Paul Simon wrote a song with the incredibly profound title: Remember: one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor. Through his own unique and creative artistry, his lyrics touch on an issue that, in the context of interpersonal relationships, is almost universally honored in the breach than respected for the principle. Consider this: when a person first meets someone to whom they are attracted and in whom they are interested, they are all about respect and boundaries. They assume nothing and are curious about everything. They would never presume or assume that they were in a position to speak for the object of their attraction. The magnetic pull of the attraction is exquisite and the compelling curiosity to learn more is genuine. Hope does indeed spring eternal in those halcyon days of falling for someone.
By contrast, examining the couple’s behavior in the middle or toward the end of that relationship, we find the most telling characteristic of the relational landscape is the incredible absence of boundaries. In this state of “range free relationships” the partners can be seen clucking about noisily like relationship-chickens transgressing each other’s turf with no respect for one another’s autonomy. The awareness that this action constitutes a trespass of one another’s turf, much less the acknowledgment that it does, is by then long gone with the wind.
This sad and toxic state of affairs is the predictable product of one’s ego. It is this ego in each of us which allows us to become blinded by our own myopic, subjective perspectives and, correspondingly, less mindful of the need for respect of the boundaries of the other. Of course, this is only important if one wants the bilateral quality of the relationship to succeed long term. What came so easily and naturally at the beginning of the relationship needs to be supplanted by a willful and mindful commitment to show respect by honoring boundaries. We need to remember that no matter how much we think we know our spouses and partners, it is always better to demonstrate respect by taking the trouble to ask than it will ever be to simply assume. The line: Good fences make good neighbors comes from the Robert Frost poem perfectly titled The Mending Wall.
Chip Rose has been a major contributor to the field of family mediation and collaborative practice since 1990. An active private practitioner of family mediation since 1980, he has provided training, techniques and practice models throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. He is past president of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, as well as being a founding board member and the recipient of APFM’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. Retired and living in Oregon, he is still active in the field and can be contacted at email@example.com.
image by evgeny dzhumaev – unsplash.com