How much is enough? Set limits and boundaries.

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How much is enough? Set limits and boundaries.

Limits and boundaries. Taking on too much can crush your relationship.

How much is enough? Have you set limits and boundaries! Do you ask too much of yourself, or of your partner? Or of your family? Perhaps you need to cut back on unrealistic expectations of yourself – or your partner!   Do you need to stop exploiting your own energy – or that of your partner and family?

To start with, let me illustrate the question of how much is enough.  I will also show limits and boundaries in action.

When I was a child, our family had a commercial cherry orchard. Around December, the cherries were almost black with ripeness and so juicy that they stained my lips purple. The blackbirds knew the cherries were ripe and juicy, and they invited every relative they knew to the party – free admission. From dawn to dusk they were busy pecking into every ripe cherry – a cherry that would no longer be fit for the market. This was in the days before nets protected the fruit from the birds.


How much is enough? Set limits and boundaries.

Cherries so ripe that their juice stained my lips almost purple.I loved the cherries and hated the birds! An early introduction to conflict and desire.

My task was to go up and down the cherry orchard, banging furiously on tin cans to disturb the flocks of blackbirds. They would lift languidly, and return to pecking cherries even before I was out of sight. I saw them do it! No matter how hard I banged, or how fast I walked, the blackbirds won.

What was the problem?

The orchard was too big, the cherries too delicious, the blackbirds too many, and I was too small. And the responsibility was crushing. A hopeless situation. No amount of delicious cherries to eat, or to dangle over my ears, or to make necklaces of, could compensate for my feeling of hopelessness.

The problem was essentially a problem of scale – there were no limits and boundaries, there were no manageable tasks.

Our family had to ask the hard question: “How much is enough?”

What has this got to do with relationships? (For our purposes here, we are going to put aside any thoughts about whether that was an appropriate task for a child, whether I had any say in the matter, etc.)

It’s about lack of limits and boundaries. In other words, over-commitment.

When you are over-committed you ask too much of yourself, or of your partner, or of your family. So what happens when you take on a big canvas, when you only have the paints for a small one?

Do you have unrealistic expectations of what you are capable of – or what your partner is capable of? Are you and your partner spreading yourselves too thin over too many areas?  Does wanting everything mean you are not able to limit your expenditure of energy, time and money?  Is over-reaching and ambition causing you stress? Have you stopped to think that exploiting your own energy – or that of your partner and family – comes with a cost? Is fatigue impacting your relationship?

When limits and boundaries are not put into place, good-enough relationships come unstuck. 

When you do not count the cost of exploiting yourself, this puts enormous strain on your relationship.  Many otherwise good-enough relationships come unstuck on this point.  Or come unstuck because the hard conversations about the lack of limits haven’t taken place.  It’s not the relationship itself that is the problem, but the systems the relationship functions within. 

Family businesses and self-employed people are prone to this kind of self-exploitation and lack of limits and boundaries. 

Our society acts as if limits are bad. As if you have to exploit to get ahead. See also Managing Conflict with your Partner.

My father realized how hopeless the cherry orchard was.  He did ask the hard question, “How much is enough?”

“Enough is enough”, he said.

I watched as he put the tractor to work on those magnificent cherry trees and pulled them out.    I had mixed feelings when the great pile of cherry wood was set to blaze; no more cherries so ripe they stained my lips almost purple, no more blackbirds with their busy beaks. I learned a lot about conflict – the conflict between pleasure (cherries) and pain (blackbirds), although I didn’t realise it then.  I learned about a reality check – how much is enough? About down-sizing and reducing commitment. About manageable scale.

The single cherry tree was manageable and we enjoyed our cherries. We learned how much is enough! We learned about limits and boundaries. Relationship Insights

Then my father planted one single cherry tree in our own back yard.

These relationship tips are applicable to all relationships, not just couples.  However, I have a committed couple in mind. What are the benefits to you and your relationships when you negotiate limits and boundaries?

Here is a lovely post on a similar theme –  with a wonderful graphic. 

And here is another one!

Copyright © Kaye Gersch 2017

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