Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Boundaries: Respect in Relationships
NASCAR drivers win races by staying within the lines around the track
and meeting rules regarding the car. Musicians in a band play according to a
common key, rhythm and tempo. Both acknowledge boundaries set up to govern their
Boundaries may appear harsh or controlling. In actuality, they provide
the framework for you to become your personal best.
Recently, you have heard of some who crossed the boundaries of correct
behavior in relationships. Many of the reports of sexual misconduct have involved
priests and the Catholic Church. Many people have been confused or embarrassed
about being Catholic because of the scandals.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference
of Catholic Bishops, says, "The Catholic Church in the United States is in a
very grave crisis, perhaps the gravest we have faced." But, he goes on to affirm
that it is not a crisis of faith; it is a crisis about the crimes of sexual
abuse and Church leadership's response.
The Church is still very much the Church that you are hopefully experiencing—people
who pray together, gather as a community and are devoted to serving the needy.
It is a Church with a pope who loves and gathers with young people wherever
he travels. It is the Church that has organizations such as Catholic Relief
Services bringing aid to troubled nations. It is a centuries-old faith that
traces its beginnings to Jesus and Peter and has survived scandal, Crusades
and the Reformation. The Church will survive this crisis, too.
Sexual abuse is a problem found not only within the Church, but also
in society as a whole. You have probably heard the statistics: The FBI reports
that one in three women and one in five men will be sexually assaulted in their
This Youth Update takes a look at respecting boundaries in
your relationships, whether the boundaries are dealing with time, emotions,
information or physical activity.
Violating boundaries is a problem for exactly this reason—God made
you as a human being. "In the beginning," you are reminded, "God created man
in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created
them" (Genesis 1:1, 27).
You are created in the image and likeness of a wonderful Creator
who knows that you are good. Because of this, you have immeasurable value.
Whenever you encounter another person, you should see a hint about
God to be found in him or her, this "image and likeness of the Creator." God
sees the value and good in each person and challenges you to find that good
Sexual violence has no place if this is what you believe and how
you choose to act. It violates the dignity and worth of each person created
in God's image. It betrays the trust that is so important in relationships.
It is a serious sin.
All relationships require work. We are still human and not perfect,
so student/teacher, coach/player, boyfriend/girlfriend, youth minister/youth
group member, parent/child relationships are never too easy, but instead demand
effort and trust.
Boundaries provide the promise of having relationships where both
people are committed to preserving trust and upholding the value and worth of
Boundaries are best understood when they are clear. Anyone who has
played soccer in a backyard knows that it is easier to violate an out-of-bounds
that is defined between two landmarks rather than one where a thick chalk line
has been clearly laid down.
Boundaries are a good thing. If you have observed them well, your
efforts can be acknowledged as real achievements. No points are given when you
are out of bounds or for a shot after the whistle; no standing ovation comes
for a monologue that ignores the script.
Boundaries also help protect the players. In hockey, a strong elbow
check is a foul; the penalty is a shot or time in the box.
In your relationships as teenagers, boundaries are significant. You
can work on your skills within the boundaries so you might excel in present
relationships and learn for future relationships.
You can show your intimacy in a relationship in many ways. A choice
regarding time is one of them. An athlete is known as a "gym rat" or an overachiever
if he or she spends every moment practicing. If someone looked at how you spent
your time, how would they define you?
Life as a teenager is too diverse to spend it in just one corner
of existence. Yet, you certainly have seen teens who have seemingly already
committed their lives and time away to their relationships.
A good rule of thumb for judging your relationships is to ask: How
life-affirming is that choice? Is your time spent in a relationship built on
trust and not on insecurity, control or jealousy?
A clear signal of an unhealthy relationship would be that one of
the partners feels isolated from the rest of the world. Maria might feel that
Alejandro is controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to. These controls
might lovingly be based on jealousy.
Furthermore, it is life-affirming to be able to provide an alternative
perspective and experiences to the other person in a relationship.
You should always value openness to some other experiences. In this
way, you might share the gift and grace of those experiences with
Time boundaries should be set within any relationship to reflect
on what is important in your life. Set limits for friends, family, work, school,
activities and relaxation. Plan to have a full, diverse and active life.
Besides limiting time, boundaries are also necessary with respect
to emotions. Anger, happiness, frustration, contentment, pleasure, pain, grief
and excitement are all emotions. Being in a relationship promises lots of emotional
experiences, both positive and negative.
Emotions might confuse or overwhelm you at times. New emotions can
sometimes be difficult to understand. Often, they provide a distraction to other
things going on in your life.
Emotions, however, offer a choice. You can control your emotions
and rule them rather than allowing them to rule you. Even emotions need boundaries.
It is a matter of taking charge of your own life. This responsibility is an
important task of your teenage years and it continues to be important, no matter
how old you are.
This discipline offers challenges. You want to make sure that you
have a language for your emotions, that you are able to identify and describe
them. Know who among your family, friends and significant adults might be able
to discuss your emotions with you.
You can channel your emotions with different methods, possibly meditation,
exercise or prayer. Find out which ones work best for you. However, techniques
such as denial or addiction only mask emotions temporarily but don't
assist you in getting a handle on them.
Welcome to the information age. You can discover many details about
a person simply by surfing the Internet. Bloggers post personal diaries online
daily. Perhaps you have had a picture of yourself placed on the Web for a school
or church activity. It's cool to consider that faraway relatives might be able
to download this information.
Yet, the Internet poses security concerns. Be cautious about sharing
personal details, and protect your passwords.
What is true of virtual relationships is true with actual relationships.
You hold the password to the details of your life. Take care in building relationships
of trust over long periods of time. Trust strongly built can't be rushed.
Information sharing is important to relationships. You will want
to share facets of your life with people you meet. Many of your feelings will
need to be processed with others. If someone wrote the story of your life right
now, the author would tell all of your geeky first-grade mistakes, when your
pet died, when you moved to a new town as well as the surprise of new friendships.
It would be a great story—a best-seller! It would be so popular that
someone would surely offer to write a revision after you graduate from high
school. Would the book be the same length? Of course not! It would be expanded
with more tales, more experiences, more feelings.
You are a work in progress. Allow yourself to be a fascinating read
for others by having your story slowly reveal itself before them. You don't
have to race to share the whole story because you are not done yet.
You also can set limits when other people begin to share too much
of their story with you. You do not have to be your friends' emotional bellhop,
carrying their baggage for them. It is important to be loving and helpful but
sometimes "too much" can become harmful to you, your emotions and your attitude.
You know that you have value, worth and dignity as a person made by
God. It makes sense, then, to consider the following possibility:
It is a moonlit night. A couple sits in a car on a hillside overlooking
the city. Romantic music is coming from the CD player. Jude makes the classic
"scratch the back of the head and then reach out and put my arm over her shoulders"
move. Teresa shifts closer to him. She looks into his eyes. He looks into her
eyes. And you know exactly what they are thinking at that moment....
How wonderful that this person is created in God's image and likeness! (That wasn't what you thought they were thinking, was it?)
Why not? How wonderful physical intimacy could and should be: an
embrace, holding hands, a kiss and, yes, even sex! Each of these acts is one
"image and likeness of God" coming into contact with another. It should be a
sacred and holy moment.
I once was with a group of other adults, delightedly listening to
an 82-year-old man recall his first kiss 65 years earlier. He remembered the
way she wore her hair, her dress, the scent of her perfume and his surprise
at the taste and texture of her lipstick. This moment was very special and precious.
Boundaries regarding physical intimacy are not about keeping all
the "fun" away from young people. Physical intimacy is meant to help bond and
unite people. If you ignore its power, you disregard the wonderful opportunity
it provides. One of the biggest lies ever told is "Hey, that kiss (or any other
intimate act) didn't mean anything!"
It isn't often said, but it's clear that the pope thinks intimacy
is pretty spectacular. In his book Love and Responsibility, Pope John Paul II says, "Betrothed love, which carries within itself
an inner need to make a gift of one's own person to another human being (a need
realized...in a full sexual relationship as well as in other ways) has a natural
grandeur of its own."
This intimate physical contact between two images and likenesses
of God is so holy that a sacrament, Marriage, is attached to sexual intercourse.
Because sex is holy, the Church and society are really upset about sexual violence.
Sex involves dignity, respect and total self-giving, not selfishness and brutality.
You should plan and consider the most appropriate boundaries for
you within relationships. What is acceptable for you, not only within your comfort
level, but also within your faith level? Discussing these boundaries with a
very trusted person can hold you accountable to the standards you set.
as a Sacred Mission
Jesus once offered a metaphor about himself as the Good Shepherd (John
10:1-16). The boundaries are simple: Stay within the sound of his voice and
follow the Leader. Other choices have bad outcomes. Stick with the Shepherd
who came so that you might have life and have it more abundantly.
Of course, human beings aren't sheep. You can make your own choices.
You can declare boundaries that are good for you, especially when
they reflect that you have listened to the Shepherd's voice. If
you do so, in setting limits, you are promised abundant life.
Is it really possible to have boundaries on emotions?
Right before a public performance or game,
the cast or team works to get "psyched." An adult advisor
walks by and encourages everyone to save some for the show
or game. Or perhaps you've seen this: Tensions rise at home
and a parent advises everyone to watch tempers. Emotions can
be controlled and mastered. It becomes a matter of pacing.
Emotions of an event of great happiness or much sadness need
to be experienced, but they also are not the entire experience.
What are some simple steps that young couples can follow in order to maintain boundaries in their relationships?
Talk with each other, with friends and with parents about appropriate boundaries in relationships. Take a long-term perspective on your life and determine what levels of time, information, emotions and physical intimacy are appropriate for your present age and your future plans. Be prepared to continually reevaluate your relationship and your choices. Last but not least, pray about your choices as a couple.
What advice would you give to a teen who has already crossed some of the boundaries mentioned here?
In basketball, a player crosses a boundary and the whistle blows. There is a consequence, but the game goes on and the players work to avoid any more violations. When the referee announces a foul to the scoring table, the sportsmanlike action requires the offender to acknowledge the foul by raising a hand. When you cross a boundary in a relationship, you must acknowledge it, work to change the offending behavior and continue on. As you pray the Lord's Prayer, ask our Father to "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." If you have crossed a boundary in a relationship, seek forgiveness. You can begin again from this point.
Katie Clemmer (17) of St. Francis of Assisi
Parish in Fulton, Maryland, Lauren Fadely (15) of St. Mary Magdalene
Parish in Lindale, Texas, and Mollie L. O'Keeffe (16) of St. Mary
Parish in Norton, Massachusetts, reviewed this issue and asked questions
of the author. If you want to review a future issue yourself, visit
www.DisciplesNow.com and click on "YU in Review."