Since male-female partnering relationships have the potential for becoming sexualized, we need to enter these relationships in a wise manner. Our actions and decisions regarding how we conduct ourselves within these relationships can affect their eventual outcome. The time to make those decisions is before we enter into any relationship, for our ability to think clearly may be compromised later by the situation or the individual. Set boundaries ahead of time.
Boundaries are helpful in two ways. First, they define actions and behaviors we will not allow from others toward us. In this way, boundaries act as barriers against others’ inappropriate behavior. Second, boundaries set parameters for all actions and behaviors we will not permit ourselves to engage in. Boundaries act like guardrails, keeping us from careening off the correct course and into areas of danger.
Additionally, having clearly established boundaries allows us to remove the personal component from highly charged situations. Having to confront sexualized behavior can be embarrassing. So embarrassing that some people would rather give in to the behavior, hoping that if they ignore it, it will go away.
We can minimize this embarrassment by explaining our boundaries if someone of the opposite sex steps across one of them. The focus, then, is not their behavior but our boundary. Thus we may be able to depersonalize the situation and rob it of some of its embarrassment.
Below are 4 boundaries that may be quite helpful.
Boundary #1: Keep Relationships Clear
Fuzzy boundaries can lead to fuzzy relationships, where neither party is exactly sure how much the other person is willing to put into the relationship. Fuzzy relationships create sexual confusion when one person creates an assumption out of the vacuum of unexpressed boundaries.
When an existing relationship becomes inappropriately sexualized, one or both of the parties lose focus of the original purpose of the partnering. Sexual attraction becomes the prominent motivation for continuing the relationship. At some point, the reason the two people formed the partnership in the first place gets lost or subordinated. The first boundary we must establish for male-female relationships is this: Keep the relationship in context at all times.
Boundary #2: Keep Relationships Clean
We live in an information age and one of its major tenets is “whatever can be known should be known.” With the proliferation of television networks, cable networks, Internet news features, and magazines, more and more people are devoting themselves to finding out about everything. The tendency in close relationships is to follow the world’s model.
However, in some relationships, transparency in all areas is not a positive feature. And emotional vulnerability is not a character trait which should be broadcast on all relationship channels. Personal, sexual details of our lives and intimate feelings and desires are not proper content for many relationships. Discretion should always be used in what we share and with whom we share.
Boundary #3: Keep Relationships on Neutral Ground
One way to honor the neutral ground boundary is to avoid any places and situations where other boundaries may have a tendency to slip. Going out for dinner after the game with your mixed softball team is fine. You’re with a large group of people, probably with family members of the team present. You are surrounded by a lot of people who know you. The purpose of the dinner is to continue the camaraderie of the team. The atmosphere of the gathering is open and accessible. Boundaries stay intact in such a setting.
But going out to a steakhouse after work with an opposite-sex colleague in the next office is not fine. The two of you are alone in a darkened room surrounded by people who don’t know you, even if they could see well enough to get a good look at you. The purpose of such a get-together is to get together, to promote union. The atmosphere of the meeting is intimate and private. Boundaries have a way of receding in dark, secret, romantic places.
Generally you should have a clear idea of what you consider to be neutral ground. People and situations send out “vibes.” Listen to your inner voice. Interact with opposite-sex associates only on safe, neutral ground.
Boundary #4: Keep Relationships Focused Outward
Work relationships can be taken out of their proper context. They can become intense and close, but they must never supersede other more important relationships in our lives. In our culture today this message has become muddled. We live in a society where other relationships often are subordinated to work relationships and to work itself.
The worth of an individual is often determined by how much they make at their jobs. Families are uprooted by work-related moves. Many spouses spend evenings alone while their mates work late.
In our self-centered society, play relationships often are promoted above family. Spouses and children are expected to give up time at home while softball practices and multiple games go on night after night. Being able to stop after work to shoot a round or two of pool, or to have a drink with the girls is considered right by many. Missing breakfast or dinner with family is acceptable in many homes if the absentee is running or biking or working out at the gym.
In today’s culture, our needs have to be met. Our desired take precedence. Our self-esteem dictates that we indulge in whatever activities make us feel good, even if those activities cut us off from the rest of our families.
When we are scheduling work or leisure-sports relationships, we need to make sure that our family relationships come first.
Dr. Gregory Jantz is the founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE in Edmonds, Washington, voted a top ten facility for the treatment of depression in the United States. Dr. Jantz pioneered