I’m beginning to realize that one of the most important ingredients to trust is respect and protection of boundaries. While trust requires knowing a person, spending time with them, and allowing them to meet some of our needs, it can be quickly eroded unknowingly when we fail to realize the importance of respecting boundaries.
When boundaries are respected inside a relationship, it communicates that freedom and individual differences are more important than a single individual getting his or her way. Respecting and protecting people’s boundaries may even require significant sacrifice on our parts.
If you’ve seen the new Beauty and the Beast (or even the old version), you’ll remember the difficult decision the beast had to make when he let Belle go. Belle and the beast seemed to be getting along nicely. Why was this decision necessary? Because he loves her. Freedom is an essential part of love, even if giving others freedom hurts you.
Do the people around you respect and even celebrate what defines you as you, even if they don’t understand? Or are people constantly violating you, pressuring you to change or do something you’re not comfortable with, squelching your passions, overriding your opinions, disrespecting your boundaries, and taking advantage of any areas of loose boundaries?
The first one promotes trust; the second erodes it.
What about you? Do others have trouble trusting you? Do you find it hard to give others freedom, especially when their freedom means you don’t get what you want from them? Are you constantly trying to figure out ways to control others (sometimes in the name of “helping”) because you’re not happy with the decisions they are making?
The following are three ways we can promote trust in our relationships.
More than just a simple “thank you”, true gratitude communicates the understanding that what you give is your choice. If I live with uncommunicated expectations of others, I will be upset when I don’t get what I want and unthankful when I do get what I want. Gratitude says, “You are free to say yes or no. If you choose to give, I am truly grateful because I understand that it is by your free will.”
Respect of boundaries
A true test of trust is whether someone will respect your boundaries, especially when they don’t understand or agree with them. Respecting someone’s boundaries communicates freedom in the relationship. I’m in control of me; you’re in control of you.
Beware of people who disrespect your boundaries. This can be in the form of pressure, coercion, manipulation, abuse (physical or emotional), threats, or anything that communicates that you are not free to make your own decisions.
Perhaps these people communicate that you are free to make your own choices, but then they attempt to make you feel bad or guilty when you make a choice they don’t approve of. Either way, that’s not true freedom. Your choices are: Do something you’re not comfortable with or make a decision that you feel comfortable with and then suffer the wrath of this person. They will attempt to punish you through name-calling, spreading rumors, withdrawing, guilt tripping, or abuse.
Whether these people ever learn, your responsibility is to learn to make the decisions that are best for you without giving in to the manipulation or guilt trips. In the end, realize that you do still have freedom, even if it comes with a temper tantrum from a grown adult (for more on this, read How Dare You! What to do When People Resist Your Boundaries). In the case of abuse or threat of abuse, please seek help.
Protection of boundaries
Another aspect of trust that most people wouldn’t think of is protection of boundaries or areas of vulnerability. Think of an extreme example where a woman is violated and stripped naked. Then a gentleman comes, removes his own coat, and covers her. He is protecting her where others have crossed her boundaries.
Let’s think of a different scenario where a woman willingly dresses inappropriately in an unhealthy attempt to gain attention. Men who have no respect for boundaries will see her attire as an invitation to harass her or even violate her physical boundaries, going as far as raping her. A respectful person will not see someone’s freedom to choose clothing as an invitation for harassment.
While respecting boundaries is absolutely essential in relationships, protecting the boundaries of others takes it a step further by valuing people beyond the value they may have for themselves. It is seeing people in their vulnerable (capable of being wounded) state and stepping in to show them kindness. This can be shown through meeting a physical need, empathizing when they are hurting, encouraging them, protecting their possessions, respecting their privacy, etc.
This is a somewhat complex topic to fully define, so I wanted to make a list of what this looks like in our daily lives:
Not peering into someone’s window when their blinds are open
Noticing when someone is having a hard day and showing them kindness
Stepping in when we see abuse
Not gawking at someone’s cleavage
Not taking advantage of our friend who never says no
Calling our neighbor when he left his house with the garage door open
Honoring and respecting our spouses, even when we know their deep, dark secrets
Taking in foster children
Taking care of something that is loaned to us
Not gossiping or spreading rumors
Helping someone who is hurt
Empathizing with the store clerk who just got chewed out by a rude customer
Treating our rented apartment as if it were ours
Visiting someone in the hospital or prison
Returning a wallet
Letting someone know his zipper is down
Not violating an intoxicated woman, but instead, protecting her
Keeping someone’s secret
Not taking advantage of someone’s kindness
Encouraging others to develop good boundaries, even if it means you may not get what you want from them
Respecting others’ “no”
Be honest with yourself and assess your relationships based on this information. Has disrespect of boundaries eroded the trust in some of your relationships? Have you allowed others to chip away at your boundaries to the point that it’s put you in an unsafe place? Or have you been the one that has forced yourself on someone else to get your way?
Relationships thrive on trust and trust requires that each person is respecting and protecting boundaries. We need to know that we are free to be vulnerable in our relationships and that we won’t be taken advantage of in our weaknesses.
Can you think of other examples of protecting boundaries? Have you experienced loss of trust due to disrespect of boundaries? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Comment below!
More on boundaries!
If you would like more in-depth information on boundaries, please read:
“Boundaries” series by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
“Keep Your Love On” by Danny Silk
“Culture of Honor” by Danny Silk