For most of my life, I don’t recall hearing the term “boundaries” as it applies to relationships. Lately, it seems the word is everywhere. 

Psychotherapist, Terri Cole, has written a book called Boundary Boss. It helps demystify the complex topic of boundaries and supports how to be better boundary masters.

Cole tells us that the starting point for good boundaries is being confident and comfortable with ourselves and accepting responsibility for our feelings and emotions. But simultaneously, we must hold others capable and responsible for their feelings and emotions. When we listen to our feelings, we can acknowledge what feels good and what doesn’t to set boundaries in our life.

I love that she calls boundaries a behavioral dance. Isn’t that precisely what it is? People dancing around and trying not to let others metaphorically run into them, or in turn, for them to avoid stepping on the toes of others?

She also speaks about setting boundaries for oneself – internal boundaries. She advises deciding what is important to you and making it sacred. This certainly makes me think of setting boundaries around good self-care, which is vital to our well-being.

Cole tells us to have a proactive boundary success plan. In my coaching work, I introduce people to the D.E.A.R method as a proactive way to communicate boundaries in relationships. The acronym stands for Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce.

Describe the situation.

  • Use phrases like: “I noticed that…” “It appears that…” “It seems that… “ (i.e., avoid accusations and “always or never” statements).
  • Be brief – the more you describe, the more opportunity there is to slip into an accusation mode or for the other person to slip into defense mode.

Express your feelings and thoughts. 

  • Stick to “I” and “me” statements.

Assert your belief, need, or want. 

  • Resist the urge to qualify. Don’t say sorry. If your request is reasonable, there is no need to be sorry.
  • Hints are not enough – they can’t read your mind. Make a specific, actionable request.

Reinforce the other person. 

  • This is very important – it is the “thank you” in advance. 

EXAMPLE: “I have noticed lately that you have told me several times to shut up. When you do this, I feel disrespected and dismissed – I feel disengaged from you. This feeling lasts for many hours, even days. I would respectfully request that you no longer tell me to shut up under any circumstances. If you wish me to stop talking, please find a more respectful and loving way. This is important to me, and I really appreciate that you will follow through with my request. Thank you.”

The D.E.A.R. method is powerful, and it works. Don’t be afraid to write your script and rehearse it in advance.

As I’ve explored the topic of boundaries, I find it’s easy to feel unskilled or inadequate. I find it very hard to communicate boundaries. But I’ve also learned how important good boundaries are. And that being successful with boundaries requires knowledge, intention, and practice. 

I’m determined to get better.

  • When you feel discomfort in a relationship, could this be pointing to the need for a boundary?
  • What would be some helpful boundaries for yourself? 
  • What would give you more of what you want and less of what you don’t want?

With loving kindness,

Coach Billy