In the last article, Limits Make Me Who I Am, we talked about what limits are, why they’re essential, and how to know where ours are. In this section, we’ll start off by discussing why we feel uncomfortable setting limits.
Next, we’ll discover how we can apply them to the ways we treat ourselves. Then, we’ll discuss how to apply them successfully with our partner. Finally, we’ll examine the biggest mistakes partners often make when setting them.
Why am I uncomfortable setting limits?
There are many reasons why we’re comfortable setting limits. The first is that we don’t feel valuable enough – as if we don’t have the right or authority to protect things. As if we aren’t important enough to tell others the way that we want to be treated.
To understand this, imagine a fence around the house. To decide to build a fence around a house, you have to first believed that the house is worth protecting. That it matters. That it’s valuable. If there’s nothing valuable there, then why protect it?
The same is true for the way we perceive ourselves. If you walk around thinking that there’s nothing valuable to you and that you don’t matter, there’s going to be no limits. How can you convince yourself to set them in the first place with this mindset?
A beautiful thing about setting limits is that they work both ways. Once we start setting them, will subconsciously feel better about ourselves. This because we’ll soon start to think of ourselves as people who are worth having limits. Thinking of yourself as somebody who sets limits is an empowering thought. Someone with something worth protecting. Something that people need to work for!
Soon you’ll be thinking, “wow, I must be valuable because I am setting limits around my life!” And it goes the other way too – it’s a cycle. The more valuable we think we are, the more comfortable we’ll be setting limits. And the more we set limits, the more valuable we’ll start to feel.
We’re not calling here for some form of narcissism, bossing people around on every front. But it is a must to protect some domains of our lives and tell people what’s okay and not okay. It’s a right of all humans. And it’s crucial to our happiness, the way we perceive ourselves, and mental health. And to the success of our relationship too.
Another reason that we may be uncomfortable setting limits can be cultural. Some of us come from a culture that doesn’t encourage assertiveness. Maybe this is because we grew up in a household where it wasn’t okay to say that you don’t like something. Maybe it wasn’t so popular in your community or friend group.
But it’s very hard if you bring that with you to your relationship as it’s going to lead you to feel suffocated. It’s so important that you try to be a bit more assertive and communicate what you need from others.
It’s totally okay to communicate what we need from others. We shouldn’t feel ashamed from doing this. It’s essential to who we are and to protect what matters to us.
We also may feel uncomfortable setting limits because we don’t see it so often in media. People on social media often post whatever they want. They show too much about their lives and bodies. You also rarely see people setting and enforcing limits in movies.
Limits are not something that’s often talked about in society. We at Learn2Love think that’s crazy! It’s so important for almost anything we do in life. How could society miss something so important?
You may feel comfortable setting some limits already, like telling people that it’s not okay if they call you a certain way. That’s great! But what we’re calling for is a much deeper understanding of ourselves. A deep reflection on what’s okay and not okay. And a more organized approach to how we apply them to our relationships.
How can I use limits on myself?
It is so important that we use limits on ourselves. What we mean by this is setting limits on the way you allow yourself to talk about yourself. We all have a voice inside our head. Many of us allow it to be so negative!
We are often our biggest critics. But we don’t have to be.
We can set limits on how we allow our thoughts to influence us, and what thoughts will allow in. Now we can’t always control what thought comes into mind, but we can choose to lead the conversation elsewhere.
For example, we can make an effort to notice when negative self-talk occurs. Next, we can tell ourselves that we need to stop thinking about this and try change the discussion. Setting a limit on what negative talk is not okay, combined with the strategies we discuss below, will help you succeed.
Let’s say for example that you set a limit on the amount of negative self-talk that you give yourself. If you notice that you start to have it, you can choose to stay in your head, “this is against my limit and this is not okay.” This will reduce the amount of shame you feel from it, and how long you have to feel bad about it.
Next, you can take a few deep breaths, and try to do something to change the conversation. This could look like trying to think of something positive, like a recent vacation that you had. Or something that brings a smile to your face. Or think of cute puppies! (There’s a reason they’re so many videos of them on YouTube.)
The next step would be to make a list of things that you want to tell yourself more. Your thoughts become your actions and your actions become your life. What are the things that you want to believe about yourself?
You can change your thoughts by making a list of 10 positive attributes that you want to have. These can be positive affirmations such as:
- I am beautiful
- I am worth it
- I am good enough
- I matter
- I got this
- I can do it
- I am not going to give up.
Adapt this list to the things that you want to think more. Then, repeating the entire list to yourself five times when you start to engage in negative self-talk. Or, keep repeating it until you feel better. Combine these with other calming exercises, such as breathing gently or going for a walk. Together, these activities will revolutionize the discussion in your head.
It gets even better too. This exercise won’t only make you feel better in the moment. It will completely change the way that you think of yourself in general. Mic drop.
What are tips to ensure that I can succeed?
Great question! We’re so happy you asked.
Whenever setting limits, always remember those three components we talked about in the last article. Clear, consistent, and well-advertised. This applies to any limit you set ever.
Let’s break this down with some examples.
Take for example a limit that you set with your partner for spending time with friends. You want to have two nights a week at least where you can go with your friends. How do we apply the components to this?
- Clear. You can be clear by having a specific conversation with your partner about limits.
Remind them that you’re very happy with the relationship and will always be there. Say you’re curious to learn and want to make the relationship even better. When you come to these discussions from a place of curiosity, you often set them up for a great start. And conversations often end in the way they started.
Now when you have the conversation, be very clear. Tell them exactly what you need from them. You could say something like, “I need to have two nights a week where I go out from in the evening with my friends.” It can be from after work to 9 p.m., 10 p.m. or whatever. Be very specific.
We have to accommodate with our partners on this sometimes. Say that you guys agreed to have dinner together every Friday. So accommodate by not going out with your friends most Fridays. Or, propose a new day for the dinner
- Consistent. You can be consistent by enforcing this limit every time a conflict related to it arises.
By this, we mean that unless it’s an emergency, don’t let the limit slide. Remember, if someone lets someone pass their fence once, people are going to keep doing it. If police sometimes let people get away with speeding, everyone is going to try speeding sometimes. This is crucial. Every time.
So for example, if it’s one of your days to be with your friends that you agreed on, go out if you made plans! If you didn’t make plans, stay home. But if you made plans and it’s not an emergency, don’t cancel them!
This way, you’re not confusing your partner. Your partner will eventually get the message that you go out on the days that you say that you go out. But problems happen sometimes. We get it. Here’s what to do if they complain:
Take for example you’re going to leave to see your friends on your day. You’re ready at the door and putting on your shoes. But then your partner is on the couch with a sad face. They say, “please don’t leave me. I’m so lonely without you. I hate being alone when you go.”
Are we going to let this ruin our night? No! It will make it harder for our partners and leave them more confused!
Respond by saying, “I love you very much. I always love you with all my heart, wherever I am. I go because I need some space for myself. My friends make me happy. I need them to feel good. I’m going to come back around 10. I always come back when I say I do. Think of that all the other times that I came back on time. And also, I told you about this last week, so you could have made plans with your friends if you were lonely?”
Clean and simple. Then you go with your friends.
If you are consistent, your partner is going to get the message. They will understand get used to it. Now if they don’t get used to it, this may be a sign of a deeper issue related to fears of abandonment. If you ever wonder if professional counselling can help, it almost always can.
- Well-advertised. The final thing that we talked about is well- advertised. But how can you be well advertised?
One way is to make a limits board that you put up in your bedroom:
This is a board where each of you has one side and you write what your limits are. You can write them during the limits conversation that you make with each other. Remember to compromise. But once you agree, put them on the board!
This makes them well-advertised because you can put them on the wall. Then, you can see it every day! And you don’t even need to repeat yourself. Just look at the wall. You can’t say then that you don’t know what the limits are because they are – there.
If you don’t want to have them up on your wall, you can make a limits book. You can buy a notebook from the store and each have some pages where you write what your limits are. Do this during or after your limits conversation once you agree to them. Then, you can put the book next to your bed. That way if you ever have a question, you can look at the book. It’s right there.
Make sure to make everything you write clear (specific). You can include examples if it helps. It’s your book! Make it yours. You can make this fun too! Add some colour to it too.
What are the biggest mistakes people often make when setting limits?
The biggest mistake that people make when setting limits is not keeping one of the three components
They say something like, “you always speak to me that way and I don’t like it!” Then the partner has no idea what they mean when they say “that way.”
You have to be crystal clear on what it is that you’re referring to. Was is the word? The tone? The setting? Help me understand you! You could say something like, “take me through what you felt.” We want to get the nail on the head here.
The other thing people do is that they are not consistent. Rarely ever! This is such a big problem! Guys, people don’t know what you think unless you tell them!
Sometimes the partner will let it pass, and then the other the has no idea if it is problematic. By letting it pass, you are reinforcing the behaviour. Is that what you want?
If sometimes you explode and sometimes you don’t, they won’t know what caused the problem! You let it pass all the other times, so it was fine then right? It’s the same thing as letting people speed sometimes. It doesn’t work.
It’s not disrespectful to enforce your limits! You have to be consistent with them. This helps your partner not only understand you better, but it also stops things as they occur. We all know what happens when we hold things in for too long. They show up later in other forms.
Finally, the other big mistake people make is that their limits aren’t well advertised. If there was only one speed limit posted every 100km, people would not go the speed limit. People need continuous reminders to know where the limit is and what’s okay and not okay. We’re only human.
People expect others to be superhuman and know what to do after the first time. But would you think it would be fair to put someone in jail after the first time they speed? We all make mistakes.
As much as people try, they need continuous reminders. This is why it’s so important to have a limits board or a book. Then, it’s well-advertised. You can have a reminder whenever you wake up, or whenever you choose to look.
Do you have any other tips on setting limits?
As we’ve already discussed throughout this blog, people change all the time and that’s okay. That’s why it’s important to keep having these limits conversations with your partner. You can ask them questions even once a week or more. Ask each other, “am I acting in line with your limits?”
It’s not disrespectful to ask that. It’s creating an opportunity for honest reflection. Or venting! If this doesn’t occur, fights will to fill in their gap.
Remember that your limits may change with time. So keep talking about them with your partner. That’s why we recommend at least a weekly 5-minute conversation that you schedule for this purpose. We recommend that you schedule it because if you don’t, you will end up not having it. There are a million things competing with for our time. If we don’t guard time for specific tasks, other things will eat at it.
Limits are essential to telling others what’s okay and not okay to do with us. To set them, we have to first think and understand what we need. What’s not okay. Where our limits are. Many of us walk around having no idea where are limits are. Then, we don’t communicate them with others. And then, we get upset and feel dissatisfied. And we don’t understand why.
The problem often starts with us. We have to be the change that we want to see and our families within ourselves and in the world. It has to start with us.
We can use limits to ensure that we have the spaces we need to thrive and grow. We can also use them to teach others what is okay and not okay to do with us. We think that people understand us and know what to do already, but this is not the case. This creates the opportunity for an exploration process that can be quite fun!
We can also use the limits to regulate the way that we speak to ourselves. Many of us have damaging self-talk which is detrimental to our development. To overcome this, we can make a list of positive affirmations that we repeat to ourselves when negative self-talk arises.
We can set a clear limit of what negative self-talk looks like so we can recognize it when it starts. Our thoughts become our actions and our actions become our life. Combined with other exercises such as calm breathing, we can completely change the way we perceive ourselves in general. We will feel more valuable.
The best limits are clear, enforced consistently, and well-advertised. Failure to include any one of these characteristics will lead to the limit not being followed. When the characteristics are present, our lives will get much easier. Our happiness and relationship satisfaction will grow. And we’ll feel more prepared than ever to take control of our lives. If we don’t take control of our situation, it will control us.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you found the content meaningful, and that you will be able to apply it to your relationship with the best results. Love is hard. But it doesn’t have to be.
Love smarter, not harder.
Prefer podcasts? We got you covered! See our episode, “What are Limits and How Do We Guard Them?”, wherever you get your podcasts: