Secrets of happy couples- Part 1: Exploring Boundaries

Instant volé...

photo ©Alban Sublet– all rights reserved

Why would two people who are otherwise patient and kind, grow angry and frustrated when in a long term relationship? Can it be that societies as a whole with core values of love and forgiveness, grow intolerant and aggressive for the exact same reasons? Could our “closeness” trigger our own alienation towards the same person we love the most? And can we actually solve our “couple problems” and “community dilemmas” by working only on ourselves?

In a recent article in psychology today, they were looking into alternative wedding vows and this one in particular stood out for me: “I promise to support and protect your freedom, although our lives are intertwined, your choices are still yours alone”, would this sound romantic to you?

Endearment usually goes along the lines of I am yours and you are mine, this total enmeshment is what we look forward to when we are in love, it gives us security, this promise of never having to worry about the “shadow of the third” as Esther Perel (relationship expert and author of Mating in Captivity) puts it, but in a recent class with her, she urged us to explore our boundaries, in an attempt to create “Separateness”. She claimed that while safety is definitely important to the stability and sanity of a marriage, and the people involved in it, freedom on the other hand (which can only be achieved by recognising our natural rights and boundaries) is the fireplace that keeps desire and pleasure burning, we cannot create desire when we are “familial” she says, “desire needs space and fire needs air”.

This is not a new concept, Dr. Schnarch has also explored individuality vs separateness in his books, and I have personally found the subject of boundaries to be a huge contributor to the weight-loss puzzle, with my own clients. Still, it seems every time I bring up personal boundaries and try to explore the concept of “rights” with a client, I face resistance.

Most of us are pretty comfortable discussing and asserting our physical “rights”, we know someone is not allowed to hit us for example, however when I discuss other aspects of personal boundaries, in my sessions, I will hear something along the lines of:

  • You mean I can’t check his emails or should ask if I want to use his mobile.
  • He will not accept this, I know
  • He will not listen to me
  • I can’t do this, I am not used to dealing with her this way
  • He will leave me, you don’t know him
  • I can’t ask my mum to give me back the key to my house, she will get “hurt”.

In short, the idea of having boundaries, triggers a fear of being rejected, losing the love, feeling unsafe and fear of being subjected to the same kind of “distancing”, and most of all it brings out the fear of losing control. However defining where is it that we end and the other person starts is the key to personal freedom and far better relations than we dare imagine!

Okay so if we agree we need boundaries and we want to have rights, what are our rights? who decides them? Where are they written? How can we defend them and does this mean that we would risk losing our relationships?

I will go into this in more detail in future posts, but for now I am really interested in your view on this, how free do you think you are, and how much can you tolerate other people’s (especially a partner’s) freedom, looking forward to your thoughts in the comments below.


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }


Oh sorry thought I was picking up on the last comment forgot to fill out the info…That anonymous one was still me…



Freedom is also a commitment..commitment is not the opposite of freedom … I guess in my point of view commitment… it’s the ability and courage to give people their freedom as much as you dare ask for’s a shared freedom…and a courage to accept the consequences. Be it someone being upset with you or another leaving and so forth and daring to accept other times when it’s ok for these person leaving us or being upset at us to be more important than the “freedom”.



I really believe the roots of a person’s freedom are concepts and patterns that are only as they perceive them… We are all free to do whatever we want. If they are in a situation where they feel tied up..It must be what they want to be. I truly believe that you cannot be a responsible person without realising that when you choose to be in a relationship you are free to commit to it .. it’s pointless to try to make complete freedom and complete commitment fit in the same everything it’s a balance. I think people shy away from balancing this.. people too often forget that they freely chose the commitment they are having trouble balancing with their freedom. The weight and heaviness that comes with commitment could also largely be because people are afraid to be close and intimate not because they are afraid to loose their freedom.



Hey Alaa, thank you for sharing. Like you I agree that when we enter into a partnership (be it a marriage or a business agreement or even a friendship) we forego some of our freedom in order to be with the other, basically allowing that person to come into our space, however when we don’t realise our own boundaries, we don’t know our own rights and we don’t make a “willing” consent as to what that means for us. We sometimes end up feeling “stuck”, not knowing they can renegotiate, when they actually are aware of their rights. I am not saying I know really Alaa, more of putting the question up in the air for whoever is interested to pick it up, but in the next blog, I would like to answer more the question of our own rights (as I believe we can’t give others their rights without knowing ours first).



thank you for this topic
I find boundaries are very crucial in my life, it gave me self respect& respect for others
how free I can let my husband & my children be is the ongoing unfoldment of my inner journey to feel really secure in letting go the need to control….



Khuloud, thank you, I believe its a challenge we are all going through, the purpose here is to open this subject for exploration, I will be going into more details in the next post on practical tips I am collecting around this, and would love your input on what you think has worked for you.


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