By Dr. John Townsend
When my sons were small, they often argued and fought. Their disagreements erupted for any number of reasons, and sometimes, the best strategy seemed to be to separate them for a period of time. When it appeared that they had learned a lesson and could once again play well, I let them get together again.
For the situations in which there was a bad guy and I separated them, it would seem to make sense that the hurt brother would have had enough of his offending brother. You would expect that the mean one would want to reconnect and reconcile sooner than the hurt one. But that was not the pattern; there was no pattern. Both boys always wanted to get back together and play after approximately the same amount of time had passed.
No matter who was the perpetrator and who the victim, the cooling-off period for each was similar. My best understanding of this is simply that their attachment trumped their desire to be away from each other. After a timeout, the desire to be together was stronger than their anger and fear.
This dynamic doesn't apply just to my sons or even just to kids. It applies to all of us. Understanding the return of desire — the drive to reconnect — is key to learning what happens when you set boundaries.
When you set a boundary in a relationship, you create space, room, between you and another person. In healthy connections, the space simply defines you and the other person as two distinct individuals with different minds and opinions, but who still benefit from being connected to each other.
However, when you have to set protective boundaries with someone, the space you create between you is about guarding yourself from something not good for you: control or manipulation, for example. And the nature of the space can range from something minor, such as choosing to not talk about certain topics, to something major, such as moving out of your home or even permanently leaving the relationship.
Creating space has an obvious consequence for the other person, but it also has an impact on you. It can actually increase your desire and interest in a relationship, either the one you are working on, or a new one altogether. This is ironic, because when you have had a rough go of it with someone, you might think that the last thing you need is any kind of desire for another relationship: Give me space! And, while that is a common feeling at the beginning of the boundary period, it does not last forever. The space is a vacuum, and the vacuum puts your in touch with your God-given desire to connect.
Here is the point: wanting someone doesn't mean you are crazy for having the desire, nor that the time is necessarily right to connect or reconnect with a person. It is simply a sign that you are alive inside and that the boundary has given you breathing room to feel your human need for connection. Pay attention to it, be glad you are alive, and use good judgment and good people to help you decide what to do with it.
Discover when and how to trust again after you've set appropriate boundaries, how to connect deeply without being hurt, and how to safely grow your most intimate relationships in Beyond Boundaries by Dr. John Townsend.
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