Boundaries are key to healthy relationships


POSTED: Saturday, June 13, 2009

Out. Long. Just wide.

Those are some of the words that my tennis partners and I use during our early morning exercise.

We are not going to win any trophies in our geriatric category of competition, but we all try to play a good game and stay within the lines. It is only a game, but we do try to be fair.

In tennis the boundaries remain fixed, but in relationships, boundaries tend to be more flexible or, one might say, organic.

In the course of a relationship, accepted boundaries might change. It is always good to know, however, where the boundaries are, new or old.

Boundaries might also be crossed or violated. Some of the worst violations and abuses, unfortunately, occur in relationships of trust. It can happen that a person of authority or of dignified position will abuse a relationship.

The real or perceived difference in power and prestige—for example, a manager over an employee, a pastor over a parishioner, an elected official over a citizen—could be the setting for abused relationships if not carefully guarded.

How is one to respect and protect the boundaries? How can one prevent the misuse of power and authority?

What might help, but yet be not enough, is to know your rights. Know your rights as a partner. Know your rights as a client. Know your rights as a patient. Know your rights as a woman. Know your rights as a student. Know your rights as a human being.

Knowing your rights is akin to knowing yourself, another factor useful in protecting boundaries.

In tennis there is such a thing as a love game. The word “;love”; as it is used in tennis has nothing to do with the quality of relationship between the opponents. It has to do with quantity. The term indicates that one player has won all the necessary points for a game while the opponent has won none.

That zero score is called love. But it has nothing to do with kindness, compassion or any other attribute that we associate with our English word love.

A common (but unproved) explanation for the term “;love”; to signify a score of zero in tennis is that it originates from the French word for egg, “;l'oeuf.”; As in goose egg, nothing, nil, zip.

Out of bounds. No fair.

Know the boundaries.

The Rev. Fritz Fritschel is retired as a Lutheran minister.