"How to Create Boundaries in Any Relationship Practice" - Guest Post by Austen Smith

 art by Austen Smith

art by Austen Smith

This week's post is from guest writer and TNG friend Austen Smith. They kick ass at life in general and social-emotional health specifically, and they're here today to school us all about the big scary B-word: boundaries.


Boundaries can be a struggle. Whether you practice polyamory or monogamy, boundaries are a necessity in relationship sustainability. Boundaries can be practiced in any relationship; romantic, friendship, and professional relationships, Even the relationship you have with your inner self can thrive with healthy boundaries. They serve as guidelines that ensure cultivation and communion. Boundary setting is the gatekeeper of your heart space, and the only way to strengthen them is to practice them with everyone you share love with.

 Boundaries are difficult --  not only to create but to implement. This is especially true in polyamorous practices. More people mean more boundaries, which is a reduction of just how complex multi-dimensional love can be. Sure, more people mean more boundaries, but the majority of us still engage with the world as if we are only accountable for abiding by our own boundaries. We don’t always respect the boundaries of our loved ones. On the flip side, some of us struggle with implementing the boundaries we create, widening the margin for relationship failure due to fear of others’ reactions. To ensure we only receive the love we deserve we must be willing to decline love that doesn’t quite measure up. Boundaries weed our emotional garden, and without them we cannot be fully available to ourselves or others.

 This post will introduce the Personal & Partnership Needs Questionnaire (PPNQ) and a personal reflection about my boundaries. The goal is to assist with creating your own set of personal boundaries so that your relationships arrive at their potential while meeting your expectations along the way.

To ensure we only receive the love we deserve we must be willing to decline love that doesn’t quite measure up. Boundaries weed our emotional garden, and without them we cannot be fully available to ourselves or others.

Personal/Partnership Needs Questionnaire

Relational Security

  1. What insecurities are you aware of? (ex. jealousy, excessive worry, fear of loss, etc.)

  2. What insecurities are relational patterns for you? (ex. Jealousy that leads to arguments)

  3. What boundaries help you feel secure? (ex. Verbal affirmation, planned dates/shared calendar)

  4. Why have your relationships ended in the past? (ex. Unfaithful partners - usually a sign of weak boundary practice)

Emotional Availability

  1. What do you plan to accomplish in this partnership? (ex. Sexual relationships only)

  2. What level of intimacy are you available for? (ex. Hand-holding but no social media activity)

  3. What are your deal-breakers? (ex. Dishonesty, disproportional efforts, living together)

  4. How much influence should your partner(s) have over your other relationships? (ex. My partner must get along with my new lover [or] my partner can express dislike but doesn’t get to decide for me)

Corrective Action

  1. Are you comfortable communicating when boundaries are crossed? (ex. No, but I’m willing to learn)

  2. What is your current plan for invasive interactions? (ex. I shut down and become defensive)

  3. Do you think this plan can serve as a corrective course for your new boundaries? (ex. I need to be more honest with how I feel.)

  4. Are other people already involved?  (If yes, answer separately, then discuss. Maintain individual list and make a compiled set of relationship boundaries)

My Personal Boundaries

I’ve been practicing polyamory for over a year, but did not feel as if there was any tangible framework on developing boundaries - so I made one. After formulating and completing my PPNQ, I was able to see that my insecurities had fully manifested into very poor relationship practices. Not only did I eagerly avoid any confrontation, but I made myself so insignificant in relationships that I was essentially invisible - an extension of whoever I was sleeping with at the time. My boundaries are a living document in my phone, constantly growing, shrinking, and evolving as I become more defined as a person and lover.

  1. I ain’t your therapist.  I’m not here to do emotional labor for problems I didn’t create.

  2. I require verbal finesse and physical affirmation. It’s my love language. I connect through language and touch. This doesn’t mean I want to steal you from your partner, it means I like to cuddle.

  3. I will be included on any communication that influences me. Don’t wait a month before telling me y’all closed the relationship. Don’t breadcrumb me while waiting on your partner. I respect relationship and body autonomy.

  4. Nudes aren’t shared with your primary partner. Just...no. Your partner is not entitled to my body by proxy. If you want to be possessive, be monogamous.

  5. Communicate newly developed boundaries as soon as possible. Let me know how I can encourage intimacy and openness. Let me know when I inevitably fuck up. Communicate any changes.

  6. I expect honesty. This is not up for negotiation. Don’t cancel on me because your partner doesn’t like me. Address that with your partner, and come to an understanding. Come to me with a solution. If the solution is that you want to stop seeing me, tell me that.

  7. I am tested with every new partner. I expect the same from partners. Because if it ain’t safe, it ain’t fun. Chances are if you don’t care about your health you won’t care about mine either.

Not only did I eagerly avoid any confrontation, but I made myself so insignificant in relationships that I was essentially invisible - an extension of whoever I was sleeping with at the time. My boundaries are a living document in my phone, constantly growing, shrinking, and evolving as I become more defined as a person and lover.

 Never expect the boundaries discussion to be a comfortable one. Rarely has my boundaries matched perfectly with a lover’s. That’s why honestly answering and comparing your PPNQ is so important - because it provides insight and conversational prompts. I’m less attached to some boundaries than I am others. I may be willing to negotiate with a lover sharing nudes with their partner if I’m also involved with the partner. I might be flexible if someone’s dominant love language is acts of service because I think it’s attractive. The intention of setting boundaries is to figure out your needs, and creating a structure to make sure those needs are met. Getting your needs met is a demonstration of your worthiness and rightful place in this world. May this self-reflection serve you well.

 Austen <3

What do your boundaries (or lack thereof) for personal relationships look like? Keep the dialogue flowing in the comments below!


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Austen Smith is a black, queer & trans writer residing in Louisville, Kentucky. They specialize in southern rootwork and healing the wounds of oppression through spiritual herbalism, tarot, and trauma work. Austen has studied tea and herbalism for over a decade, and uses their knowledge and experience to serve marginalized communities. 

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