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by Larry Yerxa September 29, 2006



When one struggles to understand the non-understandable, such as an alcoholic relationship, one often tries to apply logic to understand an illogical situation. One struggles to understand why something takes place, such as the actions and thought process of an alcoholic, and is often left with more questions than answers. After my alcoholic relationship crashed and burned I found that other than understanding the simple fact that an alcoholic is a troubled person who turns to alcohol to avoid dealing with underlying issues, trying to understand “why” is a waste of energy, therefore, I decided to explore the “what,” as in “what took place” that may have contributed to the decay of the relationship.

After countless hours of reading, I decided to put this in a context more comfortable to me and I applied concepts that, as a legal professional, I work with on a daily basis. In doing so, I have discovered that boundaries in a relationship mirror those found in the general body of real property law, can be recognized, and steps can be sometimes be taken to remove the “encroachments” that occur and can also be taken to prevent encroachments in the future.


What are Boundaries?

The American Heritage Dictionary (2nd College Edition) defines boundaries as (1.) “Something that indicates a border or a limit” and (2.) “The border or limit indicated by a boundary”.

In real property, boundaries are a fixed area on the face of the earth. These are the defining limits of what is called the “locus.” In a relationship, this “locus” can more easily be defined as the sum of who you are based on your value or belief system. Things within boundaries are “owned” by someone. By applying my real property experience, it occurs to me that boundaries, both property and personal, often come attached with two dreaded words: “subject to.”

If you own real estate, look at your deed. Most often, at the end of the property description, you will find the words “subject to” followed by one or more “easements” or rights of others in and over your property. Some are stated outright and some are not listed, but exist by operation of law. Some of these “easements” or rights of others are “public” rights such as the municipality’s right to inspect for building violations or the public’s right to traverse the property by air or perhaps access to a neighboring recreational area. Other rights are “private” rights that are granted to specific individuals or entities such as the specific right of a utility company to set utility poles, a right of way of a neighbor for access to another property, or again, the specific right of a neighbor to cross your property to access a river or lake. Your ownership of your parcel, or locus, is often “subject to” the rights of others. I have determined that the personal “locus” often becomes “subject to” the rights of others. As I said, in real estate, these rights come into existence two ways, by express grant or by implication. It appears that the same thing happens to the personal “locus.”

If you try to create a description of your personal “locus” it would probably look something like this: “A healthy happy person who goes through life with good intentions and tries not to cause injury to others.” Your boundaries would also likely include, “and will not allow others to cause injuries to me.” Unconsciously, but invariably, it would be followed by “subject to.” Subject to what? The right of others to speak too loudly in your presence, the rights of free speech provided by your country’s constitutional documents, the right of someone not to bathe (even though that may offend you), and the right of another’s free will. These could be described as “public rights” to which your boundaries are “subject to.” They are a part of life. Then there are the express and implied rights that your “locus” is “subject to.” You meet someone and become close. You give them a key to your home, you enter into spoken or unspoken agreements regarding exclusivity in the relationship, you allow that person access to your inner being and belief system and often change these implied “easements” into specific grants with the exchange of wedding vows or other forms of commitment. In a perfect world, these “easements” over your personal locus are reciprocal and you live in harmony. As in real property situations, it is when more rights are taken than granted that problems occur. These are called encroachments.

What is an encroachment? In real property an example would be when the neighbor cuts over the corner of your property to access his without your permission. A personal encroachment might be when another attempts to exert impermissible control over you like, for example, demanding that you give up a class or a friend and devote that time to him or her. Another may be when some form of abuse or control, even in it’s subtlest form, starts causing you to act in a manner that is dependent or as a result of another’s wishes or demands. Over time, these encroachments become so invasive and overwhelming that the boundaries become porous or non-existent and the ownership of your personal locus becomes lost or unrecognizable.

I’ve also discovered that boundaries are fluid. Permissions or easements over the locus may be different depending on the relationship. Certain off color jokes may be permissible from a friend or loved one, but perhaps not from a co-worker or employer. One friend at a certain level may be granted easements where it would be an encroachment by another.

What does one do when encroachments occur? The law provides for redress in the courts with resolutions based on laws and precedent. With a personal encroachment, it’s not that easy. It seems personal encroachments can occur for several reasons: insecurity and low self esteem on the part of both persons in the relationship; illness, both mental and physical; codependence; or substance abuse. Whatever the reason, it seems that the original definition of the boundary is very hard to redefine. Willing, healthy individuals may find clarity of boundaries with professional counseling. When mental illness and substance abuse enters the picture, it seems that the success of redefining boundaries is fleeting. The need for continued attempts seems to indicate failure.

In real estate, upon the purchase of a new property, one way to define boundaries is with a survey. It seems to parallel that in a new personal relationship, one might be wise to define boundaries with a personal survey as well. How does one do this? I doubt it practical to create a written list of every relationship and what easements, implied or expressed, would be acceptable. Perhaps more clearly defining what comprises your personal locus would be more in order. I suggest learning all you can about codependence and become able to recognize those behaviors in yourself and others and learn what is acceptable to you. One need not accept that they are “codependent” or “a codependent” but rather understand the concept and behavior instead. As is often said, “knowledge is power” and the more—and most current—knowledge one possesses, the better they will be equipped to recognize unhealthy and inappropriate encroachments on one’s personal locus.

Though different with different individuals, boundaries can and should be defined. A healthy relationship depends on a healthy understanding of oneself and expectations. This understanding is a result of knowledge and understanding of how and why these encroachments occur, are allowed to occur, and prevented. “Knowledge is Power.” The more one defines and understands one’s personal locus and the forms these encroachments attain, the better the individual will be able to prevent these encroachments and retain and flourish within one’s own personal “locus.”

Copyright © 2006 By Larry Yerxa






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