Happy Friday! Today’s post bridges the gap between my series on consent and an upcoming series on communication.
Quick thought today: when someone sets a boundary, thank them.
When interacting with another person in a social setting, one goal might be that everyone involved be happy and comfortable. You don’t want anyone to feel awkward or coerced or uncomfortable. And it’s likely that you’re already putting in active work to make sure that your friends or partners are happy! Checking in, being considerate, remembering preferences, etc. For example, you might not invite a friend with social anxiety or a sensory processing disorder to the loud metal concert you’re going to. If your partner is vegetarian, you’ll probably schedule the southern BBQ smoke-off for a day when they’re out of town. You know not to surprise-hug a partner with trauma relating to unexpected touch. I’m not the best person to share your triple-crème brie ice-cream, no matter how much I wish that I were. We know little tidbits about our loved ones, and we use that information to actively tailor experiences to their liking.
You know what makes that work a lot easier? When they tell you what they want and need.
If you wanted to surprise me with a birthday gift (it’s not too late! 😉 ), it really helps to know what’s on my wishlist. Or, to know me well enough to know what kinds of things I enjoy and what kinds of things I dislike. So if you wanted to get me a gift and you asked me for my wishlist, you’d probably thank me when I sent it over to you, right? I’m making it easier for you to be good to me, and you appreciate that.
Just so, if your partner or loved one sets a boundary, you should thank them for it.
“I’m not really feeling sex tonight – can we just make out?” “Yes, and thank you for telling me what you want!”
Positive reinforcement is a STRONG motivator to do things, and the more you thank your partners for setting boundaries, the more they’ll do it. They more they set boundaries, the more you can be sure that the sex or interaction that you’re having is actually exactly what they want.
Guessing what another person wants is EXHAUSTING. I have a friend that, in the 5 years that we’ve been close, has never once, ever said “no” to me. It’s flattering, that this person likes me so much that they want to do anything I ask of them, but it means that I can’t trust them to communicate what they actually need. They don’t take care of themself, so it falls to me to guess which of the favors I might ask would be a hardship, and which would not. It means our interactions are always tailored towards me, because I ask for what I want, and never tailored towards them. That feels uncomfortable, because I really want this friend to be happy.
My partners, on the other hand, are all people who clearly voice what they want from a given interaction.
“Hey, I’d love to go out and get a fancy dinner– how do you feel about that?”
“That’s not really where I’m at tonight; I’m kind of broke and tired, and I just want to stay in.”
“Great, ok! Thanks for telling me!”
I’m genuinely delighted when a loved one sets a boundary, because it means that someone important to me isn’t doing something that they dislike, just because I’d like it. And thanking them allows them to see how delighted I am. It means they’ll do it again, and it means both of us will be happier together.
So, encourage partners to set boundaries, and let them know how much it helps YOU when they do so. It’s a benefit to both of you, and make sure they know it.
Stay tuned for my post on compromises, and how to deal when you both want different things.
Also stay tuned on how to check in, to help someone new to setting boundaries find their limits and comfort.