Whether it’s personal or professional, the beginning of a relationship is a crucial time to get crystal clear on your non-negotiables AND put in place both external and internal boundaries to influence what all parties bring to the table. Yes, this requires behaving like a grown-up and it can be really uncomfortable (nobody said personal growth feels good all the time), but it’s worth it so let’s break it down.
1) Get clear on your deal breakers.
These are the behaviours or actions you ABSOLUTELY will not tolerate. This may be easy for you, and you may already have a list. But if this is something new to you and you’re struggling to find clarity, one of the most powerful ways to do this is by reverse engineering.
Here’s an example. A client of mine recently started dating again. When she started making her list of deal breakers, she struggled to define them. I asked her to tell me five ways she wants to FEEL in a relationship and she easily came up with the following list: safe, sexy, prioritised, engaged and trusting. For each of these feelings, she thought about behaviours that previous partners had engaged in that made her feel the opposite of these emotions. She didn’t feel safe when they lost their temper frequently. She didn’t feel prioritised when they called her late at night for a booty call, as a last minute option. She didn’t feel engaged in the relationship when he stopped asking her about her day, her thoughts, and her ideas.
Professionally, this may look like knowing that if you’re hired in a management capacity, you don’t want to be micromanaged. If you’re hired for a flextime position, or as a remote employee, changes to that structure might be a deal breaker. If you’re hired as a part of team where input and communication is (supposedly) valued, you have expectations that there will be opportunities for this to happen.
2) Create both internal and external boundaries:
Internal boundaries are just that, internal. They are the thoughts, feelings, triggers and emotions you’ll be keeping an eye out for. They don’t necessarily need to be communicated to anyone else, but are something you put in place to help you identify when your boundaries are being pushed. Think of it like an early warning system.
External boundaries involve other people. This is where you need to communicate your expectations. In the dating example above, this meant my client telling her partner that she didn’t feel safe when he lost his temper, which opened a dialogue. He was able to express that because his outbursts had nothing to do with her (they were work related), he assumed she wouldn’t take it onboard. She was able to express that because of past experiences, this made her feel unsafe and that if that was the only way he was willing to blow off steam, then she wasn’t the right partner for him. Yes, it was uncomfortable, but the end result was open communication and discussion.
3) Take responsibility for the behaviour you accept. This can be the hardest part and what I say next might sound harsh but some of y’all need to hear it.
YOU ARE A GROWN ASS ADULT WHO HAS TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR HOW YOU ALLOW PEOPLE TO TREAT YOU
If you tell someone you don’t want to be their booty call but you answer that 11 p.m. text, guess what? You’re the booty call.
If you find yourself growing more resentful day by day by the lack of opportunities for feedback at work, but you just sit there simmering in a stew of frustration without saying anything, guess what? That’s on you.
If you tell a friend that you really hate it when they’re late, but you’re there waiting when they show up at the café 45 minutes behind schedule? You’re part of the problem.
Look, I get it. This might sound like a really clinical approach to relationships which, as we all know, are bloody well fraught with emotion and nuance and a million other things that we can’t even begin to define, let alone understand, but that’s why this exercise is so important.
The more you can distance yourself- temporarily- at the beginning of a relationship and set the standards early on, the greater capacity you’ll have to make decisions down the track. As the relationship evolves, you can refer to your list and say, “Ok, so this boundary is being stretched but I can renegotiate this/communicate differently/stand my ground because I’m in a different place/it still matters to me/everything else is going really well.”
Remember this: if you’re asking for things that are important to you and you’re not getting them early on – WHEN EVERYONE IS ON THEIR BEST BEHAVIOUR- then what the hell are you gonna get down the track? Not much. People (whatever their intention or motivation) will often take what they can get and you’re the only one who can decide what you’re willing to settle for.
And if you’re settling for less than what you know you deserve? Then I’d suggest you have a good, hard look at why that is and how you’re gonna’ change it. Talk to a friend who you know will call you on your bullshit, hire a coach or find a therapist. Do what you need to do to level up, because standing up for what you deserve and desire is worth the effort. I promise.