Whether it’s divorcing a toxic parent or figuring out how to adult, boundaries can be tricky to navigate.
Some of us have been fortunate to grow up in families with healthy boundaries. This allows us to know what kinds of questions to ask or expectations to set at the onset of a relationship. This can also empower us to notice and tune into red flags before they become a big problem.
And, sometimes we have to learn healthy boundaries through our adult relationships. In fact, many of us do, even if we had good enough family boundaries. The thing is, no family nor person has it all figured it out, all the time.
We still have to figure out how to interact with others who are different than us. We also have to continually expand our capabilities to new and different contexts as we grow.
What makes up healthy boundaries?
You see, in the most basic sense, boundaries are complexly simple.
They are simple in the sense that they boil down to:
1) establishing clear expectations
2) following through on those expectations.
However, boundaries are complex because they are nuanced by cultural norms, situations, temperament, past experiences, limitations, strengths, and subjective perception.
Healthy boundaries are flexible, co-created and honor the context of the situation. They carry respect both for the other person and for yourself.
Healthy boundaries allow for equal power in the situation appropriate to life stage. Neither person is giving nor taking up all the space or energy in the situation or relationship.
Ok, so let’s break this all down with a little help from the movie, Dirty Dancing.
In case you haven’t seen Dirty Dancing, let me fill you in. It’s a film made in the ‘80’s reminiscing about aspects of old country club family vacations of the ‘50s and ‘60s. In the movie, Baby (Jennifer Grey) goes on a fancy family vacation to a country club. There, she picks up some sexy dance moves and falls in love (at least for the summer) with a smoking hot dance instructor, Johnny (Patrick Swayze).
In the movie, Johnny teaches her how to Cha-Cha and they are romantically involved. It’s kind of a scandal because her dad thinks he knocked up his prior dance partner and left her high and dry. Little does the dad know that he’s actually the decent guy just helping out his friend. Let’s just say, all’s right in the end and if you haven’t seen this movie, I SO recommend it.
Bringing us back to this whole topic of boundaries – in this scene, he deviates from the previously established expectations of how to Cha-Cha. Expectations that he himself set. Ironic? Not. This happens all the time in real life.
Then, she reminds him of the expectations of personal dance space for the Cha-Cha, with the infamous line, “This is my dance space, that’s your’s.”
Once she resets the boundaries, she invites him to continue dancing, stating, “Let’s Cha-Cha.” He nods in agreement and they proceed to dance…until they get caught by annoying Lonny.
Boundaries in the simplest terms:
In sum, this tiny moment is a beautiful example of how healthy boundaries work generally. Expectations are set with the context, relationship, and persons in mind. When boundaries are crossed, we can call it out, reassert the boundary, and keep on dancing. That’s assuming it’s a healthy enough relationship, of course.
But it’s not always so easy, right? That’s a whole other blog post…click here to read on about how you can create boundaries from a place of love.