The Art Of Setting Boundaries
I think for a long time the idea of minimalism has been ingrained in my husband and I, both separately and together. At some point just before we got married, our thoughts and ideas on the process kind of collided and we began to dream about what a simple life looked like.
Simplicity is a funny word. It is relative to whoever is using it. Simplicity is, by definition, a thing that is plain, natural, and easy to understand. But what might be plain, natural, and easy to understand for some could be feel unnatural and difficult to understand for others. Simplicity goes against the grain of everything we're taught in today's culture. We are taught: fill your home with stuff. Fill your time with people. Take out a loan so you can have that one thing you want right now. The thing my husband and I have learned and are continuing to learn is that with a life so crowded, our priorities and the things that make us truly happy become buried. Perhaps we have too much to focus on or perhaps we are spread too thin. Perhaps the debt and the busy schedules and all the things we have to keep in order are stressful. Perhaps the life we are told to live is not full enough of the things that matter.
When I was in my late teens, I was attending a Christian church that in hindsight, was (and still is) teaching minimalist concepts as it relates to a relationship with the Lord. I'm not going to go all religious and spiritual on you, but my time at that church and with that group of people had a profound impact on my ability to prioritize and simplify my life. It was in my late teens that the art of setting boundaries began to truly set in. I was struggling to keep up physically, mentally, and emotionally with the life I started to build outside of the comfort of my parents' home and it soon became clear that I was simply surviving and not thriving.
Learning how to set boundaries for myself was one of the most beneficial things I could have ever done. It's a skill that I have honed over time and feel has been beneficial to my mental and emotional health, my marriage, and my relationships with family and friends. Here's what I've learned over the past several years about setting boundaries:
1. We cannot give our all to our work unless we are rested first.
This is such a simple concept and it amazes me that at 18-years-old someone actually sat down and had to teach me this. My entire life up until that point had centered around school and my daily life consisted of waking up early, spending 8 hours a day in a classroom, going to extracurricular activities or home to play, and then going to sleep so I could do it all over again. When I moved out of my parents house and into the real world trying to balance three jobs and college, this is the way I tried to live my life. I packed my days full of work, school, and social activities and I slept so I could have the energy to do that all over again the next day. My life felt like an endless cycle of stress and urgency. Finally someone introduced me to the paradigm shift of working from rest instead of resting from work. When that concept was laid out for me, it became increasingly clear that I could not give my all to the life I was living unless I was rested. I began to make changes to ensure rest was built into my work week. I made a mental shift from spending my days off hustling to spending my days off doing things that felt restful. Life began to change for me and the urgency and stress I felt before subsided.
This concept can really be applied to any part of our lives. "Working" in any sense of the word is always easier and better to do from a place of restfulness and revitalization than it is the other way around. Applying this to the concept of marriage, isn't it better to enjoy each other and energize our marriages so that when misunderstandings happen we have the fortitude and resilience to handle it well? Because the opposite (resting from the hard work of marriage) looks like explosive arguments and not having grace or patience with each other and then trying to play catch-up after things get messy.
So then what does rest look like? Rest does not necessarily look like binge-watching Netflix and not putting your pants on all day (although can I plz have a day like this? thanks). Rest is whatever you want it to be! For me, spending my free time doing productive things for my business, keeping a clean house, and drinking coffee with my husband every morning is restful. However for my husband, spending a time with his friends, taking naps, and watching our favorite shows together is restful.
WORK FROM REST. Don't rest from work.
2. Time is one of the most important resources you have...and it should be heavily guarded.
Of all the things we have to give to ourselves and each other, time really is the most precious. That means it should not be given away freely. I learned early in my adult life that people pleasing wasn't going to get me anywhere and that if I was serious about having a happy and healthy life, I would need to learn to guard my time carefully. Since then, I am way more intentional about who and what I say "yes" to and I am better about saying "no" to what I can.
I think this really starts with priorities. If you were to document everything you spent your time on the past week, where would it look like your priorities lie? How many of the things on your schedule from the past week were not optional (like work or school)? How many of them were optional and obligatory (anything you chose to do but didn't necessarily want to)? And how many of them were optional and something you were actually excited about doing (like hanging out with friends)?
Did you make time for you? Did you make time for rest? Did you fill your week so full you didn't even sleep 8 hours every night?
I'm not sure if anyone has ever told you this, but it's okay to say no to things you don't want to spend your time on. More importantly, it's okay to do things for you. When I was 18, I began to regularly block off time on my calendar with no specific agenda. Just time...time I could do with whatever I wanted. Time that nothing had to be planned and I didn't have to be busy and I could just be.
Now, prioritizing my time looks a little different. I block off at least 1/2 a day each weekend that is just for me. On a good weekend, I get a whole day to do whatever feels restful that day. My husband and I have a 7:30-7:45 coffee date every morning just for the sake of spending time together. That time is protected and assumed, even if one of us has the day off. Our coffee dates and my "me-time" on the weekends are enough to fuel my week and help me keep my head on straight. Both of those time slots are heavily guarded and neither gets compromised easily. They're my little guarantee that if things are stressful or hard, I have time. And you should too.
3. Toxicity should be carefully monitored.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout the past several years is that I have the ability to say no to toxic relationships and situations without really feeling that bad about it. That might sound harsh, but hear me out. Toxicity is just that: Toxic. Harmful. Inconsistent. Frustrating. Triggering. Stressful. Those are not good things and definitely not things that contribute to a simpler life. Toxic relationships need boundaries and strict ones at that.
It's important as you step back and look at your life that you are able to pinpoint the things that contribute to happiness, simplicity, and your well-being. Anything that does not contribute to this should be carefully monitored and held at arms length, only to be brought close if you say so.
I can't really define what a toxic relationship or situation is or what those boundaries should look like because I think it's different for every person. I have experienced many toxic relationships throughout my life that required big things of me. I am better for it and better because I stood up for what I and my husband needed. I also have a long list of situations that can trigger stress, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. These situations are not always avoidable (nor do I always want to avoid them) so instead, I set clear expectations and boundaries for myself so that I can avoid that stress and anxiety without having to miss out completely.
Practically speaking, these boundaries can look like:
- Limiting how much time I spend with a person or in a situation ("I will only stay for one hour" or "Yes, let's hang out but I only have until ___ before I have to leave")
- Communicating clearly with people about what I need ("I need some space to process what happened" or "I'm sorry, but I need to take a step back from this friendship or relationship for a little while")
- Taking a temporary step back from a person or situation until I feel like I can be honest with myself about it (to myself: "I'm not sure if hanging out with that person is a good idea because I'm still angry and I need more time")
- Making sure mine and my husband's expectations are the same for potentially-triggering situations and/or toxic relationships ("How long are you hoping we will stay at this party?" or "Do you mind if we only hang out with _____ for like an hour?)
You should know that it's okay to appropriately say no to people or situations that add stress and toxicity to your life. It's your life and it's your time, energy, sanity, and heart to protect.
4. Boundaries require clear and realistic expectations of yourself and of others.
Setting boundaries requires quite a bit of honesty on your part. You have to be honest about what you need, what isn't serving you, and what is crowding your life. It is not always easy to set boundaries, especially with people or things you love dearly. I have found, however, that it is necessary in order to create a sustainable day-to-day life.
I have heard over and over again (and do believe it's true) that many of the misunderstandings and chronic problems in marriage stem from unmet expectations. Yep. That's a real thing. And I think it's true for all other areas of our lives. Expectations that are unclear or unrealistic lead to disappointment and frustration and hurt. If you think about that in terms of the expectations we have on ourselves (to do more, to be more, and to consume more), if our expectations are not clear for ourselves, then we will overcommit and overcrowd our lives.
In other words, if we aren't honest with ourselves about the time or space or rest we need, we will end up saying "yes" to things that don't matter and "no" to things that do.
I believe the art of setting boundaries has led to a more fruitful, simplistic, and happier life and marriage. It has helped me navigate the trenches of grief and PTSD. It has freed up my heart to invest in the things that bring me the most joy. It has not been easy and I have made many sacrifices along the way, but I am a better person because I learned how to fill my life with the things that matter and minimize the things that don't.