Monday, September 12, 2016

Boundaries in Dating: Set Limits Early

Pocahontas jumps up into a tree to get away from John Smith. Image source.
This week, we're talking about chapter 16 of Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships, which is called "Nip It in the Bud." It's about the importance of setting boundaries early in the relationship, and making it very clear that you will not tolerate it if your partner treats you badly.

This is a very short chapter, only 5 pages long. It begins with the story of Mary and Todd. Todd was very upset when Mary suddenly ended their relationship. He had no idea she was unhappy. Mary, on the other hand, saw things differently. She said, "I got to a place where I just couldn't stand it anymore." She hated how he would cancel plans or just not show up when he said he would. In my opinion, the problem was that they didn't communicate well enough about it. She felt like he didn't care about her, and he didn't realize there was a problem.

The writers of "Boundaries in Dating" talk in terms of having limits and enforcing them, right from the start of the relationship, but I see it more as a communication issue. If something is a really big deal and really bothers one partner, but they don't communicate just how important it is in a way that the other partner can understand, then they're definitely going to have problems.

I think this is very very important advice. Deal with problems early. Communicate clearly about your needs and expectations for the relationship. Talk about how you feel, don't just tolerate problems that keep getting worse and worse. And, the writers emphasize, there need to be consequences when your boundaries are not respected. Don't just complain- tell them you won't tolerate that behavior and you're not going to see them for a week, or something like that.

It's good advice, but I'm uncomfortable with some of the language used in this chapter because it comes across as victim-blame-y. The writers say, "In relationships, you get what you tolerate." If you don't speak up about how you feel when your partner disrespects you, you will attract the kind of people who treat you that way, and you're teaching them that their behavior is okay. Ugh... I mean, you could frame it from that perspective, but ... seriously, DON'T. "You get what you tolerate" basically means "if people treat you badly, it's your fault because previously you made them think that it's okay to treat you that way."

This victim-blaming language is so unnecessary. Why can't they just make the exact same point by talking about how communication is important, how people might not realize their actions are having such a huge negative effect on their partner, how in practical terms it's easier to solve a problem if you confront it right away instead of letting it get worse? Why the hell do they have to say "you get what you tolerate" as if there's nothing wrong with people being hurt or mistreated, as if it's Just The Way The World Works- as long as they're people who didn't stand up for themselves properly in the past? Ugh. Eff that.

This chapter also says that you shouldn't confront every single problem- it's good to let some things go if they're not a big deal. I'm glad they said that; it wouldn't be good to go to the extreme and have a huge long talk every time there's a minor problem. Some things really aren't a big deal. But if they are, then you totally need to communicate about them.

Yeah, that's the whole chapter. Like I said, it's super-short. In general, it's really good advice, but geez, why did they have to throw in that victim-blaming crap? They could have totally make their point without it.

The next chapter is called "Set Appropriate Physical Limits" and I'm really looking forward to it. As an ex-purity-culture girl, I'm very very curious about where they say "the line" is. And as a Christian who doesn't believe there's anything inherently sinful about sex outside of marriage, I'd like to see how they justify their belief that it's a sin. Woo. Stay tuned next week. ^_^


A blog series reviewing the book Boundaries in Dating: How Healthy Choices Grow Healthy Relationships (introduction post is here)

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