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Heads or Tails: Boundaries

crime scene do not cross The basis of identity is a definition. Identity is how we define ourselves by our beliefs and actions based on those beliefs. We draw boundaries we refuse to cross, effectively marking our territory. What happens when someone else makes those boundaries?


Someone had to lay boundaries for us when we were young. These were the people who raised us. The ‘rents were busy with their rules and religions to set goals and safe zones for us to have some semblance of a carefree childhood. Successful or not, they had our best interests at heart.

As we aged, we challenged those boundaries, broke some and replaced them with the boundaries which were appropriate for us. Occasionally, we set our boundaries inside those others had set for us. Many times we set them far beyond what others thought would be prudent for us.


Put on those education shoes.

Put on those education shoes.

We learned. The School of Hard Knocks graduated us with the scar-laden diploma of learning some of the boundaries we laid really were not prudent. Whether emotional or physical, we found our pain thresholds: the upper limit of what we could withstand without exsanguinating.

Or so we thought.


When Mate entered the picture, we practiced the art of compromise, wittingly or unknowingly. Boundaries which did not exist based on our parental units or our own SHK discovery paths proliferated. We reined in some of our baser instincts; we accepted new responsibilities beyond our mere self-preservation; and we accepted the boundaries had changed.

Or did we?

Giving Up

How many people give up their own boundaries and accept Mate’s merely to keep the peace? How many trade their individuality to join the ranks of the attached? Who are willing to trade their souls to banish bachelorhood and spinsterhood?

All of Them

This sweeping generalization is true. In very few relationships does one partner, much less both Mates, maintain their individuality at its maximum with boundaries in tact. One immediate example is the self-governance of our time. There are two sides to the hourglass coin.


Crystal HourglassThe splitting of duties in a relationship frees up time for both Mates. More hands lighten the load. Having a Mate to take some of the mundane tasks allows more time for other pursuits. Time you would have spent paying the bills is now open to pursue hobbies or continue to court Mate to sustain the relationship in much the tender state it began.

Time Mate would have spent doing yard work is now split between both to draw double duty for the relationship by sharing the time and the responsibility or is filled with education.

Both examples are healthy alternatives for the free time manufactured by the sharing of stressors and chores.


The alternative is the set of Mates where one maintains all of the responsibilities as though still single while having to care for Mate’s responsibilities in addition. This extreme adulteration of the give-and-take relationship has Giving Mate giving without the contribution of the other and/or Taking Mate creating addition drag by introducing new stressors:

  • Unchecked financial irresponsibility
  • Egocentric emotional responses to joint situations
  • Failure to invest emotionally in the longevity of the relationship

Instead of both Mates giving and taking in some form of equity, they split give and take between each other.


Buffalo Nickel

All buffalo chips.

No one wins the coin toss. Giving Mate loses identity to become the sole support for the relationship. The task of caring for all things financial, physical and emotional leaves no room for self-reflective and conscious-expanding pursuits.

Taking Mate may seem to be operating within completely self-determined boundaries. In fact, Taking Mate can only realize self-endeavors to the extent Giving Mate can afford the investment in them.


I agree I have read the terms of service and agree to hold you harmless for however I could abuse myself.

I agree I have read the terms of service and agree to hold you harmless for however I could abuse myself.

Both Mates have choices. They can choose together to create the boundaries which define the relationship and its reference to themselves. Individually, they can choose to engage the relationship or forego it in their individual pursuits. They can choose to be active participants in their own lives or not.

By choosing not, they are martyring their own identities for the trappings of a relationship, which in its state of ill health is poisonous to them.

Choose well.

To do otherwise is a recipe for depression, divorce and dysfunction which radiates to friends, children and family.

Do you and Mate choose together? Do you abide Mate’s choices as absolute? Do you define your own boundaries both with and without regard to Mate? How can knowing these choices in advance lead to healthier relationships and marriages?

Hashtags: #relationships #marriage #boundaries

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© Red Dwyer 2013
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  1. I wish I had read this about 2 decades ago. 😉

    • I wish a lot of people had read this two decades ago 🙂 To be honest, I think you and your Mr. have a great relationship.

  2. I have a very good relationship with chocolate. I eat it, it makes me feel good.
    Binky recently posted..English as a Second LanguageMy Profile

  3. This is why everyone should be issued a users manual.or at least the same one.
    <3 Lizzie
    lizziecracked recently posted..More Bang for the Buck – Valentine Mental MomentMy Profile

    • I would love a user’s manual, but would settle for a pamphlet which had not been sent through Google Translate. <3

  4. One of the rules I have learned to live by is “It ain’t all about me.” I have worked in land surveying for years and the problem with boundaries is that they can’t overlap in land they way they do in personal relationships. Many of the problems in any kind of relationship comes from not respecting boundaries and trying to intrude into someone elses personal space.
    Actually I know what I am saying even if it is as Clear as mud to everyone else. 🙂

    • Oh, I get it entirely. You give a great analogy for what I am saying. Personal space is very important.

  5. I am getting married for the second time. Recently I started a discussion with Mate which lead to our acceptance that we need more than a one bedroom apartment, which is all that has been available to us. We agree to wait two more years for two bedrooms because I have need for an office to write, and he has need for freedom to watch the telly, read, and listen to music during the day. I am at peace with it, whereas before I was climbing the wall with anxiety about how we were going to coexist.
    Gail Thornton recently posted..FREE Cafe Comics – Bo LumpkinMy Profile

    • Very healthy planning and compromise. It shows you are entering into this with your eyes wide open as an individual and respecting his boundaries as well.

  6. Or you just pull hair by roots as you are dragged into the cave.

    Where you start and where you end are not always the same. Redrawing the lines, not always simple or successful. Retreat? I don’t think it is always the best choice, even when it seems to be on the only one left.

    This one needs to be put in a fold out at the door of the church, just before the wedding march is played.
    Valentine Logar recently posted..March of MarriageMy Profile

  7. I have identified within my self the leaning toward merging and melding with Mate, such that those boundaries of mine which are non-negotiable become questioned. It is a very tight rope we walk, at times, to maintain a healthy balance. I believe those that do are much the stronger for it!!
    Very profound ponderings, Red!

    BuddhaKat recently posted..Let’s Just Call It a Friday Fractal Feature…My Profile

    • I always advocate the smallest possible non-negotiable list, not because it opens the field, but because it opens the mind. xxx

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