How to Protect Yourself and Your Relationships With Family Boundaries

Our families of origin have an immense impact on who we become as adults, and on our relationships. Whether friendships or romantic relationships, family imprints onto our personalities and our behavior patterns. If we aren’t able to recognize those influences and set boundaries, then our relationships could suffer.

While it’s a good idea to set boundaries regarding what behaviors you will and won’t accept from family members, you also need boundaries to protect yourself from the unspoken behavior patterns you picked up from childhood. Let’s look at a few ways your family can influence you, and what to do about it.

1. Unspoken Rules

All families have their own unspoken rules and expectations for your interactions with one another. While some things are said outright, many are implied or picked up through patterns of behavior. For example, you may have learned as a child that you shouldn’t ask for what you want, because your parents modeled behavior that demonstrated otherwise. Or, you may have picked up that it’s best to keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself because your family always praised people who were quiet and reserved.

When you bring these unspoken rules into your relationships, this can create difficulties in your communication and problem solving. It’s essential to weed out the quiet rules you both live by so you can build a healthier relationship with full awareness of your instincts.

Build the boundary: In order to protect your relationships from your own unspoken rules, the first thing you have to do is identify what those are. You can do this through brainstorming, journaling, conversations, or counseling. Once you’ve identified your unspoken rules, it’s time to communicate. When appropriate, discuss those rules with your dating partner, your fiance, or your spouse, and encourage them to explore the same silent narratives in their own background. Understanding what drives our behavior is the first step to creating healthier relationship dynamics for ourselves.

2. Family Roles

Did you have an unspoken or spoken role you played in your family? Do you still fill that role? Every family has its own manifestation of these roles, though that looks different from one family to the next. Some families are very rigid when it comes to who plays what role. Others fall into a quiet pattern in which they play their roles, but don’t necessarily voice them. The roles become most apparent during conflict, or when one person steps on another’s toes–and consequently, into a role that doesn’t “belong” to them.

Roles can create speed bumps in good relationships. They create unspoken (and unmet) expectations, as well as conflict that’s difficult to overcome if you don’t recognize the role you grew up playing. It’s likely you continually try to play that role, over and over, and it could be contributing to painful interactions between you and your partner.

Build the boundary: It’s time to get to the bottom of the roles you each play. What are some recognizable patterns you’ve acted out throughout your life? Are there specific situations you were thrust into within your family where you were forced to play the peacekeeper, the referee, the critic, the secret-keeper? Identify your roles and discuss how this might be affecting your relationship now.

3. Family Relationships

Finally, the relationship dynamics in our families inform how we behave in our adult relationships. Depending on the environment you were raised in or the behaviors you observed, you internalized a set pattern of behavior that you may now uphold as “right”. Because each individual has a different set of internalized beliefs and patterns of behavior, two people who marry could potentially bring a major clash of dynamics and beliefs into a marriage relationship.

Build the boundary: Talk through how your families interacted with each other. Were your parents openly affectionate or reserved? Did you hash out problems with shouting matches or suppress your feelings? Were you allowed to question one another or expected to keep silent? When you’ve explored all the possibilities, you’ll have more information to help you move forward in a more positive way.

Relationships can be challenging…

…but with a little help, you can take your relationship from bad to better, or good to great. It’s absolutely possible, and we’ve created a guidebook that can help you get started on your journey. Real Relationships is a practical guide you can use to improve any important relationship in your life, whether it’s a friendship or romantic relationship. Check out the book and its accompanying workbook here.

Have you created boundaries around your early childhood conditioning? We’d love to hear your story, so feel free to share it in the comments!

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