Just Say When: 5 Steps to Keeping Boundaries in Relationships

I’ll be the first to admit that I am the type of girl that likes to bury my pasta in parmesan cheese, so I always get a bit angsty when the waiter walks up with the grater and utters the dreaded line of “just say when.” At that point, I have two internal voices in dialogue with each other. The carb and cheese lover inside of me says “don’t you dare stop him before that white mountain of cheesy goodness reaches a peak,” while the other voice says, “you don’t want to look greedy or be judged, so get the minimal amount and stop there.”

This “say when” line applies to so much more than just cheese, or pepper on salad, or filling up a wine glass. When broken down, that phrase essentially means, “how much can you handle?” or “what is your boundary?” At some point or another, we have all reached a moment in a relationship where we ask ourselves if we have reached our “when.” The difficulty arises when the respective angel and devil on our shoulders start to argue about how much we really can tolerate and the “when moment” that used to be crystal clear continues to get pushed back and back until we no longer have any perspective. 

It is not easy to set boundaries and to keep them, and it is ever harder to stick to an ultimatum or a deal breaker moment with someone you love. The question of “how do I know when it’s time to go?” is a popular one because of the fear that we are throwing in the towel too early, or that if we just stick in a bit longer that things will change or be like they used to be.

If you find yourself at a potential boundaried moment in a relationship, there are a few steps to take to guide yourself through this roadblock:

1.       Ask yourself this simple and yet not-so-simple question: What percentage of the time am I truly happy in this relationship as a whole?

2.       Next, look at the situation from a third party point of view: If your best friend were in your same situation, what advice would you give him/her? Then, whatever that advice is, try and apply it to yourself.

3.       Is your body giving you any signals, like anxiety or headaches, panic attacks or a loss of appetite? When thinking about your situation, if you have any of these symptoms, this may be your body’s direct way of telling you that you have reached a certain limit.

4.       We grapple with wondering if this is a challenge to push through or a hard limit that needs to be heeded. In those moments, it is necessary to ask yourself if you care to learn this lesson. Does pushing this boundary teach you something that you desire to be better at in your life, or are you doing this solely for your partner?

5.       Lastly, you must be very honest with yourself about your realistic, long-term goals. Does this moment take you one step closer or one step further away from a personal life goal?

The aim of these questions is to help provide you with a more definitive understanding of your own boundaries. We create and apply boundaries for a reason, and it is usually to protect us from something, and our bodies are very in tune when something is being pushed or tested. So, if you find that the majority of your answers above had you feeling defensive in the moment that is a true signal that something isn’t right in your world.

The hardest part is what comes next. If you have identified your current situation as a “say when moment” having the courage to change the status of your relationship is the largest challenge.  For advice on how to move forward from here, please take a look at my next blog!

Does pushing this boundary teach you something that you desire to be better at in your life, or are you doing this solely for your partner?