What is real is not always tangible—that is, perceptible by touch. A boundary very much fits this description if we take a moment to consider what the word itself means. So what is a boundary? A boundary can be defined as a limitation, while having words like border and dividing line as a few of its synonyms. Letting others know that you prefer to shake hands as a greeting over the Latin kiss on the cheek is an example of a physical boundary. Requesting that you be referred to by your last name and not your first name is an example of a non-tangible, or nonphysical, boundary.
So what makes a boundary significant? Why should anyone care about them? Well, acknowledging that we are physical beings who have non-physical attributes and experiences is part of taking in the bigger picture. We as humans have internal lives that can not be perceived by touch. Humans have their own distinct and individual experiences that exist on a psychological level and these lives can be reflected in our emotions and behaviors. So if you ask me, the point of a boundary is to protect, nurture, and strengthen our internal worlds which in turn extends into and influences the ways we participate in the external world.
Now you might be wondering, “How does a boundary or limitation apply to love and relationships?” Some would say that it is all in the details. Let’s say your significant other and yourself are having a conversation about social norms within athletic sports. I’m sure that many of us have seen the odd but comical spank on the butt that’s meant to serve as a reward for good sportsmanship. This could be an opportunity to ask your partner how they feel about physical contact from others with their rear end. If your partner says that they feel uncomfortable even thinking about being in that position then you have stumbled upon a boundary—and a physical one at that. So as cute as your honey’s toosh might be, if they express that they are uncomfortable having it touched it is important to respect that boundary. Having our boundaries pushed and crossed can be really stressful. This applies to the nonphysical boundaries as well.
I’m sure you might be wondering now what place does a nonphysical boundary have within a relationship. First you can’t touch the butt now you can’t talk about touching it? It sounds funny but in all honesty, the answer might be yes. It sounds strange to hear at times, but arrangements of words, whether they’re put together playfully or not, have an affect on people whether we want them to or not. In the book Words Can Change Your Brain written by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, “..a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”
If you want to explore and better understand your boundaries and your partner’s boundaries I think that starting with a conversation is the best way to go about it. Together you can ask yourselves, and each other, what are some things that make you uncomfortable? By asking this simple question you can discover and put a magnifying glass over your limitations, where they lay, and how to respect them. Taking one another’s, and your own, internal and external worlds into consideration should have a positive and lasting effect on any and all relationships—especially the ones that mean the most to you.