Relationships work really well when both partners stay on their side of their relationship fence. Let me share with you what I mean by a relationship fence and why it’s important to stay on your own side.
I want you to imagine that there is a boundary between you and your partner. You can picture the boundary like a fence in the picture above. Maybe you grew up with a similar fence separating your yard from your neighbor’s property. It was a way to know where your land ended and where your neighbor’s land started. Each of you were responsible for taking care of your own back yard. In other words, your neighbor wasn’t cutting your lawn or watering your flowers every week. That was your job.
So, you’re probably wondering what does a fence, your childhood home’s backyard and your neighbor not watering your flowers have to do with your relationship. Everything. Your relationship benefits from the personal responsibility you and your neighbor had for your own back yards.
In your current relationship, both you and your partner have your own ‘back yards.’ Your back yard include all the aspects of your life such as your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, choices, responsibilities, passions, causes, family, health, finances and friendships. When you’re taking personal responsibility, you accept the job of taking care of yourself, being accountable to yourself, managing your own feelings, creating your life, knowing what you have control over and what you are helpless about, taking loving actions to feel higher self-worth and learning how to love yourself and others. What you’re not doing is focusing on your partner’s behavior and telling your partner what to do differently. If you find yourself trying to control your partner, you might want to notice if that’s a way to avoid focusing on some aspect of your ‘back yard.’
A good way to start staying on your side of your relationship fence and focusing on taking care of your own back yard is by using ‘I’ statements when you talk with your partner. When you use ‘I’ statements, you’re keeping the focus on yourself rather than blaming your partner. An example of an ‘I’ statement is, “When you don’t clean up after yourself, I feel disrespected.” This is very different from saying, “You are a disrespectful person.” It’s a lot easier for your partner to hear you and not get defensive when you use ‘I’ statements. You’re not judging, criticizing, shaming, accusing or blaming your partner when you use ‘I’ statements. You’re owning your feelings and letting your partner know that he triggered you.
When you use ‘I’ statements you’re letting your partner know that you accept responsibility for either causing your feelings by how you’re interpreting your partner’s behavior or that you’re needing to manage the difficult feelings of loneliness, heartbreak and helplessness coming up for you as a result of your partner’s behavior. Either way you’re going to stay in your back yard and address whatever you need to take care of.
When I first meet with a couple, I ask each partner to share with me what they would like to accomplish with counseling. Often, I’ll hear one person speak for their partner by saying “We want to” or “We feel that”. I immediately mirror back how I heard the partner assume that he knows what his partner is thinking and feeling. Then I asked him to repeat what he just said only this time speak for himself. I’m asking him to stay on his side of the relationship fence and only share information about his own back yard. Sometimes I’ll ask the other partner to give feedback on how it feels when her partner talks for both of them and presumes to know what she is thinking, feeling, needing and wanting. Let’s just say that after the feedback is given, the assuming partner stops ‘We-ing’.
If you take another look at the picture above, you’ll notice there are some beautiful flowers that are on both sides of the fence. Just because both you and your partner set loving boundaries for yourself by focusing on your own back yard, that doesn’t mean both of you have to always stay apart in your own back yards. You will find that you give your relationship the opportunity to bloom when you take loving care of yourself. The more you take responsibility making yourself happy by focusing on your own back yard, the more happiness you’ll have to share with you partner. And when both of you bring your best selves to your relationship then you allow your relationship to blossom and together you have the opportunity to co-create the beautiful bouquet of your life together.