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Boundaries for Couples: The Essay — 21 Comments

  1. Hi Al,
    Boundaries are so important in relationships i think. I have always tried to be careful and up front with my partner when it comes to male friends or colleagues, as i dont want it to become a problem. I think its healthy to have opposite sex friends as long as we stick to boundaries. I’m ok with my partner having female friends. However i feel uncomfortable that my partner remains very close to his ex 7 years after they broke up. And he is hiding it from me. For example, I saw her name came up on his phone, but he told me it was his mum ringing him. Sometimes the phone would ring late at night, and he would not pick it up. A lot of time he would have his phone off when he is with me. Finally i i couldn’t stand it anymore and looked at his phone.. I found that they have been in touch a lot, and saying “i love you” to each other, and catching up behind my back.. I do trust that they aren’t together, if they were, my boyfriend wouldn’t have bothered staying with me. but they are definitely more than friends. It troubles me. But i dont know how to bring it up? My boyfriend is good to me, and i really hope things will work out. But i really dont like the idea of sharing my partner like that. What can I do?! I dont want to fight with him. I dont want to tell him to stop being in touch with his ex. I think he has the right to do what matters for him. But i just want him to know that i do not wish to be in a relationship while the other person has another “relationship”. How can i bring it up in a nice way?
    Thanks,
    Sue

    • A very tough situation, Sue. I feel for you. Ouch. Couple of thoughts.

      Once you have a relationship with someone (his ex-) you’ll never be completely over that relationship. It will have a powerful influence on you. Also, if you want to have a really great relationship, often the “easiest path” for you is to fix up things with your ex and move forward toward what I call Vintage Love with that person. As I’ve often said, “Don’t divorce the person you picked. Divorce, get rid of, the kind of relationship you had with them.”

      Now all this makes it difficult for the outsider, you, who is watching your friend consider what to do next. Does he clearly break with her or does he try returning/rebuilding with her? And what do you do in the meantime as he thinks all this over. A scary thought is that as long as he “has you” and “her” he doesn’t have to make a decision.

      A second thought is that for you this is all about building a reliable connection with him and building trust. You must work toward both. His keeping secrets,, his lying, is not moving in that direction. And eventually he has to quit that. Sounds as if you are going to have to get better trained on those issues and the skills that go with them.

      So my guess is that in the process of building trust with him, you’re going to have to increase his fear to get him to move of the spot he’s in. You may have to use the energy in your anger to help you take a firm stand. “Her or me, buddy.”

      “I want a great relationship with you. I think you are worth it. And I believe we’ve got to do a lot of work to get there. But I don’t believe we can do that work if you are working with your ex. So here’s the deal. Tell her you’re finished with her. And do it as nicely if you can. AND do it so I can hear you do it. You set it up anyway you want, but do it within 30 days. If not, then I’m pulling the plug on you. I think this is best for us both. I love you. Think about this.” Then set your clock for a 30 day alarm to let you know what his decision is.

      Good luck, Sue. (I’m curious what happens.)

      • Thanks so much for your advice, Al. I was surprised to see your suggestion actually, the last bit. Sounded pretty aggressive. It took me until today to bring it up with the man. I’m so not brave. I said that I’m happy for them to be in touch as I know they mean a lot to each other, and I think that he should always support his ex if she needs help, but I need him to set up clear boundaries with her if we are to continue seeing each other. I wanted him to tell his ex that he is seeing someone and trying to work it out with me, and to ask for her support if they are to stay friends. I was nowhere near brave enough to say I want to hear him talking to her! I wish I could hear him talking to her about it, but I worried that would be too disrespectful.. I didn’t mention the time limit either. But I’ll keep the clock for myself. 🙂
        Sue

        • Hi Al,
          I got my reply. He refused to draw a line with his ex as they are great friends, she is important to him. He doesn’t want to upset her..
          He told me it was too much for me to ask for that. Despite spending half of the nights at my house. Also just came back from a trip together.
          I pushed him to tell me why it’s so difficult to draw a line if they are just friends, he said he would if we were committed and he was feeling positive about our future. I said if he doesn’t draw a line now, we won’t get a chance to work on things. I would like to end things rather than dating someone that’s so close to an ex. He said he won’t run for her if he doesn’t see me again. But insists he would not draw the line with his ex now.
          So that makes it easy for me. No choice but move on!
          Sue

        • Dear Sue, your last phrase pulled me in. I’m generally remembering that “when I can only see two choices, there are actually hundreds of possibilities.” Ah well. I also tend to relax when a choice become clear. Glad that happened for you. However (could you hear it coming) you never know when making one choice changes the situation. Could be he believed that he could have a relationship with you AND his ex. But then his Ex may be thinking the same thing. Maybe he will change his mind. Enjoy that situation if it happens.

        • Hey Al!
          You kept on surprising me. I actually laughed when I saw your comment! Not sure why though. I suppose you thought that I didn’t just have one choice? But like you said, apart from the sense of betrayal, I actually feel pretty relaxed as the choice became clear and easy. It made me feel we have very different values and are very incompatible. It makes me feel this is the right thing to do. Somehow when I feel like this, everything seems so much easier. 🙂
          As your last phrase, I doubt it. He is a typical avoider. He spends way more time on worrying than doing things that requires commitments. Well he might. he seems to have the habit of not liking what he has, and craves for what he doesn’t have or lost. But I don’t think I would want to get involved again if he does not show his understanding and agreement towards my ‘standards’ on honesty and boundaries.
          Look forward to be surprised again 🙂

          Sue

        • Yep, Sue, that “ah hah” kind of surprise is such a pleasure. And having a reliable grasp of what is going on sure feels more secure. I always get a kick out of how easy it is for me to be unaware. And I appreciate those things and people who help me shift into more clarity. Go for it.

          There are a bunch of phrases that only exist across this dividing line. “Betray” is one of them. The feeling is certainly real, but in this case is probably represents something else. Had you known a lot more about this guy, then his behavior would have simply seemed normal. You wouldn’t have felt betrayed. So in this case the word betrayed relates more to your level of “uninformed-ness”, than to some active person trying to “betray”.

          Anyway, keep enjoying the learning.

        • Oh Al! I love talking to you! You are so wise.

          I have read quite a few of your articles. I know what you are saying. I know that he didn’t betray me. He was being him doing what makes sense to him.

          And I have also been aware of what’s going on for sometime, just didn’t know who and how much they were involved with each other. I tried not to let jealousy affect me. I tried pretty hard to not mention it, but do what I could to improve myself and the relationship between me and this guy. I thought (he seemed to agree as well) that our relationship was pretty good. We were able to talk and resolve other conflicts. We were growing closer and happier than ever. I thought it was time to talk about exclusivity or at least honesty. I thought what we had was enough for some kind of recognition or commitment. Then bang! He refused to let his ex know that he is in a relationship. He said they are just friends, they don’t go there. But also admitted that he still has feelings for her etc despite he was the one broke up with her..Like you said it was the uninformedness brought the sense of betrayal. After all he can do whatever he wanted to do.

          Don’t think I would have been brave enough to even date him if I knew he was so involved with his ex emotionally. Wish he was honest with me in the first place. Learnt a lot. Although I rather not go through this. It hurts.
          I know you always encourage people to work on things with their partner than looking for a new one. But how could I do that when he insists to stay in touch with an ex that he still has feelings for?!

          Sue

        • Dear Sue, I hear you. Sounds like you are learning a lot. I’ve been working with a lot of people lately on the theme of “normal deceit.” Seems most people are deceitful and if you want a “normal relationship” you have to work with this and around this. But moving toward Vintage Love clearly involves removing the habit of tolerating deceit. Tis all about building deep trust.

          While you knew a lot about this guy, you may now look back and see that he was deceitful to his ex and thus probably to you and others. Not bringing this up a bad tactic, I believe. Seems amazing that people tend to threaten each other so as to avoid being candid.

          Keep a working at it, and you might make “deception” a topic of discussion with your friends for a while. Good luck.

        • I think I misread one of your articles, Al. I thought ‘it only takes one to make it work’. If I focus on improving myself be a great partner, he would stop being in touch with his ex after some time. However it didn’t happen, and seems like wasn’t going to happen anytime soon if it would ever happen at all.

          Thanks for your advice, Al. Next time I’ll try not to avoid tough conversions. It’s such a work of art talking to a partner, especially a partner that freaks out every time when I mention anything commitment related, big or small. I certainly have a lot to learn.
          Thanks again, Al. Have a great Christmas!
          Sue

        • Dear Al,
          So that’s one month since I confronted my now ex boyfriend about him staying close with his ex behind my back. He refused to draw a line with his ex. We have not talked since then. I know it’s best for me to stay away from him if he wasnt treating me the way I like.
          Overall, I’m going well. Sometimes, like today, I feel so sad. It’s so scary to think someone that I used to spent most of the time together, someone that I thought I might spend the rest of my life with, all the sudden disappeared from my life completely. It’s so scary to think all the nice times that I used to treasure so much were somewhat fake. I feel that I must have been mad to make up everything in my mind. He clearly was never really in it. I feel I’m a fool. It has happened before. I don’t know why I kept taking him back and get hurt all over again. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
          I kind of understand but very confused at the meantime.

          Sue

        • Well, Sue, even the “sad” is probably good for you. Learning wisdom almost always seems to involve hurting, at least at first. I don’t think you are “mad” at all. Everything you describe sounds pretty normal for us humans. The logical rules are sometimes hard to find – the ones that show how
          “people always make sense” – even you.

          And “waking up” to “reality” seems often scary, though I believe being blind to reality is scarier. “Safer to know.”

          Ah well. Keep a going.

  2. This makes so much sense. Logically then, when made conscious of this, wouldnt we all be best to choose life partners that do not trigger these negative childhood memories? Or are we all destined to learn from each other to magnify the past hurts to heal-like a karma of sorts?

    • Hello Charlene,  Nice to hear from another person who’s trying to figure this stuff out.  

      Since I published my papers I have worked with a lot of “singles/solos” who are either trying, next time, to pick the Right Person or who are trying to avoid the Power Struggle.  It certainly would seem logical to pick someone who doesn’t trigger your “negative” childhood stuff or who won’t get triggered into their childhood stuff.

      But I don’t see that happening anywhere!  Seems there is something really “positive” about those “negative” memories coming to the surface – and being resolved.  It is as if each of those memories represents some vital unfinished work we have to do in this life. Apparently we can either bury this stuff or resolve it, but can’t avoid it in the long run.

      My goal, once I could see this going on, was to resolve my own stuff and try to help others get on with the tasks of resolving theirs. My experience is that the vast majority of people I meet just want to pretend this stuff isn’t there. This can make me, and my writings, pretty unpopular with some.

      Yep, the Good Lord, who built all this stuff, seems to want a Karma-like situation.  Surprise!?

      My opinion is that He wants us all to grow up healthily and happily and this is nothing more that a plan to fix mistakes that occur during childhood. Our parents, doing their best, may have slipped quite a bit.

  3. Pingback:Boundaries In Marriage - Part I: Couples In Intimate Relationships - Marriage AdvocatesMarriage Advocates

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