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Setting Boundaries and Saying No

Setting Boundaries and Saying No

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Published by Tina B. Tessina
Knowing how to set appropriate boundaries can make the difference in your relationship.
Knowing how to set appropriate boundaries can make the difference in your relationship.

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Published by: Tina B. Tessina on May 06, 2013
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Setting Boundaries and Saying No
Knowing how to set appropriate boundaries can make the difference in whether ornot your relationship succeeds. The topic frequently comes up in my counselingoffice, and most people think boundaries are set by telling other people what thelimits are. But boundaries are really something you must create within yourself.
Having the confidence to say “no” to another is one important aspect of creatingboundaries; but it begins by knowing what you do and don‟t want.
The Tennis Match -- Setting Boundaries and Taking Space
When one or both partners don't get enough space or don't feel heard, theirrelationship will develop signs of trouble:
• One partner becomes a resentful caretaker, while the other feels oppressed and
• One will be alert to
the moods of the other
often walking on eggshells not toupset the other.
• One may threaten to leave in order to get his or her way.• One wants more together time and the other wants more space.
These differences can create resentment, hurt and power struggles.
When a couple struggles, the flow of love between them is blocked; even whenthey truly love one another. On the other hand, a couple who understandboundaries and who are committed to equality and mutual satisfaction are far morelikely to create love and partnership they deeply treasure.Each person has individual needs for closeness and personal space as well as otherneeds to feel nurtured, understood and autonomous within a relationship. Somewant the freedom to be close and comforted; others want the freedom to be
autonomous and unfettered. It‟s essential that you and your partner each know
your own needs and wants, communicate them, and then understand each other.Knowing what you want and what you feel are skills essential to creating a mutuallysatisfying intimate relationship. In counseling, I use the tennis match metaphor tohelp couples understand and honor each others' needs for space.
To keep your relationship in balance, especially if it's new, neither you nor yourpartner should do all the calling, all the planning, all the talking, all the giving, andall the chasing. Instead, you need to learn to toss the responsibility and power backand forth like a tennis ball.
This can begin in the earliest stages of dating or making a new friend. Begin bymaking a move to show the other person you're interested in being close, then sitand wait for your partner to make a move in return. For example, make a phonecall to invite him or her for coffee, or to join a group going to the movies, and then,let him or her make the next invitation. You can do the same thing in an alreadyestablished relationship
if you feel taken for granted, just back off a little, withoutdrama, and your partner will move toward you. If you feel overwhelmed by your
partner being too aggressive, step up and take the lead, or say a simple “no, thankyou” (see below).
The idea is to establish a balance in your relationship, which can be difficult to do if you have a strong interest in the other person, or the two of you have developed anunbalanced interaction. Coming on too strong in the relationship may push theother person away, or may disguise a lack of enough interest on the other person'spart. Don't keep hitting balls over the net if they're not returned. On the otherhand, if you never hit the ball, but always wait for the other person to do it, youaren't playing a very good tennis game, either. It's essential that you do your part,because passivity is easily interpreted as a lack of interest, and can shutcommunication down. If you compare what has gone on in the relationship so far toa tennis game, you will quickly see if you've been either too passive or tooaggressive.The Tennis Match: Volleying the Conversation
The tennis match is so central to balancing all your relationships and allowing themto find their appropriate levels that I've developed some guidelines you can use tounderstand and promote intimacy. Following the guidelines will help you and your
partner understand each others‟ needs an
d wants, and create natural boundariesthat feel comfortable. It will give both of you the space and balance needed to showyou are interested in what each other is saying, and want to hear more. Whether
you're online, on the phone, or face to face, you need to keep the conversationgoing back and forth
what I call the tennis match.
Tennis Match Guidelines for Understanding your Partner
• Take Turns: Leave room for your partner to open topics, to express opinion, to
gather thoughts and express opinions. Don't jump right in to a silence if it's notyour turn.
• Concentrate: Listen carefully to what your partner is saying
-- don't wander off mentally into what you want to say next.
• Volley (Respond): After your partner says something, respond directly to it,
letting him or her know that you heard and understood what was said, and, if possible that you have similar thoughts or experience.
• Don‟t Argue: There is definitely a place for spirited discussion in good
conversation, but be careful not to get too oppositional. Your objective is toestablish understanding.
• Return the Serve: At the end of whatever you say, invite a response
by adding
 “don't you think?” or “What do you think?” or, make your response a question.
• Serve Again: If your partner drops the ball, ask a question about something that
was said before, and give your partner plenty of time to express his or her opinion.
If your tennis match goes on long enough, you‟ll learn a lot about each other, andyou'll both feel you have “so much to talk about.” The tennis game approach is not
rigid, but a flexible attitude that you can adapt to almost any situation.
Saying No
When you encounter a partner who is two aggressive, and overwhelms you with toomany words, too much emotion and drama, or too much attention, you need to
learn to set limits. If you‟re interested in keeping the relationship going, you also
need to learn
to step up and hit the ball in your partner‟s direction. Learning to say „no‟ or even to be silent in a neutral way is not necessarily easy, but is essential foravoiding uncomfortable situations. Be polite, but firm when you say “no, thank you” 
and you will stop the other person from imposing on you. Often, saying nothing isthe best tactic. Wait until your blustery partner runs out of steam, and then you canmake your statement.

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