Protecting Your Relationship 101
THIS topic shows up in therapy sessions so often, we have to address it!
What does it mean to protect your relationship?
This can look different from relationship to relationship, but there is one common theme: the innermost details of your romantic relationships are off limits
Sound harsh? Well, not everyone will like your boundaries, and sometimes that include you! Yes, boundaries can be uncomfortable for everyone involved.
Yet, here is why they are absolutely necessary when it comes to protecting your relationship from outside influence.
Drawing The Circle Of Influence Around Your Romantic Relationship
All relationships carry the potential for immense personal growth. In fact, the quality of our relationships often determines the quality of our life, overall.
This doesn’t mean that we derive our entire value and sense of self-worth from other people! Not even close.
What it does show is the potential for relationships to deeply impact our mental wellbeing. Knowing this, it makes sense that we draw a circle of influence around the type relationship that carries a very strong potential to affect our mental health: romantic relationships.
A circle of influence around your romantic relationship is a boundary. Imagine you and your partner are standing close together and you trace a line around the two of you, forming a circle.
When the two of you encounter obstacles in the relationship (both major and minor), who is allowed to enter your circle of influence? In other words, who is allowed to affect the relationship in troubling times?
The people you disclose intimate details about your relationship to automatically become part of your circle of influence. This is because the information we tell them has the potential to change how they feel AND how we feel about our partner (more on this later).
The details can include:
- Our partner’s vulnerabilities
- Details about fights and arguments you have had
- Anything exchanged between you and your partner with the understanding and assumption of confidentiality
Who Should Be In My Circle Then?
Does this mean you can’t have close friends or talk about your relationship with others? Of course not!
Keeping in mind WHAT you share about your relationship with other people is the key here.
Therapists, marriage counsellors, clergy, and even a trusted (but not enmeshed) friend of the couple can be in the circle of influence.
Notice that there is a degree of removal and objectivity with the people involved. Therapists and counsellors can help you work through issues without being personally affected and impacted by the conflict. Sharing the regrettable things you said to each other in an angry moment won’t affect how the therapist sees the two of you as individuals (and even if it does to some degree, our professional obligation and commitment to you will always take priority).
This objectivity does not exist with our family and friends though! They will likely align themselves with you (and not the relationship as a whole) because they love and care about. More on this below!
It’s also VERY important to note that none of this applies if you are in a situation of abuse. In cases of abuse, we need to know about interpersonal details and fights because people are potentially in danger. Safety is a priority, not protecting the relationship.
3 Tips To Protect The Boundaries Of Your Relationship
We all need boundaries both within the relationships to protect our individuality and flourish alongside our partners. We also need boundaries to protect the relationship as a unit. Keep in mind that setting boundaries is uncomfortable work! It’s normal to feel guilty, anxious, and scared
Here are a few of my best tips to accomplish this:
1) Talk About What You Will Do In Case Of Major Disagreements
Imagine working through a major disagreement in your relationship and having a pre-determined plan to fall back on in case you can’t resolve it?
This is the stuff we love! Take the time to talk about what you will do when disagreements arise (and they will). Planning ahead allows you to make better choices about your needs as a couple, knowing that being in the middle of a heated disagreement does not always lead to the best choices.
For example, list a couples counsellor, mediator, or religious figure you both feel good about. If something happens that you can’t resolve, now you already know what the next step it!
This prevents you from violating boundaries as a relationship unit (i.e. disclosing unflattering details about the fight to family and friends).
2) Limit Sharing Information About Disagreements With Family/Friends
I cannot stress this enough!
Our family and friends are HIGHLY biased when it comes us. This is because they love us. However, they are not the ones committed to your partner, through thick and thin.
The comment or behaviour that you can forgive and move past because you and your partner share a life together is the very comment or behaviour that your mom or sister will never forget and perhaps even hold against your partner.
When we share close intimate details about relationship conflicts with friends and family, we are not being fair to our partner or to the relationship itself.
Once again, this is irrelevant in situations of abuse, where disclosures must be believed and can save lives.
3) In-Laws Are NOT Your Sole Responsibility
Let’s let this one sink in for a moment. Women who are married or in a long-term relationship often find themselves in the uncomfortable (and unfair) position of managing issues with in-laws.
Your parents are your responsibility. Your partner’s parents are their responsibility. It’s that simple!
We can have loving and fulfilling relationships with our in-laws while maintaining this boundary.
It’s also important to understand that what works for you and your partner may be different that what your (or their) family of origin is used to or approves of.
Know when other people’s opinions about your life are starting to cause problems in the relationship!
Need A Reference? See my post below summarizing all this information and more!
If you are used to sharing the details about your relationship with the people in your life, this concept can take a little getting used to.
This last note is to tell you not to feel ashamed or embarrassed if you have overshared in the past! Many of us who grew up in immigrant households are not used to navigating relationships independently. We also grow up with our parents sharing the intimate details of their conflicts with US. Of course, the idea of protecting your relationship by NOT disclosing can seem strange. I am sending you so much love!
I want to hear from you: Do you consciously protect the boundaries of your romantic relationship? What are some strategies you use?
Until next time!
Sarah Ahmed is the co-founder and a psychotherapist at WellNest Psychotherapy Services. Sarah strongly favors an integrative, trauma-informed, client-centered approach to create a healthy alliance with clients and their loved ones.