Relationship boundary is very important and it is the duty of the couple to enforce it. The way you enforce the relationship boundary can determine how much you value yourself, your partner or your relationship. Having a third party that fails to respect a relationship boundary can be a major challenge for romantic partners.
The third party can be a family member, close friend, ex-lover, new crush, or coworker. Sometimes the third party intrusion may be unintentional, but it can also be intentional. You would know when it’s intentional: It would happen frequently even after you have objected and have informed the person to refrain.
Let’s start with a third party who is a family member or close friend. There are some family members or close friends who simply disregard your relationship boundary and the fact that you are capable of thinking for yourself. They agonizingly try to micromanage your life, including telling you what kind of relationship you should have and who you should be with — all in the name of “because we care about you,” which is understandable, but “the caring” can sometimes be just a mask for their control-freak nature and lack of faith in your ability to do what is right for you.
Similarly, some of your old flames or new crushes, who are in the friend zone, can turn into awkward intruders — consciously making an effort to test your limits. Though they are fully aware that you are in a committed relationship with someone else, they still try to force themselves in between you and your partner, stalking you online or offline and making inappropriate moves.
How do they do it? On the one hand, they make you believe that they are only interested in your friendship; on the other hand, however, they fail to acknowledge and respect the presence of your significant other. In fact, they completely act as if your partner doesn’t exist in your life and they communicate with you as if you are still single. Thanks to social media and smartphones: They send you suggestive pictures or texts that cross a line, via Facebook, Whatsapp, Viber, or what have you. They call you randomly, three or four times a day, whether early morning or past midnight, sometimes while you are in bed with your partner. And they wait for your reaction since your reaction will lead them to their next action.
If you saw the movie “I Think I Love My Wife,” featuring Chris Rock, then you would get the picture.
There are also some acquaintances and random strangers you meet at social events who clearly have no clue about what it means to respect personal, professional, or relationship boundaries. Go to an Ethiopian or African event, especially clubs, and you will know what I mean. Of course, the problem is not limited to Ethiopian or African settings, but I am only writing from my experience.
Any solution for this at all?
When you find yourself in such an awkward situation, a situation that involves your partner and a third party, you need to be assertive and let your partner know that you cannot put up with it. You need to express that the situation is bothering you. That does not make you weak, insecure, controlling, super jealous, unreasonable or whatever. If your partner doesn’t endorse a similar uncomfortable situation that your third party causes, why should you be silent about his or her third party making things difficult between the two of you? You have to speak up against anything that is too selfish and inappropriate. The ideal partner will understand you and will fix it right away — sometimes before you even raise it as an issue.
If you are the partner related to the third party, then you must let him or her know that the behavior is unacceptable. If you tolerate the behavior, you are either enjoying it or you don’t value your relationship. Basically you are giving a green light to the third party to believe that you have no respect for your partner.
Though the third party may perfectly know that the behavior is unacceptable, your silence is taken as a consent and that could make them think you are leading them. In other words, you are welcoming them. They will keep on doing what they do because they are convinced you are okay with their actions.
Who to blame
In the end, the third party is not to blame for whatever wrong happens with your relationship — you are to blame if you allow the inappropriate intrusion and fail to block it. When someone continues to cross a line, the person has automatically lost the friendship privilege and must be crossed out. Is having this person in your life worth the relationship damage you are allowing him or her to cause? If your answer is yes, then you are definitely dating or married to the wrong partner because that is not only a divided loyalty but it also shows you may no longer be interested in your partner and you are most likely leading the third party on purpose.
Your partner cannot control the third party’s actions. But you can control how you communicate with the third party.
When you assertively enforce the relationship boundary, letting the third party know that their actions are intolerable, they should understand that you are simply protecting your relationship, and should respect you for it. They should admire your integrity as any decent friend would. They have to also realize that your integrity matters to your relationship, and must back off respectfully. When they repeatedly fail to do so, it is time to cross them out of your “friends” list because they do not deserve such a privilege. Firm response and unapologetic action must be taken against a third party who acts immature.
After all, it is the couple’s responsibility to ensure they have each other’s back and protect their relationship from any damage, assuming they value it.
Here is one simple fact: When you love, respect and value your partner and the relationship you are in, you will never allow any person to cross a line. You fiercely protect what you love and value the most. But when you don’t care, anything is possible; the relationship is dead by then, and the third party would only serve as a perfect excuse or a tool to bury it.