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Newsletter Dated: 8/2/2008 2:08:35 PM
Subject: Happiness Tips from Tina: Setting Boundaries and Saying No
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Happiness Tip: Setting Boundaries and Saying No
This month’s article was inspired by a reader, who sent me the following request: “Do you have anything on your web page about understanding boundaries, establishing boundaries and sticking to them? If not I think it would be interesting to many people, including me, in work and personal relationships also. Thanks, Seethamma”
Knowing how to set appropriate boundaries can make the difference in whether your relationship succeeds or not. The topic frequently comes up in my counseling office, and most people think boundaries are set by telling other people what the limits are. But boundaries are really something you must create within yourself. Having the confidence to say “no” to another is one important aspect of creating boundaries; but it begins by knowing what you do and don’t want.
The Tennis Match - - Setting Boundaries and Taking Space
When one or both partners don't get enough space or don't feel heard, their relationship will develop signs of trouble:
*One partner becomes a resentful caretaker, while the other feels oppressed and belittled.
*One will be alert to the moods of the other - - often walking on eggshells not to upset the other. *One may threaten to leave in order to get his or her way.
*One wants more together time and the other wants more space.
These differences can create resentment, hurt and power struggles.
When a couple struggles, the flow of love between them is blocked; even when they truly love one another. On the other hand, a couple who understand boundaries and who are committed to equality and mutual satisfaction are far more likely to create love and partnership they deeply treasure.
Each person has individual needs for closeness and personal space as well as other needs to feel nurtured, understood and autonomous within a relationship. Some want the freedom to be close and comforted, others want the freedom to be autonomous and unfettered. It’s essential that you and your partner each know your own needs and wants, communicate them, and then understand each other. Knowing what you want and what you feel are skills essential to creating a mutually satisfying intimate relationship. In counseling, I use the tennis match metaphor to help couples understand and honor each others' needs for space.
To keep your relationship in balance, especially if it's new, neither you or your partner should do all the calling, all the planning, all the talking, all the giving, and all the chasing. Instead, you need to learn to toss the responsibility and power back and forth like a tennis ball.
This can begin in the earliest stages of dating or making a new friend. Begin by making a move to show the other person you're interested in being close, then sit and wait for your partner to make a move in return. For example, make a phone call to invite him or her for coffee, or to join a group going to the movies, and then, let him or her make the next invitation. You can do the same thing in an already established relationship – if you feel taken for granted, just back off a little, without drama, and your partner will move toward you. If you feel overwhelmed by your partner being too aggressive, step up and take the lead, or say a simple “no, thank you” (see below).
The idea is to establish a balance in your relationship, which can be difficult to do if you have a strong interest in the other person, or the two of you have developed an unbalanced interaction. Coming on too strong in the relationship may push the other person away, or may disguise a lack of enough interest on the other person's part. Don't keep hitting balls over the net if they're not returned. On the other hand, if you never hit the ball, but always wait for the other person to do it, you aren't playing a very good tennis game, either. It's essential that you do your part, because passivity is easily interpreted as a lack of interest, and can shut communication down. If you compare what has gone on in the relationship so far to a tennis game, you will quickly see if you've been either too passive or too aggressive.
The Tennis Match: Volleying the Conversation
The tennis match is so central to balancing all your relationships, so they can find their appropriate levels, that I've developed some guidelines you can use to understand and promote intimacy. Following the guidelines will help you and your partner understand each others’ needs and wants, and create natural boundaries that feel comfortable. It will give both of you the space and balance needed to show you are interested in what each other is saying, and want to hear more. Whether you're online, on the phone, or face to face, you need to keep your conversation going back and forth - - what I call the tennis match.
Tennis Match Guidelines for Understanding your Partner
* Take Turns: Leave room for your partner to open topics, to express opinion, to gather thoughts and express opinions. Don't jump right in to a silence if it's not your turn.
* Concentrate: Listen carefully to what your partner is saying - - don't wander off mentally into what you want to say next.
* Volley (Respond): After your partner says something, respond directly to it, letting him or her know that you heard and understood what was said, and, if possible that you have similar thoughts or experience.
* Don't Argue: There is definitely a place for spirited discussion in good conversation, but be careful not to get too oppositional. Your objective is to establish understanding.
* Return the Serve: At the end of whatever you say, invite a response by adding "don't you think?" or "What do you think?" or, make your response a question.
* Serve Again: If your partner drops the ball, ask a question about something that was said before, and give your partner plenty of time to express his or her opinion.
If your tennis match goes on long enough, you'll learn a lot about each other, and you'll both feel you have "so much to talk about". The tennis game approach is not rigid, but a flexible attitude that you can adapt to almost any situation.
When you encounter a partner who is two aggressive, and overwhelms you with too many words, too much emotion and drama, or too much attention, you need to learn to set limits. If you’re interested in keeping the relationship going, you also need to learn to step up and hit the ball in your partner’s direction. Learning to say 'no' or even to be silent in a neutral way is not necessarily easy, but is essential for avoiding uncomfortable situations. Be polite, but firm when you say “no, thank you” and you will stop the other person from imposing on you. Often, saying nothing is the best tactic. Wait until your blustery partner runs out of steam, and then you can make your statement.
Remember, if no question is actually asked, you needn't volunteer, no matter how sad the story is. If a direct question is asked, you can learn to be polite, and say "I'm so sorry, but I can't." If that's too difficult, say you have to check with someone else (your calendar, your spouse, your kids, your boss, your pets) or think about it before you answer. If you have trouble saying no in person, use e - mail or call when you know the other person will be out, and leave a polite refusal on their voice mail. Often, saying no is an unconscious test. If you feel unsure about whether you're being respected, valued, or cared about, you may feel like saying "no". After you say no, if your refusal is handled with respect, caring and consideration, your questions may disappear, and you may change your mind.
Run through a scene of a situation in which you want to say "no," for example with a demanding neighbor, partner or relative, and practice saying "no" several different ways in your imagination. Watch in TV and movies for examples of people saying "no" with grace and dignity (you can find them, if you look) and imitate them.
(C) 2008 Tina B. Tessina
adapted from: Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage (Adams Media) ISBN# 978 - 1 - 59869 - 325 - 6 and It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction (New Page) ISBN 1 - 56414 - 548 - 4
© Tina B.Tessina, 2008
If you want more, here are some related articles you can download from my website at http://tinatessina.com/monthly_column.html
Asking for What you Want
Attitude: From Negative to Gratitude
The Colors of You
Coping with Critics
Fair Fight Guidelines
Family Violence Q&A
Friends in Need: Interventions for Domestic Violence
Guidelines for Being Understood by Your Partner
How Not to Fight
How to Keep Yourself Out of a Violent Relationship
It’s a Dirty Job
Letting Go Takes Love
Mirrors and Teachers
The Power of Politeness
Relating With Love
Response - Ability
Stop Reacting and Start Relating
You Be The Judge
Your Primary Relationship
I’m now an expert on www.divorce360.com http://www.divorce360.com/articles - by - tina - tessina/128.aspx
Please look for my newest book:The Commuter Marriage: Keep Your Relationship Close While You're Far Apart (Adams Media, June 2008) ISBN # 1 - 59869 - 432 - 4
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Wishing you joy,
Tina B. Tessina, PhD
Re: Your Primary Relationship
OH, so true. When I first entered therapy I was resistant and defensive, not wanting to believe that my parents could have been wrong? Boy was I a mess. Your article is informative and very interesting. Elizabeth
Thank you, Elizabeth, I’m glad you figured it out.
Re: The Nail in the Fence
The ability to forgive is, to me, a variable of emotional intelligence, an aspect of Self often left unconsidered. It would be wonderful if adults could begin instilling the building blocks of EI in our children now so that one day, we may collectively be so emotionally mature/intelligent that we 1. rarely/never feel the need to lash out and injure the heart of another; 2. if we should be the victims of such a lashing, realize that the event is about the character of the other person and not a reflection of our own character; and 3. that in having empathy and compassion for ourselves (learning to love ourselves), we can find within us the wherewithal to forgive if the need does arise. I thoroughly enjoyed this article and hope you don't mind my "unprofessional" assessment of forgiveness and the notion of EI. Gianetta
Not at all, Gianetta. Very interesting comments. I love Daniel Goleman’s book: Emotional Intelligence
RE: Dysfunctional Relationships
Hi Tina, It's so nice how you reach out and stay in contact with little notes and your emails. I typically forward them to my friends, too. You have a beautiful spirit. Sean
Thanks, Sean. Being connected is the key to a happy life, IMO.
I really like reading your newsletters. They are almost like a letter from home! I find something each time that applies to us. Hugs to you too. Madelyn
And hugs back, Madelyn. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the newsletter.