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The Importance of Creating Boundaries in Marriage



Merging Intellect with Intuition to Solve Problems through Story-telling, Myths, Game Theory, and Personal Growth

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Q. I am not very skilled at setting boundaries in my life and because of this I make many poor choices and suffer as a result. This is especially so in my marriage. How does a person create healthy, and productive boundaries in marriage and in life?

A. This answer applies as well to any relationship.  All human beings need personal boundaries, and marriage doesn’t change that.  Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people (including their mates) to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.  Personal boundaries are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences, social learning, and cues, requests, and commands from one’s partner. This concept or life skill has been widely referenced in virtually every marriage guide and self-help book used in the counseling profession since the mid-1980s.

According to some marriage counselors, personal boundaries help to define an individual and the style of marriage by outlining likes and dislikes, and setting the distances one allows others to approach. We all have physical, mental, psychological and spiritual needs, involving beliefs, emotions, and intuitions.

and self-esteem. Personal boundaries in a marriage operate in two directions, affecting both the incoming and outgoing interactions between partners.

These are sometimes referred to as the “protection” and “containment” functions.


The three most commonly mentioned categories of values and boundaries are:

Physical – Personal space and touch considerations.

Mental – Thoughts and opinions

Emotional – Feelings

Some authors have expanded this list with additional or specialized categories such as spirituality, truth, and time/punctuality


There are many different approaches to categorizing the boundary forming patterns of various personalities. The four that I usually build on in my coaching and mentoring work and integrate some qualities that are related to what are called the “five elements in Eastern philosophy:


  1. Co-dependant – This person defines their own boundaries by the demands or perceived demands of other. It can be said that their boundaries merges with other people’s boundaries. Co-dependent types easily fall victim to psychological manipulation.
  2. Airy– A person with airy boundaries are a combination of co-dependent and rigid boundaries. They often tend to absorb what is around them if there are no pre-set boundaries but prosper in a healthy, pre-structured environment. People with airy boundaries are highly creative and are often have big dreams and fantasies about the future, thus they are often unsure of what to let in and what to keep out but over time. With solid mentoring, coaching, psycho-therapy, and a strong support system they tend to prosper.
  3. Rigid – A person with rigid boundaries is often someone who has been abused, or betrayed by those they loved, trusted, or depended on. They tend to keep to themselves and even when openly invited to connect with others may refuse to do so. They are extremely difficult to get close to either physically or emotionally. This is often the case if someone has been the victim of physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse. The fact that a person has rigid boundaries, does not mean that they are rigid in all or even must ways.  It is usually the case that they are highly selective on who they are willing to connect to depending on the time, place or circumstances. Often they build their boundaries not proactively or on need but rather on a bad previous experience in a similar situation.
  4. Watery – Similar to airy personalities but here the individual is likely to exercise more control, without a pre-structured environment. The watery person decides what to let in and what to keep out, is resistant to the RTPs (regenerating thought processes of others), emotional manipulation, and psychological contagions. Unlike the airy person, and co-dependent the watery individual and is difficult to exploit.

Understanding and having the ability to apply the personal boundaries concept is particularly pertinent in environments with controlling people or people not taking responsibility for their own life.

Concerning the co-dependent personality, Co-Dependents Anonymous, a 12-Step Problem that uses a similar model as Alcoholic’s Anonymous recommends setting limits on what members will do to and for people and on what members will allow people to do to and for them, as part of their efforts to establish autonomy from being controlled by other people’s thoughts, feelings and problems.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness tells its members that establishing and maintaining values and boundaries will improve the sense of security, stability, predictability and order, in a family even when some members of the family resist. NAMI contends that boundaries encourage a more relaxed, nonjudgmental atmosphere and that the presence of boundaries need not conflict with the need for maintaining an understanding atmosphere.



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Lewis Harrison is a practical philosopher, mentor, and peak performance coach.


He teaches workshops and seminars on Eastern Wisdom, Zen and Taoist Thought, Applied Game Theory, and Personal Growth.

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