And may even avoid a breakup altogether

As much as you wish that finding your soulmate was an easy and painless process, the reality is that dating can come with its fair share of breakups. But not every breakup has to be a cry-your-eyes-out, heart-wrenching experience. The key to a clean break is knowing who owns what in the relationship (and no, I’m not talking about his T-shirt that you borrowed).

When we identify ownership and responsibility, we also set boundaries that help define who you are, who you aren’t, what you are responsible for, and what you aren’t responsible for in a relationship. Boundaries experts Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend compare boundaries to a personal property line. Everything within that personal property line is your responsibility, and everything outside of that line is someone else’s responsibility.

Too often, after a breakup, we can become filled with guilt as we blame ourselves for the hurt we are experiencing. But oftentimes, the guilt we feel is misplaced. If we don’t create clear boundaries during the relationship, we can begin to take on our partner’s problems as our own. We forget that we can only control the things we own: our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. We are not responsible for our boyfriend’s negative attitudes or hurtful behaviors.

When you understand what you are responsible for, you can take steps to work on improving those aspects of yourself. And when you understand what you aren’t responsible for, you free yourself from unnecessary guilt and self-blame, especially if you call it quits. 

Here are three things you own in your relationship and three things he owns.

You are responsible for . . .

01. The Pace of the Relationship (to a Certain Extent)

Do you feel like the relationship is moving too fast, even if you are excited about the guy you are dating? It’s your responsibility to set and maintain the pace in the relationship. That might mean limiting the days you are available to go out with him or having a conversation to let him know how you feel. Some of my clients in my psychotherapy practice will tell me that they feel pressured by their boyfriend’s desire to be more intimate than they are comfortable with, but if you aren’t comfortable with the pace of the relationship, you have the power to change that.

That being said, your partner might not always comply, like in cases where you wish your guy would move faster or pursue you more intensely. If he isn’t ready for the pace you’d like, you are still responsible for owning your reaction to his behavior. You can chose to be more encouraging, work toward a compromise, or walk away if it isn’t working. The point is that you play an important role in setting the pace of the relationship. It doesn’t have to only be up to him.

02. Letting Him Know How You Feel

While this can seem a little bit like a game of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you are responsible for letting your guy know how you feel. While you don’t want to overwhelm him with heart-to-heart discussions, you also don’t want to play games by withholding your true feelings. Playing games may have been expected during the Pride and Prejudice era (or, at least, Mr. Collins seemed to think so), but it will only serve to confuse your guy. You are responsible for communicating your thoughts and emotions to him. He isn’t a mind reader.

03. Admitting Your Mistakes

No one is perfect, and part of owning your role in the relationship is acknowledging when you’ve made a mistake. Taking responsibility for your actions is an important part of setting and maintaining your boundaries, so don’t be afraid to own up to your mistakes. That might mean a simple “I’m sorry” or taking steps to change the way your behavior is negatively impacting the relationship. For example, if your chronic lateness is frustrating your guy, making an effort to show up to your dates on time is taking responsibility for your actions.

He is responsible for . . .

01. Any Bad Actions

Let’s clear one thing up. You didn’t cause him to cheat on you, disrespect you, or break up with you. It was his decision and his decision alone. You aren’t responsible for his bad behavior. And, if he broke up with you when you tried to enforce your boundaries, that was his choice. You respected and enforced your own boundaries, but you can’t be responsible for how someone else responds to them.

02. His Happiness

Yes, you care about your guy and you want him to be happy, but you can’t and shouldn’t be his sole source of happiness. A true relationship is about balance and compromise, not living at the total service of the other person’s whims. This is a recipe for resentment.

03. Cultivating the Relationship

Much like how you have the power to influence the pace of the relationship, your guy is also responsible for doing his part to cultivate the relationship. You aren’t the only one responsible for making sure your relationship is thriving. Helping to grow and improve your relationship should be a team effort, not a solo expedition. If he isn’t pulling his weight, it isn’t your responsibility to move the relationship along on your own.

To be clear, identifying and staying true to your boundaries doesn’t mean closing your heart off to a relationship. Drs. Cloud and Townsend emphasize that relationships are an important part of setting and maintaining boundaries. They write, “Your most basic need in life is for relationship” and that relationships can offer “input and teaching” when it comes to understanding your boundaries.

Photo Credit: Ryan Flynn