Establishing Boundaries to Create Profound Intimacy: Drawing the Line in Introverted Relationships

Boundaries1

During most of my marriage I had mushy boundaries. Neither my ex-husband nor I had a good grasp on who we were as individuals but he had the more dominant extroverted personality so I let my identity form based on his and society’s expectations. As I developed more self-awareness toward the end of our relationship, I often felt the need to protect that newfound individuality by speaking up and asking for what I needed (namely time to myself and a respected voice in household decision-making). I vigilantly kept my guard up so as not to be engulfed again. I spent energy patrolling the fences as my writing coach, Lauren, so aptly described it. It was exhausting and I resented it. What I didn’t realize was that while I was preventing myself from being taken advantage of I was also learning how to define my boundaries.

Define boundaries, find exquisite intimacy

It may seem counterintuitive to draw a personal line in the sand and expect to be closer to your loved one but that gentle hands intimacyis exactly what good boundaries can do. Defined boundaries show self-respect and lead to mutual regard and awareness. When you know what your partner holds sacred it is easier to respect it. If expectations are clear then everyone can let down their guard and relax. Relaxation leads to trust.Trust is a cornerstone of deep intimacy because it allows vulnerability to enter the relationship. Vulnerability leads to emotional intimacy which opens the door to profound physical intimacy.

So boundaries are essential…

How to know when your boundaries are being crossed

Psychologist, Dr. Dana Gionta, says there are two signs your boundaries are being crossed: discomfort and resentment.

Your feelings and emotions will let you know when your borders are being invaded. You may feel a vulnerable sense of being forced out of your element. An example of this would be if your significant other asks you to host a large dinner party with him for his extended family. There is nothing wrong with him asking but it may make you feel nervous and edgy. Notice this discomfort. It is your boundary being tested.

Let your partner know how you feel about playing this more extroverted role. You may end up loving and learning from the experience or you may be left feeling drained from all the activity and interactions. Either way it is up to you to define your boundaries and not allow the request (or any similar future requests) to develop into resentment.

Resentment arises when you don’t feel appreciated, when you feel you are being taken advantage of or when you are made to feel guilty for doing something or not doing something. If any of these feelings surface, your boundaries are in question.

How to establish boundaries?

So you know what it feels like to have your boundaries tested but how do you create healthy borders that lead to profound intimacy?

1. Who are you?

The first step to establishing personal boundaries is figuring out who the hell you are. How can you protect your identity and space if you have no idea what that looks like?

What do you stand for? Who are you without a relationship? Where do you draw the line regarding values, personal space and amount you are willing to give? These are large cumbersome questions. The answers most likely will not come to you one evening while watching The Bachelor. It will be a slow trickle of coincidences and experiences that lead to clarity of your essence. The most direct way I found to identify your spirit? Pay attention to when you feel most alive and at home. For introverts this is often during alone time. Solitude allows tangled thoughts and impressions to loosen and take shape, revealing the authentic individual you are destined to become. Once you have an inkling of who you are (this is a lifelong process so don’t expect full knowledge of your every character point), you will have a better idea of what you want to protect, which very well may be the right to spend time in solitude.

2. Be direct

Recently, I experienced the introvert’s most common conundrum, dealing with too many draws on our time and energy. In this case I ended up with opportunities to socialize five nights/days in a row.That’s a lot of Brenda be ON time. Ironically, all of the socializing involved fellow introverts. Even so, I had to say no to someone or risk introvert meltdown.

Initially, I asked my friend who requested to spend Saturday and Sunday with me which day he preferred and he said Saturday. Well, Saturday would be the perfect day for me to administer some self-care, i.e.take time for myself, because it is the first day I don’t have writing work to do, I don’t have my children and by then I will have already experienced three packed days of intense work and socializing.

I have a tendency to, as my mother would say, pussy-foot around things. I have a tough time declaring what I need  because of my natural inclination to maintain harmony but because of my increased self-awareness it’s getting easier. I had to be more direct with my friend so I told him Sunday would work better for me. Upon declaring Sunday the better day, my friend then suggested we do something low-key on Saturday as well. He heard my request but was willing to push my boundaries a little… I felt a bit of discomfort but also had an interest in hanging out with him so now what?

3. Incorporate self-interest.

Boundaries can include a reciprocal component, a give and take. While considering plans with my friend for the weekend, I decided having the day to myself on Saturday would be enough to replenish my energy well. It would be fun to see him Saturday night and have a casual meal and maybe watch a movie. We could do something more ambitious on Sunday. I needed to get out of my place for yet another open house anyway, so it would work out well. He let go of seeing me during the day on Saturday but still got to spend time with me both days. I maintained space for myself during the day on Saturday and got to experience his wonderful company as well.

4. Self-care.

Those of us with strong empathy and feelings towards people need to remove ourselves occasionally from them in order to replenish our energy stores. If we don’t get away from other’s needs we become run down and less than our best selves. It is important for us to establish boundaries.

Not everyone likes it when you erect boundaries. It changes things and makes you seem less accessible. That’s hard. Others often see it as personal rejection when you draw a line to protect your core essence. I’ve learned how to let them know it’s not them, it’s me.

Getty image

Getty image

If it’s space I’m requesting, I’ve learned to liken my absence to a business trip overseas. I’m away and inaccessible but it’s nothing personal toward them. It’s just something I need to do. I will return. I give them specific times when I will be completely open and present for them and specific times when I will not.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I didn’t have a lot of self-definition in my marriage. I allowed my husband, society and our kids to dictate who I was. I don’t want to sound like a whiny victim. I just didn’t have the self-knowledge to do otherwise. Over time I became increasingly unhappy, uncomfortable and resentful. I had to become a more defined being. I did this by slowly and largely unconsciously erecting boundaries.

My marriage ended which was awful and painful and life-altering but part of my personal development.

Interestingly enough, after our divorce was final I ended up talking to my ex-husband’s girlfriend at a football party. We talked about introversion and boundaries. She said she let my ex-husband know right away that she is not available on certain nights after 9PM. He should not call her then because she has put her kids down to sleep and needs time to herself. I complimented her on her ability to establish boundaries early. They are still together and plan to get married.

 

Where are your boundaries mushy? Where are they strong? Do you see how healthy boundaries can lead to exquisite intimacy? What are some ways you have established boundaries as an introvert?

If this post spoke to you, you may also love:

Introverts Explained: Why We Love You But Need to Get Away From You

Introvert Relationships: Love Me or Leave Me But Please Don’t Need Me (Too Much)

10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries (Psych Central)

I’m Sorry I Hurt You in Order to Save Myself: What Introverts Feel but Don’t Always Say

 

 

 

 

 

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18 Comments

  1. Jennae
    February 5, 2016

    An interesting experience. I’m finally at the point in my marriage where I can clearly state the boundaries I need, and he’s at the point where he’s learning to stand up for himself and not to “defer” to his wife. In my life, boundaries can help rebuild broken trust, or they can end a marriage. It takes two to tango. But I can waltz alone.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      February 6, 2016

      Sounds like you have a mature marriage with solid boundaries. Also sounds like you know yourself and alone is OK.:)

      Reply
  2. Set better boundaries with toxic people and get your life back {A gentle guide for introverts} - Introvert, Dear
    April 28, 2015

    […] can’t protect your identity and space if you have no idea what those things look like, writes Brenda Knowles, creator of Space2Live.net, which is a blog that aims to help introverts enhance […]

    Reply
  3. Sherrie
    March 19, 2015

    your deep self understanding, and your ability to put it into words to share with others looking to self understand, grow in self understanding, self acceptance, self care and just plain ole’ validation amazes me. I’m sure you know already but need to say it anyway. Wow your words blow me away and matter so deeply. Thank you for sharing <3
    Namaste'

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      March 20, 2015

      Thank you so much for your very kind words. I’m thrilled my personal experiences and epiphanies are valuable to others. I’m just moving through this life one mistake or success at a time. If I can make others not feel alone then I am content.:)

      Reply
  4. November
    August 31, 2014

    Wow, again you’ve really described me and what I went through in the last year. My marriage is also ending because of boundaries (and some other items). I gave and didn’t take for so long, it manifested itself in resentment and physical problems. I realized I hadn’t “turned off” or relaxed for at least 2.5 years. I was exhausted of being the person everyone else expected me to be. But the real me came through, and I realized I wasn’t getting anything I wanted–largely because I had set NO boundaries upon becoming a wife (and when things were pretty bad, and I tried to set boundaries, he largely ignored them). And I just didn’t like being around another person 24/7–being around people for 45 hours a week at work is enough.

    In his latest email to me, he said he hoped I was doing well. My answer was that “the quiet and alone time I am now experiencing is soothing”. To be physically alone the majority of my free time is just who I am. Thankfully, the people in my life who’ve stuck around, respect this boundary.

    I doubt I will ever talk to his girlfriend, and I’m ok with that. lol But I am trying this “boundary thing” with the new men/friends I’ve met. Just saying “I prefer to hang out by myself tonight” is so foreign to me, but it’s helping me stay in the drivers’ seat of life, which is where I need to be. “Moving forward”. 🙂

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      September 4, 2014

      Yay! for you. I am doing the same with the new male and female friends I make. I’m learning new phrases and ways of delivering them that let the other person know I need space but I also like them. Honesty that leaves them with minimal feelings of rejection.
      I hope it leads to healthier and happier existence for both of us.:)

      Reply
  5. Katie
    August 18, 2014

    Great writing. I’ve been following your site for several months now and this is one of my favorites so far. Well said!

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      August 19, 2014

      Thank you for following and commenting.:) I truly appreciate it. I hope you find space2live helpful.

      Reply
  6. www.laurensapala.com
    August 11, 2014

    Love, love, LOVE this post. I think boundaries can be especially challenging for introverts because so much of our default strategy is usually based on withdrawal. It took me many years to actually SAY what I wanted and needed, and I still have to work with that today.

    Great post and definitely one to be shared!

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      August 11, 2014

      Thank you Lauren! Yes, we’re much better at going within than making outward declarations. I find it draining to have to constantly say what I want. Like you said, constantly patrolling the fences. I know others can’t read my mind but I wish they could infer from my behavior what I need/want. I want them to be super intuitive.;)

      Reply
  7. kimberlyharding
    August 9, 2014

    great postings. I have had to draw some boundaries (and stick to them!!) as my husband’s work schedule has changed. I was getting lost in the shuffle-always being “on” for everyone else but me.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      August 9, 2014

      It seems to be an ongoing practice to maintain or create boundaries. It can be tiring vigilantly maintaing them but essential to our well being. Good luck with your new boundaries. May they be respected.:)

      Reply
  8. Miriam
    August 9, 2014

    LOVED this analogy and will be using it in the future: “If it’s space I’m requesting, I’ve learned to liken my absence to a business trip overseas. I’m away and inaccessible but it’s nothing personal toward them.”

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      August 9, 2014

      I love it when I come across a story or example that makes the message clear. So much easier than describing my feelings.;)

      Reply
  9. Ruth Rainwater
    August 8, 2014

    Much food for thought here.

    Reply
  10. Milena
    August 8, 2014

    Thank you for the lovely post! 🙂 Boundaries are very important and an on-going project for me. I feel like a cat a bit in the sense that after I’ve been out in the world and have come into contact with other scents and people, I need time on my own to “groom” myself and leave other people’s stuff behind so I can feel my own essence and reclaim my own scent again. I whither away without alone time so I cannot be in a relationship where this isn’t respected.

    Reply
    • Brenda Knowles
      August 9, 2014

      I love your cat analogy.:) I wholeheartedly agree. I need the same time to shed other’s scents. My boundaries are being tested a lot lately. I’m finding it tiring to have to keep fortifying them but I know it’s essential to my well being. I guess it is an ongoing project/practice…

      Reply
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