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What Healthy Boundaries Look Like in Relationships

If you grew up in a family with addiction or with some sort of family dysfunction, it is likely the boundaries among family members were either too close or enmeshed or they were too distant or detached.

What's difficult is that these are the types of boundaries that we carry with us into adulthood and result in having the same kind of relationships with our spouses and children. However, this does not always have to be the case. The benefit of participating in marital counseling or other forms of psychological therapy is learning about how to have healthy boundaries with those that we are in relationship with.

Healthy boundaries have the following characteristics:

·         Present and clear

·         Appropriate versus controlling or manipulative

·         Firm but flexible, not rigid

·         Protective, not hurtful or harmful

·         Receptive, not invasive or domineering

·         Not set by anyone else but yourself


With the list above, compare the above traits of healthy boundaries with the boundaries you had (or have) with family members. What do you notice? What are the differences? You might notice that the relationships you have tend to feel emotionally distant or detached. Perhaps you felt as though members of your family didn't care. You might have felt lonely growing up or feeling like you couldn't get too emotionally involved in the lives of those you loved. Typically, when boundaries are too distance (not letting people in enough, detached), you might:

·         have difficulty saying yes in a relationship

·         isolate yourself

·         distrust too easily

·         feel lonely

·         stay in relationships too briefly

On the other hand, you might notice that your relationships are too close. There might be too much involvement too quickly. When boundaries are too close, when they are enmeshed or when one person lets the other in too much, you might:

·         have a hard time saying no

·         give in too much

·         get involved too quickly

·         trust too easily

·         intrude on others (such as violate their boundaries)

·         stay in relationships too long

If you're a child of a family of addiction, you might have experienced relationships with enmeshed boundaries. These types of boundaries are more common than distant relationships with co-dependency, which frequently accompanies addiction. If you are in recovery, you may also know the importance of learning about healing from co-dependency.

Codependent relationships often include a dysfunctional individual relying upon the other person in the relationship. Commonly, one or more of those in the relationship feel powerless to the events that are going on their life. The belief in being powerless in life leads to the dysfunctional individual relying on the other person for things that one can and should do on their own. When someone is codependent on another in a relationship, it will become more and more difficult for that person to find his or her own power.

As you might imagine, looking at your relationships and at the types of boundaries you have can facilitate healthier relationships. You can do this with your therapist or with a mental health professional who is familiar with the family dynamics that accompany addiction. By becoming more aware of these dynamics, the opportunity to change them and to create the health in your relationships you're looking for opens up endless possibilities. 


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