Setting Boundaries In Your Relationships With People




For the past few days, the topic “Unpopular Opinion” has been trending on twitter. So far, there have been many editions of the topic, from Unpopular Opinion Creatives Edition, to that of fashion, sex, friendship, natural hair, sports, etc. One of the editions that caught my attention was the Relationship’s Edition. It caught my attention because for a few weeks now, I have been evaluating my relationships with the people in my life, setting boundaries and defining my relationships with them. It took me a while to decide to do this, not because I have a lot of friends, but because defining my relationship with people would come with some responsibilities.



What does it mean to Evaluate a Relationship?

Evaluating a relationship can be described as one assessing their affiliation with a person based on one’s personal preferences, expectations and standards, and based on the circumstances surrounding said affiliation to the other. For instance, in evaluating a relationship with a person I know from work, my preferences (e.g having mutual interests), my standards on personality traits like honesty, my expectations (e.g having shared values) and circumstances (e.g hierarchy at the office or the position they hold) would all be put into consideration in evaluating my relationship with them. Evaluation of a relationship is not a one time thing. It should be done as often as needed, as growth occurs in both parties and as the circumstances of their affiliation change. This is the evolution of a relationship.




What does it mean to Define a Relationship?

Defining a relationship simply means identifying the type of affiliation one has, or wants to have with another. This comes after a careful and satisfactory evaluation of the relationship. Using the above example, a careful evaluation of my relationship with the person whom I know from work, may lead me to define our relationship as any of the following: friends, colleagues, mentor and mentee, boss and subordinate, employer and employee, etc. As priorly mentioned, a relationship can evolve after a re-evaluation has occurred, whether consciously or unconsciously. This leads to a partial or total change of the identity/definition of the relationship. This includes cases like that of classmates who subsequently become friends, and friends who subsequently become business partners, etc. Similarly, a particular type of relationship can be used as a foundation upon which another is subsequently built. An example of this being two people who start courting with the intentions of building a marriage subsequently.



What does it mean to Set Boundaries?


A lot of people have a misconception with setting boundaries. They associate it with a certain form of negative or ill feeling. This isn’t always the case. In it’s purest form, setting of boundaries is simply an acceptance of the definition one has given their relationship with another, and taking the personal responsibility of ensuring that both parties act accordingly. Using our instant scenario, if I have defined the relationship between myself and the person I know from work as that of boss and subordinate, then my attitude towards the other should be professional (with maybe a hint of corporate casual, depending on other factors). Thus, one cannot entertain any romantic interest with regards to the other, neither should one encourage it. It therefore becomes my duty to ensure that none of us cross the boundaries set by the definition of our relationship.

Have you ever met someone who referred to almost everyone as their friend? Or have you ever been in a situation where a family friend introduced you to another person as their cousin? This is a very common occurrence in our African society because we are very family-oriented people, hence we tend to be very fluid about defining relationships. A lot of people who are guilty of this, feel some sense of obligation to be as inclusive as possible of the person they are introducing. Another propelling factor is that some people think that identifying their relationship and calling it as it is may hurt the people with whom they are affiliated. The point here is, a lot of people are not able to define their relationships with people. They mostly just group the people in their lives into two broad categories: friends and family.

Grouping people into those two categories alone affords one the freedom from the responsibility of setting boundaries. However, it comes with a number of cons, a few of which are listed below:
1. Increased level of a sense of obligation towards the people and an increased expectation of same being reciprocal.
2. Increased sense of loyalty, sometimes even when said loyalty is clearly not reciprocal.
3. Increased tendency of tolerating behavior one would ordinarily rather not tolerate from the other party, had the relationship been defined and boundaries been set.
4. Increased chances of disrespect on the end of both parties, resulting from a lack of boundaries.
5. Increased sense of entitlement in both parties.



In conclusion, it is very important to note that evaluating one’s relationships with others, defining them and setting boundaries is not intended to encourage an attitude of aloofness, unkindness, rudeness and lack of respect or courtesy in one’s dealing with people in general, neither does it excuse it. It is, rather, intended to promote courtesy, kindness, firmness and a mutual respect with those whom one encounters. It also helps to clarify one’s level of obligation to various people, one’s duties towards them and the expectations to have of them.

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