Hard Boundaries and Soft Boundaries

Hey folks, sorry for the much delayed post. My family moved on Friday to a new apartment, the first time we’ve had our own apartment in several years, and we finally got internet in today. I had planned on posting from the library during the move, but unfortunately due to the holiday here in the US, the library was closed all weekend. So there’ll be two posts today, and we’ll be back on regular schedule starting Sunday. Thanks for your patience!

I’m going to take a semi-detour away from mental illness today to talk about boundaries. We all have boundaries. Some boundaries are, for lack of a better term, “hardwired.” Someone with a violent peanut allergy CANNOT eat the delicious peanut butter pie you made, and probably can’t have you bring it into their house either. Nothing that happens in life, in relationships, in anywhere will change this, barring a major medical break through. Other boundaries can change–once upon a time kissing was a boundary for me. It used to trigger my PTSD. Over time and as I’ve healed, kissing has stopped being a boundary in many situations.

Some boundaries are part of who we are–I can’t be happy in a monogamous relationship, don’t ask me too. Others are the result of life experience–Franklin Veaux will not be in a relationship that involves or includes a veto. He tried it once, it went very, very badly, he won’t do it again.

But there is one aspect of boundaries that doesn’t get discussed much in poly circles.

Some boundaries are hard, and some boundaries are soft.

I’m stealing terminology from the kink community here (hard limits and soft limits) because polyamory doesn’t have terms for discussing boundaries that are less than etched in stone. When we talk about boundaries it is either “No fucking way do you ever do this, or our relationship is over” or it is not a boundary.

As I may have mentioned before, I don’t believe in binaries. Especially human binaries.

I have some hard fucking boundaries. You raise your hand to me or my kids, there’s the fucking door. You try to come between me and my kids, there’s the fucking door. You try to make me choose between you and someone else I love, there’s the fucking door. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200, I hope the door hits you on your way out.

Franklin has a similarly hard boundary against vetos–you ask to date him when your primary relationship has a veto…well I don’t think he’d say “there’s the fucking door” but the meaning would be the same. Ditto asking him to agree to a veto in any relationship you have with him.

But some boundaries aren’t quite that firm. Some boundaries have some give in them. One of my boundaries is that I will not allow my partners to become dependent on me. I am not your bloody mother, don’t expect me to act like one. And yet when Michael got sick, he depended on me to the point that at times I helped him with his personal hygiene. And I never said, “there’s the door.” For me, this was a soft boundary. A boundary that can be bent, or circumvented entirely, sometimes, in the right circumstances, for a good reason.

Someone with a deadly peanut allergy may have a hard limit on peanuts in their house. But someone with a mild peanut allergy may have a soft limit–they may ask their partner who loves peanut butter not to bring peanuts or peanut butter over, but may be willing themselves to buy a peanut butter pie for their partner’s surprise party.

A soft boundary is not a boundary that it is okay for a poly partner to ignore. It is still a boundary, and it still needs to be respected. But a soft boundary is a boundary that you may choose to set aside in the right circumstances, and your poly partners can come to you and say “I know having X is a boundary for you, but A, B and C are going on right now, would you be willing to let X happen this once?”

You come to me and ask if it’s okay to make me choose between you and someone else I love JUST this once? There’s the fucking door. If we’re living together and you come to me and say “I know you keep kosher, and I agreed to that when I moved in, but my mom’s agreed to visit for the holidays and she always makes a Christmas ham. You know how hard I’ve worked not to ruin my relationship with her after coming out. Would you be alright with her bringing her ham?” Well, you’ll be helping me fumigate the house for the next week (the smell of ham makes me ill), but yes your mom can bring her ham. Tell your mom to bring her ham without asking me first? Well it probably won’t be “There’s the fucking door” but you’ll definitely be in the dog house with me for a damn long time.Next time you and your poly partners get to talking boundaries, you might consider discussing hard and soft boundaries, and how you prefer people to handle approaching your soft boundaries.

Next time you and your poly partners get to talking boundaries, you might consider discussing hard and soft boundaries, and how you prefer people to handle approaching your soft boundaries.


Okay, I said this was a semi-tangent from our ongoing series on mental illness and polyamory. I’ll be posting again this afternoon looking at the intersection of mental illness with rules and boundaries in poly relationships. If you found this post interesting or helpful, please share it using the buttons below.

4 thoughts on “Hard Boundaries and Soft Boundaries

  1. Me and my husband have been discussing the poly lifestyle but he has a stipulation that we can’t be with ex’s but if I’m going g to be poly then there is only one other person I want to be with and he’s a ex … I’m lost what do I do here

    1. Okay, what your husband is talking about here isn’t a boundary, it’s a rule. Personally, I am very much against any set up that allows one person to dictate what another person does with their body. So I would not accept any kind of rule like this.

      What to do?

      People usually try to make rules like this because of insecurity of some kind. So I’d suggest talking with your husband to figure out why he wants this rule. What is it about you dating an ex that worries him? Help him figure out what fear he thinks this rule will protect against. Once he’s figured it out, it is his responsibility to figure out what he needs to deal with this fear without restricting your autonomy–and your responsibility to to support and assist him as best you can.

      If he isn’t willing to do the work to deal with his insecurities, you’ll need to decide what to do in terms of your relationship with him.

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