Relationships – Being Assertive and Setting Boundaries

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Relationships – Being Assertive and Setting Boundaries

In every relationship it is important to be able to set boundaries. Many people know this, but it seems few do this in a healthy, productive way. This post is about how to be assertive (healthy communications) when setting boundaries. Be warned – for some people this will be a game changer!

The first step in setting  a boundary is knowing what you want. How do you do that? Well, if something happens and you’re upset about it, there’s a good chance you’ll want to set a boundary. Think about how things could have been different to give you a better outcome. Now you know what you’d like to happen, so step 1 is complete!

For example, if your spouse comes home after work and starts complaining about the boss, a client, a coworker (whatever) before checking in with  you and the family, and you feel stressed or tense, you may want to ask him/her to check in with you first before diving into the complaints of their day.

Find a time when your spouse has settled down and begin by acknowledging their feelings at the time of the incident. You may say something like, “Honey I know sometimes when you come home and you’ve had a frustrating day you just want to get it out. I appreciate that you feel comfortable doing that and I don’t want that to change.” This let’s your spouse know that you understand and empathize with their situation. Step 2 is complete.

Next, in step 3, tell him/her why their behavior is a problem for you. “When you start in with your day without saying “Hello” to me or the kids, I shut down and feel like I don’t matter to you.” This isn’t a statement of blame and you’re not trying to shame your spouse, it’s simply stating the problem as you are experiencing it.

Finally, in step 4, ask for what you want. Say something like, “I’d like you to say “Hi” or greet me when you come home, take a minute to engage with me and the family before you pour out your day to me. That will get us connected and I’ll be ready to handle it and more helpful to you. Can you do that?”

It’s a 4 step process of Assertiveness:

  1. Identify what you want.
  2. Validate your partner’s position.
  3. State the problem the way you experience it.
  4. Ask for what you want.   (4b – Honor your boundaries once you set them!)

In 4b, it’s important the next time your spouse comes home and starts in on his/her day, that you politely remind them of the agreement and ask them to hold off on “ranting” until they check in. If you don’t honor your boundaries, no one else will!

Will this always work? No. Sometimes you’ll ask for something and your partner won’t agree to it. That’s OK – at least now you’re talking about it and the chance to find common ground is possible.

When you’re comfortable with this model, you’ll be able to use it in many areas of your life – with your kids, your coworkers, your parents, your spouse, at restaurants with waiters, when buying a car ….  The possibilities are endless.

About the Author:

Dan Gabbert holds a Masters of Science in Counseling Psychology from Avila University in Kansas City, MO. Dan is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Certified Sex Addictions Therapist (CSAT), a rigorous certification issued by The International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP).