For years, I walked confidently through my office door. Even in challenging times, I had no problem bypassing drama and directing my teams to success. I could quickly discern what held teams back and chose the right people to lead the business. I saw people’s potential and coached them up. I quickly set boundaries and expectations and managed to them. But something happened on my commute home. All of that confidence deflated. I often walked through my home door wondering how I kept myself together at work but couldn’t seem to get my relationships together at home.
I was at a point in my life enjoying some exciting career moments, but at home, I was reeling from the ending of another failed relationship. It could have been easy to just blame that on the other person, but there was a common denominator in many of my personal matters. Me. And not just in my romantic relationships, but also in my relationship with my finances and my friendships. Instead of staying stuck in victim mode, which I knew would just repeat old, broken cycles again, I asked a painful question, “What was my part in all of this?”
My biggest part as to why I felt so unsuccessful in my personal relationships was my inability to use the same boundary-setting at home that I used at work. At work, I quickly set performance and behavior boundaries and hired and trained people to work within them. Those that didn’t share my same expectations weren’t hired or opted to leave. At work, I also loved discovering and focusing on someone’s potential and coached them up or out. At home, I never coached out the ones I couldn’t coach up. I let emotions complicate reality. I often chose to justify or overlook certain behaviors.
Why we make boundary exceptions (and the outcomes)
Counterintuitively, it seems that I had low personal boundary hurdles because I placed a high sense of worthiness in finding “the one” and getting married. I held a deep belief that being married and having a family made me more “worthy.” While there is nothing wrong with desiring those life situations, idolizing them cracks an opening for making exceptions to our personal value system.
Now that I coach other women, I see others living a similar trend I followed. As highly motivated and successful leaders, we somehow bury a belief deep inside our hearts that we aren’t good relationship material because of our assertiveness, a belief that we carry baggage that makes us less worthy as a partner or hold a lack of general confidence in skills to navigate intimate relationships. In my experience, this “successful at work but struggling at home” paradox leads us to make small, unconscious choices that weaken the guardrails for healthy relationships:
We tolerate behavior we would never mimic.
We get pulled into habits that full of enormous effort and perfection to maintain.
We justify other peoples actions.
As a result of these, we become disconnected and distant from the same people we’ve allowed in. We feel controlled, or suffocated, or resentful. Ironically, we are the ones who are bending our own rules. It was actually empowering to find my part in this: I had done this to myself which means I can get myself out of it.
I no longer wanted to live what felt like a double life of thriving at work but failing at home. When I took accountability for my part in my failed relationships, I recognized that I could be good at both if I could carry my knack for setting boundaries at work over to my personal life. I knew what my boundaries were, but unlike at work, I was scared they would anger a loved one, a friend, or even my child. I realized I was working harder on someone else’s happiness than I was my own.
Don’t work harder on someone else’s happiness than your own. -Kelli Thompson
The boundaries I compromised on for so long were built on love, respect and family. They don’t have to be complex to serve you well. Some of mine are:
Be honest in small things. They reveal truth-telling big things.
Daily quality time
Taking action on verbal promises
God & Faith first
Total transparency on finances, social media, text messages and opposite-gender relationships
When boundaries bring loneliness
These boundaries felt good in the beginning because I knew they were aligned with my heart, mind and body. However, I realized I had more people in my life who lived outside of them than within them. Boundaries seem like a good idea until you experience a bit of loneliness will make you question every single belief and action that led you to create them in the first place.
For months, I was tempted to get manipulated by the maybes. Maybe:
I’m being too strict
No one will want in and I’ll be lonely for life
They really will finally change
Just once I can make an exception to relieve my loneliness
What carried me through from a lonely beginning to a very joyful ending was learning to let go of controlling my relationship end goals. I desired the of peace of falling asleep in a healthy and empowering place – with or without someone. Every day I made small, and sometimes difficult decisions, that promoted peace instead of chaos. Living in peace with healthy boundaries provided a firm foundation to make fulfilling life decisions (like finding my amazing, like-minded husband).
Boundaries help us say no with grace and yes with love. They serve as guardrails that create the safe space that enables you to love people better and free yourself from resentment of letting the wrong people in. In the end, my fears came true – my boundaries made some people angry. I was grateful for that. Only the wrong people will be angered by healthy boundaries. The right people will jump in and enthusiastically embrace them with you.
Only the wrong people will be angered by healthy boundaries. Kelli Thompson
What are your relationship boundaries? (Hint: They are often the opposite of what repulses you most.) What choices are you making to honor them this week?