Being able to set boundaries in your relationship is important in terms of creating a stable sense of emotional security in the midst of all the pressures and tensions that arise in the ongoing experience of living with your partner. Setting effective boundaries involves making realistic expectations for yourself of what you are willing to do or give in a particular situation. It also helps if you can identify for yourself what are realistic expectations to have of your partner. At the core of establishing a firm sense of boundaries in your relationship, is being able to affirm for yourself that you have the right to be a separate person from your partner. You have the right to think differently and disagree, you have the right to not always make your partner happy or satisfy his or her needs, you have the right to make mistakes sometimes and let your partner down without feeling you have somehow betrayed your partner. Our feeling of emotional safety becomes threatened when we feel that our boundaries are at risk of being intruded upon.
For instance, if you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety when your husband or wife goes on a tirade about some issue, this a moment where on a psychological level you may feel that his or her thoughts, feelings, demands are about to control you or take over. You may react to this by feeling helpless and powerless, and afraid you will be intimidated. This fear can trigger a counterattack of anger which is in part an attempt to protect yourself by re-establishing a sense of separateness. This is another reason why people hold onto their angry feelings so much.
However, the more essential question to ask yourself is,”what is getting in the way of me maintaining a sense of separateness without getting angry”? What makes it difficult for you to stay in touch with the fact that your partner really can not make you do something you don’t want to do? What interferes with you choosing what feels like a reasonable way of dealing with the situation rather than losing control and probably feeling guilty later? Options to getting entangled in an argument include saying you disagree with what your partner’s description of your actions, or of what he or she is requesting of you, asking him or her to lower their voice, or leaving the room saying you do not want to talk when he or she is yelling at you? To the extent you can affirm your right to a separate way of thinking and acting, your partner’s behavior becomes less threatening. When you really believe you are not guilty of his or her blame, you will feel less affected by critical remarks. It is interesting that when you feel less threatened and defensive, your partner often starts interacting with a different, less angry or accusatory, tone.