Why Won’t My Partner Respect Me? It’s About Setting Healthy Relationship Boundaries
Debbie’s partner called her lazy because she didn’t organize the garage last weekend as planned. When she shrunk his sweater he snapped, “You’re lucky I stick around.” She dismissed his comments as “overly dramatic” and “half joking,” but still baked him cookies to make up for it.
Then came the wave of shame for acting like a doormat. Why did she allow herself to be treated that way? The feelings were overwhelming, so she forced herself to remember good times in their relationship in order to clean up the kitchen and move on.
At work, Debbie’s boss barely acknowledges her, so she works her ass off to prove herself. On a recent Friday afternoon her boss threw a project her way, which was due Monday. Feeling she couldn’t say no, Debbie worked through the weekend to finish it, canceling her Saturday plans and pushing off household chores for yet another week.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may struggle with boundary issues.
Contrary to what you might think, healthy relationship boundaries are not about creating rules for others to follow. In fact, they aren’t about other people at all. Boundaries are a statement of how you treat yourself. People take their cues from what you model.
Teaching People How to Treat You
When you act like a doormat, you tell people it’s acceptable to treat you that way. If you’re okay with it, why shouldn’t others follow your lead? Think about people in your life, past or present, who allowed themselves to be treated poorly. Even if you didn’t take advantage of them, you probably watched other people do it.
Maybe you felt sorry for them, believing they were victimized. It’s hard to watch someone being disrespected. You may have even gotten pissed, wanting to yell out, “Why do you let him/her treat you that way?!” Perhaps you even start treating them badly because they’re teaching you that behavior is ok. It’s not conscious—you’re just picking up on their modeling.
Everything you do or don’t do teaches people how to treat you. If you say you won’t tolerate liars, why do you look the other way or make an excuse for someone lying to you? If you complain that your family always expects you to drive out to see them, instead of them coming to visit you, why do you keep getting in your car?
When you cross your own boundaries you give other people permission to do the same.
It’s not about changing other people and how they treat you—it’s about treating yourself with the level of respect you want from them. If you don’t want people to lie to you, stop lying. If you don’t want people to treat you like a doormat, stop letting them step on you.
People lack healthy relationship boundaries because they’re afraid of losing something: their partner, attention, acceptance, validation, love. But in an ironic twist, they end up losing these things because they don’t have boundaries. They end up creating exactly what they were afraid of.
Unhealthy boundaries come from a place of low self-esteem and insecurity, but they are also the cause, creating a feedback loop. The looser your boundaries, the lower your self-esteem drops… and the lower your self-esteem drops, the more your boundaries go out the window.
There is no quick fix to boost self-esteem and insecurity, but one way to move in that direction is to set clear, intentional boundaries. That will force a positive loop: healthy boundaries lead to higher self-esteem which gives you the confidence to repeat them.
Boundaries and Insecure Attachment
People without healthy relationship boundaries are often insecurely attached, typically Anxious or Anxious/Avoidant. Clinging and neediness are tell-tale signs of Anxious attachment, driven by a fear of loss. These people end up in dramatic push/pull relationships where they hold on tightly to someone who is running the other way.
Anxious and Anxious/Avoidants often become people pleasers, doing whatever they can to avoid loss. They walk on eggshells or go out of their way to accommodate others, which often involves compromising their boundaries.
They also need a lot of reassurance and validation, putting the responsibility for their own happiness on someone else. If you blame your partner for treating you poorly, your focus is on their behavior, not yours. Where is your responsibility in accepting it? As long as you focus on them, your boundaries will remain exactly where they are.
Signs of Unhealthy Relationship Boundaries
You know it feels shitty when you cross your own lines, but are you aware of the behaviors that lead to it? The below are quite common, stemming from unhealthy relationship boundaries where fear of loss is usually the motivation:
- Jumping into a relationship too quickly
- Jumping into bed too quickly
- Oversharing–you think you’re being emotionally open, but it’s really just a need for acceptance, attention or validation
- Saying “yes” to something when you want to say “no” (this is a classic form of people pleasing)
- Calling or texting someone consistently without receiving a reply
- Feeling responsible for your partner’s happiness and sacrificing yourself for their wellbeing
- Playing the rescuer, believing you can fix or save your partner
- Putting up with bad behavior like demeaning language, disappearing, lying, cheating, frequent cancelations of plans, etc.
- Being inconsistent with your words and actions, like saying you’ll never date a cheater, then pretending you don’t see evidence of your partner’s indiscretions
Healthy love relationships require healthy boundaries. Let’s see what those look like, and how to set them.
Healthy Relationship Boundaries
Do you know someone in your life who is confident and unapologetic? They politely decline invitations without feeling responsible for letting someone down (and manage to do it kindly). They refuse a second date with someone who is disrespectful or overly sexual. They end relationships with people who betray their trust and don’t regret their decision. They speak up or take action when someone crosses a line.
These people value themselves, and aren’t willing to sacrifice their own wellbeing to appease someone else. Others pick up on this and respect their boundaries because THEY respect their boundaries.
So how do you get there?
- Stop focusing on other people. Healthy relationship boundaries are about how you treat yourself, demonstrated through your actions. It’s not about being a drill sergeant and trying to control what others do (that doesn’t work).
- Be consistent with your words and actions. If spending time with your kid on Saturday afternoons is important to you, don’t accept a date during that time. You’re busy. Say it.
- Take responsibility for your actions. If you put up with bad behavior, stop blaming the other person. Accept your role in allowing it to happen, then make a change.
- Tell yourself you matter. Believing you deserve better leads to modeling better behavior, which leads to receiving better behavior.
Rules vs. Boundaries
When establishing boundaries, be careful not to “overshoot” by creating rigid rules. The two are not the same. Rules are about control, coming from a place of fear and distrust. When you don’t trust yourself to make healthy decisions, you create rules like:
- I will not date someone with kids
- I will not sleep with someone before the fourth date (this is different from jumping into bed “too soon,” as timing depends on how you feel–are you doing it from a place of openness and connection or from fear?)
- If someone doesn’t reply to my texts within 12 hours, they’re done
- I won’t date someone unless they tick 90% of the boxes on my 62-item checklist
Rules are born of fear and they are limiting. Boundaries come from love (a love for yourself), and they may evolve over time. That’s okay. When you trust yourself and take action from your heart, you don’t need strict rules around your boundaries!
Being in a healthy love relationship with someone who loves and respects you happens when YOU love and respect you.
Boundaries are about you.