Why are boundaries so difficult to figure out?

In Polyamory, I talk about doing the work to own my emotions, self-regulate and find safety. I look to find security and happiness in myself first. I examine to what degrees I can meet my own needs, before looking to others to meet them. From this mindset, a boundary means to me something I create to protect my needs and well being. It is only about the actions I will, or will not, take to ensure that I feel safe (example below).

I would argue that this is a valuable practice in all relationships, including monogamy.

What actually happens often in monogamy is that we are given a model where two people become enmeshed in the relationship. They develop an expectation that each partner will meet all needs of the other. Instead of self-regulation, I look to my partner to take care of my well-being and safety. In extreme cases of codependency, I see it as my partner’s responsibility and come to expect them to safeguard my boundaries (see example)

I think that this is why there is such confusion between boundaries and rules. If I believe that my partner is responsible for upholding my boundaries then placing a rule on their action feels right. I see that as an extension of my need for safety. However, when I know that it is my responsibility to keep myself safe by upholding boundaries, placing restrictions on my partner does not make any sense.

Here is an example of how boundaries are treated differently, depending on the mindset:

Monogamy (scarcity) mindset

My partner tells me they are speaking to someone and intend to ask them out on a date. I feel scared that they will really hit it off, fall in love and will leave me for this person.
From this place of fear, I feel the need for my partner to reassure me and help me feel safe. My fear manifests as anger or sadness. I may threaten that if they go on the date I will leave them; I may cry and accuse them of not caring about my feelings.
In effect, I have outsourced responsibility for my safety to my partner. They should make sure I feel safe, no matter what is the actual reason for my feelings.

Polyamory (abundance) mindset

My partner tells me they are speaking to someone and intend to ask them out on a date. I feel scared that they will really hit it off, fall in love and will leave me for this person (the feelings are the same; my fears are the same).

I realise that the fear comes from a place of insecurity; that I am not good enough; that someone else may be better than me. I remember that rationally this is not true and that my partner loves me for who I am. I take notice of where the fear comes from – perhaps deep-seated insecurity when it comes to being compared to others. I name it for myself, and I ask my partner if I can share my fears with them. I communicate that I am not asking them to change what they are doing, that I do not need them to fix this for me. I just ask for them to hold space and listen as I name my fears.

I may ask my partner for some reassurance – a reminder of why they love me, an affirmation of a fun date we will do together later in the week, an agreement that we will reconnect when they come back from the date. In addition, I will look to ways in which I can help myself feel better and more secure, planning on self-regulation methods when my partner is out on their date.

In short, am taking full responsibility for meeting my needs, including making a request to my partner to help with co-regulation, if they want to support me.

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