Caring For Yourself - Set Boundaries

The mind-bending process of bringing gender issues to light can morph into years of confusion and obsessive problem-solving.

In this series on Caring For Yourself, the next recommendation I’d like to make is to,

Set Healthy Boundaries

Personal boundaries can go to hell when one or the other in a transgender relationship feels guilty or victimized by transition. Feelings of betrayal or just plain confusion as to how to relate to your mate in his or her new gender can cause you to take things personally, ignore your own feelings and needs, and/or hide beneath the covers for days.

Things like not being able to say “No,” to your mate because you feel obligated, guilty, worried you’ll crush his or her already sensitive identity—or even that you’ll be judged as non supportive—is a clear sign that your boundaries are eroding. It’s also a recipe for resentment and depression.

We SOFFAs can rarely point to a time when we can say, “Right there. That’s where my self-esteem went to hell.”

When we started out my spouse and I had separate fulfilling careers, children from previous marriages, plans for our retirement years, and yes, socially indoctrinated roles of which gender did what chores around the house. (We each were married twice before. I was in my late 40s when we met.)

But the mind-bending process of bringing gender issues to light can morph into years of confusion and obsessive problem-solving even when the “problem” can hardly been defined. Although I’d been strongly independent when I married my spouse, over time I slid into an identity that was reactive to my mate’s needs and ultimate approval.

I knew something was wrong with me when after we parted, I was furious that my dreams had gone up in smoke (reasonable)—and then acted as if I was helpless to create them again (not so reasonable). Slumping to my new apartment's kitchen floor in tears with my knees to my chest, I felt the self-pity I’d denied myself for years. And I let the feeling of helplessness take its course. When I was done, the clouds parted for the first time in years and I had a sudden insight—and a feeling of power for the first time in years:

How long had I been making Guin responsible for my financial security, my emotional stability and worse, my idea of who I was?

It was only after I began rebuilding my life that I saw how entirely (co) dependent I’d become on my spouse to make me happy.

What a burden I'd put on her!

If I have a single point of gratitude for Guinevere going to any length to find herself, it is that in doing so she helped me—forced me even—to find myself too. The outcome was a gift of personal autonomy. Maturity. Self-reliance.

And healthy boundaries.

Those boundaries came in handy when negotiating my divorce, by the way, as well as all the new relationships to come.

An article in the Huffington Post defines boundaries as what sets, “the space between where you end and the other person begins.” And WebMD describes the opposite of boundaries, that is codependency, as “a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity." (Italics are mine.)

Whether remaining in the relationship, deciding to leave, or still questioning your future, re-establishing boundaries for yourself is essential to your mental health. The first step is risking another’s disapproval and replace it with your own.

Counselors can help you define important boundaries during a time of crisis, but at the very least, visit the sites below to develop your own checklist of good boundaries, as well as how to communicate them. 

Psych Central / 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries

Huffington Post / 6 Steps to Setting Boundaries in Relationships / How to Set Healthy Boundaries in Every Relationship

And my personal favorite:

Tiny Buddha / How to Set Healthy Boundaries: Three Crucial First Steps

Finally, here’s a great article on the opposite of boundaries:

The Symptoms of Codependency / Jarlene Lance, JD, MFT


Check other blogs for caring for yourself during your own time of transition under the "Well-Being" category.