July 26th, 2022

Bad Boundary Advice

I have ADHD, so writing these blogs always takes a bit of meandering to get started. While procrastinating I was scrolling on Instagram and saw a post by a therapist (I did not actually verify the credentials, someone who markets themself as a therapist) that went something like this:

Are you writing your partner another long text?

Stop! Think first. Have you talked to them about this already?

You know you have, and you’ve told them so many times.

They’re doing this on purpose to you.

To control you. To make you feel crazy. 

Don’t send that text, they already know.

I watched this all incredulously, like people watch car crashes or popping videos. For real, that’s some garbage advice. All sorts of poor communicators are going to watch that video and think their partner is a gaslighting master manipulator when in all likelihood they have failed to make clear what they are trying to communicate about. I have never listened to a client speak strongly about something they felt and then been like, “Yeah, why don’t you keep that to yourself.” If you feel something strongly, you need to communicate that! Keep it in and hope that your strong feelings somehow are picked up magically by your partner who now knows how to read minds. Hope being in a relationship with Charles Xavier is super fun (his superpower is telepathy in case you missed the reference). I just can’t help getting on my soapbox in all of these blogs. The point, because I get distracted, is not to badmouth Insta influencers (but seriously, take all that social media therapy with a huuuuuuuge grain of salt), but to talk about this trend toward toxic boundary setting as some bizarre form of empowerment. 

Boundaries are important. Vastly important. I spend time with nearly all of my clients doing some form of boundary setting. Boundaries almost always rely on some level of communication. Maybe you can ghost a tinder date, and maaaybe you can get some boundaries set with extended family or your neighbor without talking about it. But in a committed relationship? You can’t set boundaries with your significant other without talking about those boundaries. There is no concept of “they should just know.” If you didn’t talk about it, clearly, explicitly, then your partner might not know. The Instagram post that drew my ire tries to imply that “your partner already knows therefore you don’t have to communicate anymore.” If you’re in a committed relationship, odds are that your partner does not want to actively hurt you (outside of a screw you type of response during an active argument, which, still not great). So rather than assume they are gaslighting or being manipulative, let’s assume that whatever you think is so very clear isn’t actually all that clear to your partner. We don’t need to assume malice when poor communication is a possible explanation. If you’re mad your partner stayed out late, tell them! If you’re mad your partner impulsively bought a large-ticket item, tell them! There is no mind-reading, no assuming as a way to set boundaries. Giving the cold-shoulder is juvenile and ineffective. It creates doubt and indecisiveness, it is not a good way to set a boundary. I wouldn’t even quantify it as a way to set a boundary, it’s just bad communication. You are allowed to feel your feelings, and if you need time to process you can communicate that, but just not communicate at all? Really good way to make your partner anxious and unhappy and not create any new understanding. 

Look, I get it. I support people having really clear boundaries and not making exceptions. But good boundaries don’t mean you don’t communicate, good boundaries are built with good communication. We should be erring on the side of overcommunication, particularly in our most important relationships. So when you see advice like this, where it all blames your partner and has no actionable items for you to try to get better results, find better advice. Whether that means getting off social media and finding a professional who is a good fit, or it means firing your current professional and finding a better one, setting good boundaries is work on your part, not just casting all the blame on your partner.