Thursday, January 07, 2010

Boundaries - Good Fences Make Good Neighbours

I have noticed that most problems in relationships can be traced back to boundaries, whether unclear or unrealistic or whatever.

Last week, a cousin had a quarrel (a major one!) with her parents and aunts (the uncles normally run for cover) because they disagreed with her choice of partner.  As someone on the outside looking in, I could not really tell what the real issues were but I could see that for the first time in her life, my cousin was rebelling against the established boundaries of her family expectations.  As these boundaries (rules and protocol) were the same throughout the families in the clan, the aunts jumped in to 'defend' family traditions. 

One could say that the family was being too rigid... but at the same time, my cousin not only rebelled against family 'law' but she was also trying to buck social rules - hint : she could end up in Syariah court if she wasn't careful.  As far as I know, tradition has won .... although I suspect my young cousin is merely lying low to figure out other strategies.  Love conquers all, they say... although I beg to differ.  I prefer to add the qualification love with smart decisions.

This week, a friend found himself embroiled in a 'war' with his sister.  Again, as an outsider looking in, I couldn't really grasp all the dynamics in the relationship but what I understood was that the two had a problem of unclear boundaries.  She expected things from him such as his help as a chauffeur (they live in different cities) when she was in town and his consideration of her and her family's needs.  However, he felt he had work commitments to carry out (which made being a chauffeur till nighttime difficult) and he couldn't just hand his car over to her.  He also felt unhappy over their 'invasion' into his privacy (short term was okay... but not long term) and he felt that his sister didn't have enough consideration for his own needs.  So when he made his boundaries clear, she was not happy.

I myself have had to 'hack out' my own boundaries with my family members when I first began work.  As a student and as a dutiful daughter, my main duties were to study hard, bring home the results and obey my parents (which normally meant following their timetable and their activities other than my own school-related ones).  But when I began working, I had my own timetable, my own activities and perhaps a strong idea of what constituted fun things to do...LOL... my cousins will know what I'm talking about.  My family members didn't agree and I began a sometimes-civilised campaign to defend my boundaries.  I was lucky that I was more rational than emotional and so, there was a minimum of tantrums & crockery-smashing.   Makes me smile now to remember those days....

Well, whatever it may be, I believe wholeheartedly that CLEARLY-DEFINED BOUNDARIES are very very important in relationships.  People HAVE to tell their close friends and relatives what the boundaries are.

I am not comfortable if you tell me how to dress.
I am okay with your daily gossip.
I do not like it when you borrow my car without my permission.
I don't mind if you use my home telephone for short conversations.

But when you don't make this kind of thing clear, and people cross the boundaries, then it will just be a matter of time before something blows up. 

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