Improving Boundaries in Relationships: The Analogy of Fences, Walls and Gates

As a Relationship Counselor in Atlanta, I am often working with clients on their boundaries in relationships. I am a huge fan of the book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, and often recommend it for clients to read in helping them learn more about what boundaries are, and how we set and hold boundaries in our relationships with others. I feel like there are a lot of truths about relationships present in that book that could benefit just about anyone.

Boundaries House Analogy: A Helpful Illustration of Boundaries in Relationships

One of the illustrations from the book that I find to be most beneficial when working with clients around relationship issues is to think of ourselves as a house sitting on a piece of property.

Our “property line” forms a boundary separating us from the people we are in relationship with. We have a choice as to what type of relationship boundary is present around our house. It may be a fence or a wall, or maybe there is nothing there.

Rigid Boundaries: A Wall

A wall might be put up around our house if our boundaries are too rigid. We may have been abused or hurt in the past, were neglected, or learned to avoid close connection with others in order to avoid getting hurt again. The result is that others, both good and bad, are kept at a distance, closed off from us and we remain unable to have any real connections with others, or to receive the support we need. If you are familiar with the concept of attachment styles in relationships, this approach to boundaries might make a lot of sense to someone with an avoidant attachment style.

Loose Boundaries: No Fence

A house with no fence or barrier has a different problem. With little or no control over who or what enters their property or house, we may have no protective barrier to keep harm out. We may be fearful of putting up a barrier because we are afraid of being cut off or abandoned by others, so we allow anyone in and are constantly trampled as people walk in and out of our lives with very little power to control this. This type of boundary could increase feelings of low self-esteem or self-worth, or could lead us to having increase anxiety in our relationships.

Someone with an anxious attachment style may be scared to set a firm boundary with others because of a fear of rejection or abandonment, so they allow any and all behaviors to occur on their relationship property.

Healthy Boundaries: A Fence with a Gate

The most ideal option is to have a fence around our house that has a gate in it. We all need a gate. A gate allows us to choose what we want to let in, and also provides an exit for things that do not need to remain any longer. The hard truth is that vulnerability is required in order to have meaningful intimate relationships.

There are times when we need to open the gate and allow others in to achieve happy, healthy relationships.

Sometimes risk is required, but we can take our time to evaluate who and what seems safe to risk allowing onto our property. If you aren’t sure how to evaluate that, consider working with one of our Atlanta Relationship Counselors to learn ways to assess this.

Other people do not need to be on our property, and we can close the gate to protect ourselves from damaging or potentially harmful relationships.

We might benefit from evaluating what is already inside our gate and removing those things that are negative or dangerous. Learning skills for setting and holding our boundaries can provide an effective “exit” for the people or things we no longer want on our properties.

You hold the key to your relationship boundaries

Remember, you are in charge of your boundaries! It is important to note that the power of a gate is under the control of the owner.

You are the owner of your gate. You have the choice of who or what to let in, when, and for how long. You can chose to escort people out of your gate. You can kick out the bad, and take in the good. It is in your power.

You hold the key, and have the final say as to how much you open or shut your gate. Of course, there are times when people violate our boundaries against our will. Walls can be torn down, fences can be climbed, and houses can be broken into.

A gate and a fence is not a guarantee that relationship hurts and boundary violations can not occur. But it does generally decrease the chance of the most consistent and regular boundary troubles. Most relationships will have to submit to the boundaries that we put in place in our lives.

You may need to re-examine the boundaries in relationships that you have around your house. It is never too late to make a change. Remember that you are the keeper of the gate, and only you hold the key.

If you need help learning more about Relationship Boundaries, our team of Atlanta Relationship Therapists are here to help. Schedule your free consultation call today to get started.

About Liz Fava, LPC

Liz provides individual and couples therapy for adults, including counseling for dating, engaged, and married couples. She also conducts couples workshops, and training and supervision for therapists.