Updated: Feb 8, 2022
As I have become more and more immersed in the ‘spiritual community’ (a term which certainly leaves much to be desired), I have become keenly aware of just how many people in said community are profoundly unhappy with their relationship status. I must admit that this awareness, for a time, caused me to flounder in a place of deep disillusionment with the entire idea of awakening. If waking up is such a desirable process, then why do I know so many more “non-spiritual” people in happy, loving, stable relationships than I do “spiritual” people?
Does coming into awareness necessitate loneliness? Is it part and parcel of the healing process to be afflicted by an inexplicable malaise of the romantic heart? Aren’t we supposed to be finding better and more fulfilling partnerships as we improve ourselves?
I think much of the answer to this dilemma lies in the vastly misunderstood ideas of boundaries and “being healed”.
Before we get into it, I want to be clear, I am speaking to the REFORMED codependents, or the people who tend to push others away. If you are an actively practicing codependent, this may not be the article for you, yet. (Although you may still find value in the three boundary types below.)
For many people their first introduction to setting boundaries comes during their spiritual awakenings. Boundaries are an essential step of the process as the awakener (awakenee? awakened?) will inevitably come into friction with their immediate environment. This can look like; tough conversations with friends or family who are attached to the old idea of who you were, or the courage to quit the job where you’ve been taken advantage of for years. Try as we might, there is no avoiding this stage of the hero's journey.
As with so many things in our life, the danger is found in the extremity of the pendulum swing. Instead of healthy boundaries, we encase ourselves in 20-foot tall steel walls keeping out everyone except for the “worthy”. We go from no boundaries whatsoever to boundaries which have no flexibility.
Any system, whether physical, mechanical, emotional, or spiritual, that does not have flexibility will be inherently brittle. The man or woman imprisoned in a straight jacket of their own boundaries is perpetually in a state of shattering relationships for the slightest offense. As such, they are in a state of continually being shattered, for one cannot expect to routinely break glass without being subject to the shrapnel.
Let’s be blunt: this is an avoidance tactic of the Ego. One I have run afoul of many times, myself. In the attempt to avoid pain, the Ego constructs false boundaries which simply serve to keep everyone who may hurt us out.
Boundaries exist at three successive levels of mastery. These are best illustrated with the metaphor of a kingdom which you have built.
The first level is symbolized by the sword. The boundary is castle walls with murder holes to pour hot iron out of. It’s a moat around the castle full of crocodiles and no bridge. It’s archers at every turret with instructions to shoot first, ask later. It is a kingdom intended to wound just as much as to protect. The energy behind this first level of boundary is “fuck you, this is what I need for MY path.” This is the least mature of the boundary setting phases, and is where most people reactively start when they awaken.
The second level is symbolized by the shield. The kingdom still has a moat, with crocodiles, but you’ve installed a boat for people to cross. The energy of this second level is “I love you and I want you to visit…but only occasionally and when it is convenient for me.” While this second level is much more mature than the first, it still has a self-centered focus that treats other people as if they are NPCs to our main character. I find most people become stuck at this stage.
The third level is symbolized by the crown. The kingdom has bridges, bustling trade coming in and out of the castle, and beautiful banners flying your true colors. It is a boundary by energy instead of words. Of course, you reserve the right to close the portcullis in the event of a true attack, but you know true attacks are few and far between. The energy of the third boundary level is “I want to create what is best for myself, those I love, and the surrounding world.” This third level of boundary knows that a kingdom which is healthy has a king that cares equally about those in the kingdom as they do about themselves.
So how do these boundaries interplay with relationships? A myriad of ways of course, but the primary culprit seems to be the search for the “healed” partner.
I see a lot of unhappy people waiting for the perfect partner. This is, in and of itself, an avoidance to the risk of getting hurt. It is the ‘Sword’ Boundary at play. They want someone who has already done “the work”. A complete, flawless package delivered to their doorstep.
An aversion to opening your kingdom gates to let someone in is not moral virtue. It has an air of conceit, as if you know yourself so wholly that it is IMPOSSIBLE there are still things to discover about what you want in a relationship.
Of course we want to have healthy boundaries around what we want in a partner, but an excess of boundaries is every bit as toxic as no boundaries/codependency.
Perhaps one has five to ten truly firm boundaries around relationship partners. Maybe you know that you; 1. Absolutely want to have kids, 2. Need someone who is kind and patient, 3. Want someone who is equivalent in intellect, 4. Need a partner of roughly equal attractiveness, and
5. Need someone who is honest.
That's a pretty solid list. Yours may be absolutely different from the above and that's okay. Where we run into trouble is when the list is 20, 30, or even 40 items long. It becomes a reason to rule someone OUT preemptively instead of risk being hurt if it doesn’t work.
It probably doesn’t matter that you don’t have the same favorite color. Unless you are specifically in the music industry, your music tastes don’t need to be a perfect match. Maybe you don’t need to be in the same profession, or have the same passions.
In the same vein of thinking, you do not need to seek someone who is fully “healed”. Not only do they not exist, but you are more likely to attract people who are wearing a mask of being “healed”, which can create an extraordinarily toxic type of dynamic.
Most of us DO need “saving” in one form or another. The distinction is, in a healthy relationship it is the two of you saving yourselves continually, with loving encouragement from the other. This leaves room for all of our inherent flaws and processes of self-improvement while preventing the classic savior complexes which hold both people back.
Think of it like this;
In a healthy relationship if partner ‘A’ is struggling financially, partner ‘B’ might sit down and help them figure out a system to budget more effectively. Or help them strategize to get a promotion at work to make more money.
In an unhealthy relationship partner ‘B’ just bails partner ‘A’ out financially. Or tells them “go ahead and move in so you don’t have to worry about rent”.
The first scenario is based on mutual empowerment. It has partner ‘B’ acknowledging the implicit humanness of partner ‘A’, and providing genuine help in the form of encouragement. Teach a man to fish, as the saying goes.
The second scenario is based on coddling and codependency. It has partner ‘B’ implying (or explicitly stating) that partner ‘A’ has no shot at figuring this out, so ‘B’ might as well just take care of it. This is a breeding ground for resentment on both sides of the equation.
True ‘Crown’ Boundaries in a relationship should be one of two things— either an act of love for the TWO of you, or an act moving towards the potential dissolution of the relationship.
In the former, the idea of the boundary is “this parameter will help me love both you and myself more. I’m setting this boundary as a way for our relationship to hopefully flourish more in the future. I am open to feedback on this boundary.” In the latter, the boundary is saying, “both of our kingdoms would flourish more wholly if they were separate. This boundary is a true non-negotiable for me, and if it is for you as well, then let us go our separate ways with love.”
I think most people understand the second example, but I really want to drive home the first example. A ‘crown’ boundary is an act for the health of the kingdom the TWO (or more) of you are co-creating. It is considerate of the other partner's needs, wants, and desires. It is flexible and open to feedback.
Overly rigid boundaries of the ‘sword’ and ‘shield’ varieties cause isolation. They over-emphasize the idea of self-work without acknowledging that we humans are social creatures by nature. Being the “monk on the mountain” may be a path for a very select few, but on the whole humans have our social interrelations as a core piece of how we develop into fully individuated beings.
This is to say, have boundaries, but make them few and extraordinarily clear. Take the time to analyze if it is a boundary or just a trigger. A true boundary protects the health of the kingdom, which includes others around us. A false boundary simply protects our wounds, seeking to keep us from our own emotional pain. Be eternally curious about your boundaries. Revel in the moments where someone shows you a new fold to your preferences previously undiscovered. Actively build bridges into your kingdom so that the prince or princess has a way to come visit.
Above all else, remain open to the flow of love.