage may be key indicators of life circumstances, accountability, dreams, interests, daily habits and so forth. Having conversations about debt, financial dreams and goals can only bring you closer to your partner. Have conversations together before you get hitched about your individual and shared financial vision. If you’re single, have this conversation with yourself.
Learn to have Empowering Conversations
One of the hardest things that individuals face in a relationship is fear of rejection. Fear of not being accepted for who we are is scary, especially when we are really invested in the other person. And yet, silence is even scarier. Part of the secret is to face those challenges from a place of curiosity. When a major hurdle comes up, try asking questions that empower your partner to share the process and values behind their actions. Asking what or how questions help the other person share their values and new perspectives.
Your Turn: Hot Air Balloon Exercise
Here’s a short exercise you can do to identify your values and your relationship. Start by identifying five values for yourself. Imagine you were in a hot air balloon with five of your most precious values. Your perfect partner came along with their key five values. The only way your partner can get in the hot air balloon with you is if the both you had to ditch all but one of your values. You agree to do so. What would value would be left for you? For them? What information does this give you about yourself? Your current or future partner?