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  • Paula Thompson
    Paula Thompson

    Setting Boundaries While Avoiding Heartbreak

    In a perfect world, we’d never have to worry about getting hurt. We’d be protected against any potential heartbreak, always walking away unscathed, able to take love’s sweet and sour in stride. That’s sadly not the case—the reality of real emotions means that sometimes, despite our best intentions, heartache is inevitable. Or is it?

    When we find ourselves in precarious positions—balancing between potential sweet success and dreaded sour heartbreak—we must face our fears and confront our doubts. It’s hard to tell the difference between taking risks and being reckless; how much is too much to give, how close do we let someone get, what lines should never be crossed? Understanding which decisions result in outcomes that may serve your ultimate needs—rather than invite disruption and affliction—is key to setting boundaries while avoiding heartbreak.

    Relationships are complex: each as individualized as the people involved. And when it comes to matters of the heart, you owe it to yourself get in sync with your feelings and preferences, solidify reasonable expectations, and own up to your desires. To do so, start by honestly evaluating the relationship—identify problems, take stock of its trajectory, and understand your needs versus wants. It may seem daunting at first, but having these conversations with yourself allows you to gauge more accurately which choices may lead to your ideal outcome—and away from disappointment.

    When you know where you stand, it’s easier to make informed decisions that protect your well-being as well as that of your partner’s. It’s critical to be an advocate for yourself and speak up when something isn’t working—which doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is doomed. Entering a relationship is like joining a dance: you need to feel comfortable communicating and navigating your respective roles. Lay out your boundaries right away and make sure you’re both on the same page about what you each want and expect. This will help keep things balanced and potentially give you the opportunity to adjust before things go awry.

    But that’s not all there is to it. It’s also important to practice self-care and keep yourself healthy—mentally, physically, and emotionally. The most important relationships start within. Take time for yourself, stay connected with your friends, and remember to have fun doing activities that you enjoy. This can reinforce feelings of independence, ward off jealousy and resentment, and strengthen your sense of assurance.

    Sometimes it’s tempting to put all of your chips on a partner. But even if you bring your absolute best game, that might still not be enough. Eventually you must come to accept that not all relationships are meant to be and that many fights are fightable, but some aren't. If nothing is changing, it might be best to prepare yourself to back away.

    It is ultimately up to you when, how, and with whom you choose to share tender times and trysts. But with careful thought and good judgement, you can spare yourself future pain and heartache while allowing yourself enough space and courage to pursue healthy, meaningful relationships. You have the power to prevent a situation from veering in a heartbreaking direction, so trust yourself to make the kindest, gentlest choices.

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