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Dating And Relationships - Overview | September 28, 2021, 2:27 CDT

Yes-Man: My Experience With Boundaries or a Lack Thereof
How setting limits can foster healthier relationships.

Written by

Joshua Dean
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Photography by David Heisler

I'm convinced, in the grand scheme of life, "yes-men" are destined to be losers. I'm comfortable saying this because I'm an experienced yes-man who often avoided confrontation when I could and smiled when I preferred to curse. I also believe every yes-man will eventually arrive at a day when being too agreeable leads to their demise.

Demise was ultimately the fate of my relationship with my ex, whose hobby seemed to be pushing my boundaries while I nodded in agreement. The irony is she was never aggressive in her successful efforts to manipulate me effortlessly.

She disarmed me with smiles and kisses, day after day.

Turning a blind eye

We live in a world where many people believe we have to get along or agree with each other 100 percent of the time. But the reality is it's almost impossible to always be in unison, and that's OK—in fact, it's completely normal. We are all individuals with drastically different opinions about life, we come from different walks of life, hold a unique set of beliefs, and are influenced by our various socioeconomic statuses, as well.

And yet, when it was time to negotiate said differences with my ex, I perpetually deferred. Would I allow her mother to spy on us like teenagers? Of course! Would I turn a blind eye to her "best friend" harmlessly flirting with her? Why not? I mean, it's not like having total disrespect for me is the worst I could suffer, right? Always "Yes" and never a "Hell no!" or at the bare minimum, "This makes me feel uncomfortable and here is why."

The last time I acquiesced to my ex, I agreed not to meet her family at a cookout we all planned to attend, knowing that her best friend who flirts with her was already on the guest list. Minutes before the event, she called me and said, "It won't be good if you come—I can tell my mom planned to have you here so she could give you a hard time." With her best friend already there and with a bundle of cookout favorites in my backseat, I prepared to head home. I was muttering to myself as I started the car, preparing to let this, too, be yet another thing that was OK when I knew it was the furthest thing from OK.

Instead, something snapped. I called her back, cursing, telling her that she never supported me, how goofy I felt and more. She was dumbfounded and asked what was wrong. She had never heard me so angry before and then refused to talk to me under such conditions.

And we never spoke again.

I suppose she had every right to be upset, even though I felt disrespected and alone. I had never communicated how uncomfortable I felt as I was hanging with her and someone who made advances to her. We never negotiated what was appropriate "best friend" behavior. Nor did we address how much authority her mother would have in our relationship.

The truth is we didn't have a relationship. We had a happy-ship, where problems didn't exist, and we never grew by overcoming difficult obstacles together.

Therapy changed everything

After a mix of Adele, Post Malone's sad mix featuring "I Fall Apart," and some gloomy Lumineers, I went into full recovery mode. Of course, I begged to have her back, but she had seen through my guise: She knew I wasn't truly willing to be a member of the happy-ship anymore. I think she'd also figured out that a second chance would pile more responsibility on her as we set reasonable boundaries.

I needed closure, and since I wasn't going to get it from her—I'd been blocked on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—I figured I might get it in therapy. I had never seen a therapist before but I was feeling low enough to give anything a try. To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It felt like the stuff of luxury, being vulnerable on a couch with someone who holds a Ph.D. in the arts of the heart and mind.

Session after session, she helped me hold myself accountable and get my shit together. Rather than affirm my anger, she pointed out times when I could have set boundaries but failed miserably to do so. Through our sessions, I was able to see how I perpetuated the manipulative behavior my ex exhibited. I never opened a dialogue to address instances that made me uncomfortable. Instead, I simply repeated the word "yes," hoping my body language would communicate my inner "no."

Restraints in relationships are important. Without restraints, any relationship could descend into chaos. But with boundaries, partners grow to understand how to make each other happy, because they know the do's and don'ts of the relationship, and that helps eliminate confusion.

If you truly love your partner, consider how boundaries could anchor your relationship ahead of the next storm.

Written by

Joshua Dean

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