Developing boundaries in love and relationships usually involves a learning curve as people go deeper with each other. For example, if a person just doesn’t get you or understand what you’re communicating or what behavior you need to have, don’t sweat it. It’s a speed bump – a snag, but not a derailment. Allow a generous space to learn how to understand each other.
Our past experiences are all different, and these differences must be ironed out over time. For example, sometimes an individual who has encountered trust problems will, without being aware of it, expect the other person to read her mind. This dynamic usually has to do with a long-standing pattern of not being understood by others over many years. The individual begins to retreat from relationship and reverts to an old childhood desire that someone understand her without her having to explain herself.
So when she says X and the other person’s response is not the response she needed, she will feel unloved and disconnected. It is as if the relationship is a dartboard, and the other person is expected to hit the bull’s eye. She often does this because she is resistant to taking a risk and believes at some level, If he loves me, he will figure out what I am feeling without me having to say what I need.
It’s unrealistic to put this expectation on someone. So forget the bull’s eye. Look for care, interest, and effort. They will pay off for you. And understand what it’s like from the other person’s perspective. You probably would like to have some direction and help from the other person about what he needs so you don’t spend endless hours trying to create the magic empathic words that make him feel appreciated.
This couple’s communication glitch was a speed bump. It was part of the learning curve of moving beyond boundaries, and it is always to be expected. Vulnerability, trust, and risk will make matters messy, and you will not always do this right. What follows are some things to understand, so the speed bumps don’t become major hurdles for your relationship.
Going Beyond Boundaries:
The Four Most Common Relational Speed Bumps
The more informed you are about speed bumps, the more able you will be to deal with them successfully. There are some typical kinds that, once you understand them, will cover most of the obstacles you will encounter. Here are some of the things that can happen between you and the other person and what you can do about them.
The other person doesn’t understand what’s going on with you, and the vulnerability-response cycle doesn’t go well. There is no bad guy here. Take responsibility for how you are communicating. Say what you are saying in a different way that might be clearer to the other person. For example, “No, the problem wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared for the presentation. I was just scared that I would make a fool of myself.” Then ask, “Does that make sense?” Restating things in a new way often enables the person to respond with more understanding.
2. Innocent Triggering
Sometimes a person accidentally says or does something that triggers an old hurt from the past. If it is a new relationship, the reaction can be from your previous connection, your family of origin, or both. If it is a current relationship that you are trying to rebuild, it may be something that person said or did that echoes the unhealthy way you related in the past.
In situations like these, it’s as if one person is a minefield. When the other person innocently walks across a buried wound, the minefield person explodes in fear, withdrawal, or anger. If this happens and you are the one who is triggered, don’t make the other person the problem. Tell her your defensiveness or withdrawal is about your own baggage, and you’re committed to working on it. Ask for patience with this issue that you both want to resolve.
If it is the other person who is triggered, do not react. Don’t explode or get defensive. Be there for him, listen, question, understand, and empathize. Most of the time, the person who was triggered can then see that it was not about the two of you and can move on.
3. Climbing the Learning Curve
Skills for mature relationships are learned over time. Even people with great relational experiences and abilities have to learn the particulars of the other person. This is the interesting part of getting to know someone, as we are complex and unique individuals, a trait for which we praise God.
Suppose, for example, that your idea of a way to unwind after coming home from a dinner out with friends is to sit with your spouse and talk about what you noticed and experienced at dinner. But your spouse’s idea of unwinding might be to chill out in front of the TV, browse the Web, or take a walk to clear his or her head a bit. That difference isn’t about you; it’s just personal preferences. It is about two people with different styles learning to adapt to a relationship.
4. Character Issues
Character issues are often more serious than speed bumps. If they are severe enough, they can jeopardize the relationship. A character issue can be transformed if the person is honest about it, demonstrates a desire to change, and is getting help from some resource besides you. If those things are in evidence, you can reasonably expect that there will be personal growth and change that will eventually enable love and vulnerability to happen.
If you are experiencing serious problems — which suggests that the person has some character issues, addictions, or deceptive tendencies — this is a different matter. It’s not a speed bump. It could be harmful to you and jeopardize the relationship. If that happens, you must address it and confront it. Tell the person what happened and that you are concerned and things must change. Keep your protective boundaries in place. You may even need to tell the person that for things to go further, you need to know that he or she is getting help from a professional source. Guarding your heart, even while you are working on becoming more open, is a lifetime task.
Things won’t always feel close, and there will be disconnects, but don’t give up too quickly. Be willing to persevere — even if you don’t feel close or hopeful. Perseverance is about working through trends and patterns, not simply with events. Give the person, yourself, and the relationship lots of time and room to make mistakes in vulnerability. As you continue to deal with the speed bumps to intimacy, they will be less discouraging over time, and you will simply experience them as a normal part of relational life.
Great relationships that last a long time always have some periods in which the individuals feel alienated from each other but decide to face each other again and work out the problem.
To go deeper on this issue, get a copy of the must-read book, Beyond Boundaries.