Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

And healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships.

By April Jones

Spring, the time of year when nature and humanity begins to emerge from a deep slumber, stretching limbs, and regaining a breath of energy and awareness. It’s the time when many begin to prepare and plant gardens, plan outdoor projects, and purge the unnecessary layers of protection given to their seed and flowers. This is also when many begin to construct fences; lovely boundaries that mark ones territory-the edges of climbing foliage, the back posts to many a strong and sturdy stem, and the perimeters to vivid imaginations that dominate the yard. These fences provide purpose: security, ownership, and respect.

Some of us use fences as a decorative piece, giving the final touches to our dream home with picketed grandeur. Some of us use fences to prevent running children and pets from moving too quickly into harm’s way. And some of us use fences to keep others out. We post “no trespassing” signs and lock gates to ensure no one gets too close, and no one gets hurt. All of which serve valid purposes, and don’t differ much from the emotional boundaries we construct.

We all know the person who has no boundaries. You know, the one who will always answer a call, never says no, and is continuously exhausted because they spend so much time and energy giving everything they have to others. This person is often broken-hearted, feels betrayed, and finds it difficult to bring balance to anything in their life. We also know the person who has too many. You know the one who will always be alone because no one ever loves them enough. This person will say no to most invites, is “too busy” and is continuously complaining about how unhappy and unsatisfied they are. Everyone and everything always ends up disappointing, so why bother? We know those that only seem capable of expressing what it is they don’t want, don’t need, and know exactly what displeases them—everything! We all know people (it may be us) that struggle with boundaries – they’ve built too many fences, or not enough.

Have you ever considered the phrase, “Good fences make good neighbors?” Fences create boundaries, and boundaries provide stability and safety. The question is, what are you communicating, and why? Did you construct these fences to protect, or did you construct these fences to preserve? It is possible to do both. When boundaries are clear and well-defined, everyone knows what to expect. There is no confusion about what is mine, and what is yours when I have taken the time to survey, measure, mark and post my perimeters. But when no time is taken to examine or determine what belongs to us, we have no concept of where to begin, much less end any tasks within our means, because we have no clear definition of our confines or constraints.

This same truth applies to our personal relationships, be it business, family, friends, or lovers. If you step into a business agreement and have not taken any time to define, discuss, and sometimes even negotiate terms, you may find yourself feeling either overworked, under appreciated, feeling betrayed, or most often feeling used or taken advantage of. It is no different with our personal relationships. Relationships are a bit like elastic — they can shift, stretch and even pull past repair, but require flexibility. We need not sit down and negotiate a contract, signing on the dotted line the static perimeters of what will be, how it will work, and what it will look like when we are done. But we do need to sit down, first with ourselves, and consider what it is we want and expect out of ourselves, our lives, and our relationships. Taking the time to ask, “What do I want? What do I need? What do I like? How do I feel? Where do I want to be? What do I want to become?” and “What do I want my relationships to look like?” can not only empower us, but empower the relationships we are in, or aspire to obtain.

As parents, we must define our roles as mentor, provider, and comforter as well as disciplinarian, leader, and ultimate decision maker.  As friends or lovers, we must define ourselves as confidants, encouragers, and supporters as well as accountability counselor, and sometimes the voice of reality. Every relationship has components of all of these, but many times we forget what role we play, and what our needs are, or were, when we get caught up in the fleeting issues of anger, weariness, betrayal, frustration, hurt, confusion, sadness, and disappointment.  All of these are very real emotions. But all of these can be blown out of proportion when we feel expectations were left unmet.

When expectations leave us disappointed, most often those expectations were never communicated but assumed; assumed that the other would just somehow figure it out- through listening, paying attention, or asking us. But, most often, this isn’t the way it works. People can’t read our minds any more than they can read our hearts. And although many are sensitive, and do try to listen, the reality is that unless it has been clearly communicated, people are simply going to treat us the way we teach them. How do we teach them? We teach people how to treat us by what we allow in words, in action, and in time.

Boundaries, like fences, can be a beautiful thing. But understanding their purpose and perimeters is where the real beauty happens. Boundaries have to be about you. Take time to evaluate your fences. Maybe some were constructed without direction or purpose. Maybe some were simply inherited. Maybe some need to be repaired. Maybe some need to be relocated, and maybe some just need to come down. Setting boundaries doesn’t mean you want to keep people out. Remember, boundaries establish ownership, purpose, security and respect. Setting boundaries means you have a clear understanding of you and your space. And what you must determine is who and what you want in it. We all have room to grow, and grow together. It takes many a blossom to create a glorious garden, so let’s create a space that we might most fully realize our blooms!

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