Ever hear of a pre-boundary? It can make setting an actual boundary unnecessary. Amazing, right? It starts with this premise:
“We always exist at choice.”
-Master Coach Natalie K. Miller*
You may doubt that we have a choice in all situations. Here in Florida, it’s the tail end of hurricane season. Just a few miles North, folks would definitely not have chosen for Hurricane Ian to cut through their neighborhood.
But even in the moments when circumstances are beyond our control, you still have the opportunity to ask, how will I show up in this moment? That is always up to us.
To get ahead of the metaphorical storms that swoop in every day, you can set a pre-boundary. The idea is that we are always co-creating our lives with the people around us. If we aren’t getting what we want, we are making the choice to settle for it.
A pre-boundary will help you create the life you want instead of marinating in the disappointment of someone else’s idea of what you deserve. It’s becoming the driver instead of sitting in the backseat. Are we full up on metaphors? Okay. Let’s try it.
You start by asking these two questions about the situation. Maybe even look in the mirror and ask yourself directly:
What do I want?
What do I need?
Sidebar to the women out there. How did it feel when you asked yourself these questions? If your insides registered a little fear, that tracks. ALL our cultural messaging discourages us from looking inward. We are trained to be validated on the outside only. Society rewards women for meeting the needs of others. We’ve been trained not to want too much food, too much time, too much fulfillment. Our world is far more comfortable with women as compliant servers.
But we would all like to live better, right? And there is no way to do that without discovering what we want and going after our heart’s desire. So, let’s unlearn the conditioning.
Now that you have (hopefully) determined what you actually want and need, you are ready to set a pre-boundary by telling the other person what you prefer. In doing so, you offer them the option to choose it with you. It isn’t an attempt to control but rather, an invitation for the other person to opt-in to a more inclusive, respectful, and mutually beneficial life for you both.
I’ll give you an example of the pre-boundary I set this week—it was so exciting.
First, a bit of context:
My husband Mark is in go mode working sixteen hour days. His jury trial is set for two weeks but he’s already been prepping for most of the month. Meanwhile, we have my son’s birthday and daughter’s parent weekend at college where we will meet her adorable boyfriend AND his family at a special dinner. Without Mark.
Being in trial is rough but as my friend Faby once said, “it’s better than being on trial, amiright?” And just so you understand our joint mentality about it, the world could burn down around the courthouse, but the lawyers inside shall not be disturbed. Absolute focus is required.
As a former litigator, I have lived the credo. When the kids were little, we tested the outer limits of this philosophy. Once during a six week trial of Mark’s out of town, all three came down with gastroenteritis. Nothing could be held down on either end. To get us mobilized, I fashioned barf bags out of lunch sacks and plastic bread bags. A babysitter helped me carry them all in to the pediatrician for a shot of Zofran to stop the barf volcano. Scary times.
My middle son looked so frail that I recall entertaining these actual thoughts:
What if he doesn’t make it?
What would be worse, Mark being distracted or not saying goodbye to his son?
True to form, I didn’t say a word to Mark. Luckily, we all pulled through.
So that’s our trial attitude. Sh!t happens (literally) and I run triage until further notice.
Now that the kids are older, disappearing for a bit only means that Mark has limited knowledge about what is going on in our lives. He is unavailable for shared responsibilities of shopping, dinner prep and managing kids on the weekends. Not a big deal. Of course, we miss him.
One remaining shared task—morning carpool—had survived the trial calendar. Our boys are at two different schools with back to back start times. It’s not impossible for one person to do both trips but it demands full cooperation of both traffic and boys. The glitch is that on most days, one of those kids requires his own motivational speaker. For that reason, a one person drop-off sucks.
Trial started Monday. That night before bed, I texted Mark to confirm there would be no surprises the next day.
Surprise. He would be providing no rides to school.
An opportunity to set a pre-boundary! Out on my run the next morning, I sent this text asking that when Mark becomes aware of the inability to meet his obligation, that he reach out to our friends to arrange a ride. Then I registered an ick about mentioning our son. As if my own need to have a calm morning wasn’t reason enough.
So I took a minute to remind myself of the following:
- It is okay for me to want a partner who thinks of me when he discovers his schedule may negatively affect me.
- It is okay for me to need to know I am a priority to the person with whom I have built a life and family.
When I got home, Mark was loading his briefcase in the trunk to leave.
“When the judge changed the schedule, I didn’t think to tell you. Your text made me wonder what I would have done if I had been a single parent,” he said.
I answered that if I could go back, I would have omitted the part about our son. And that it is okay for me to want a partner who thinks of me and then does something to spare me unnecessary hardship. It felt great.
Another bonus of the pre-boundary is emotional self-regulation. Without this request, I would have ruminated on how Mark hadn’t considered me. With no other way to process it, I would have lobbed a grenade at some point later. Nobody needs that.
This was not easy. But that is me up at the top in the pink, after it all went down, unusually happy, on my two kid drop-off. Why? Because I became the person who asks for what she wants regardless of the outcome. I invited Mark into a way of being with each other that benefits us both. And that belongs to me forever.
Because setting actual boundaries is a whole thing, tons of ink has been spilled and podcasts recorded on the subject. Here is an awesome one that came out just yesterday. Take a listen.
Here’s some other great news. Mark’s case settled just in time for him to join the family in LA and we take off this morning. YAY!
When you check in with yourself about what you want and need and then ask for it, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: Where in your life can you state your preferences and to whom? Have you asked yourself what you want? What about what you need? How does that feel?
*This brilliance comes from a life-changing workshop I recently took with Martha Beck Master Coach Natalie K. Miller, an instructor in my certification training who I have been following ever since. She is super witchy–the GOOD kind–so ’tis the season for MORE of her. You can sign up for a free weekly newsletter at nataliekmiller.com, follow her on IG @msnataliemiller, listen to her Mind Witchery podcast, apply to join her group—aptly named Cauldron— or seek her out for 1:1 coaching, retreats and more. She brings the MAGIC.
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