When I was seeing patients, it was not uncommon for a female patient to ask me what they could do about their lack of sex drive. When I first graduated from medical school, I would start talking about the female sex cycle and all the different changes that can go on in the female body and how those changes can be addressed.

Over time, though, I learned to ask this question first: “Is your partner good to you?”

I was amazed how many times the answer to that question was “No.” (Sometimes it was “Hell, no!”)

When the answer was “no,” I asked this question next: “Why would you want to have sex with someone who’s not good to you?”

For most of the women I asked, this question had never occurred to them before. But really, why would you choose to spend time with people who aren’t good to you? Whether they were intimate partners or casual acquaintances.

How someone behaves is up to them; how I respond is up to me.

I want to be with people who want to be with me and who treat me well–as well as I treat them.

The first time a patient starting yelling and swearing at me (because I wouldn’t give him the prescription he wanted) these words popped out of my mouth as I sat trembling on my stool in the exam room: “The people I love don’t speak to me that way, I’m not going to listen to you speak to me that way!”  I went on to tell him he needed to be civil or I was leaving the room.

I didn’t tell him not to swear or yell. I had no control over whether or not he continued to behave this way. I could only control my own behavior and I let him know what I was going to do if he continued to yell and swear.

I set a boundary.

If someone in your life is disrespectful or rude to you, I don’t recommend complaining and telling them how they need to change.

I recommend telling them what you will do if the behavior continues. And then stick to it.

Setting a boundary benefits the other person, too. Clear communication is a gift in any relationship. You may find that your partner (or anyone you set a boundary with) steps up, once he or she knows what the boundary is.

“If you start yelling again, I’m going to leave the room.”

“If you smoke in my car again, I will no longer allow you to borrow it.”

“If you bring a gun into the house, I’m leaving.”

Boundaries allow you to feel good in any situation, no matter how anyone else is behaving (or what they are saying).

People say good fences make good neighbors. I say good boundaries make great relationships.

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10 Responses to Boundaries

  1. Laura Bobroff says:

    This is such an important topic and certainly one that often remains un-discussed. At NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) we often discuss the concept of setting boundaries with caregivers. People often feel setting boundaries means dicatating how a person must behave but as you said, it’s more about being clear about your own expectations and being honest about what you can/cannot tolerate or what you can/cannot support. Whether it’s an ill or unstable loved one , a challenging co-worker or a romantic relationship, setting boundaries helps keep the dynamic moving forward in a positive direction, even if that means only for yourself. Great post!

    • dmackinnon says:

      Hi Laura,
      Thanks so much for reading and for your comments. I agree with everything you said. We can never control another person’s behavior (even if we think we can) but we can always control our own behavior and act in a way that keeps us moving in a positive direction, as you said.

      Having good boundaries allows us to stay in relationship with people who we may not otherwise be able to interact with.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.


      • Susanne says:

        This is the exact conversation I would have with my ex-boyfriend when he would complain about the lack of sex. I explained to him the emotional side of the physical act. Why would I want to be physical when he didn’t give me any of his attention and was hateful to me? I have a philosophy that men use sex to communicate that everything is o.k. and women want everything to be o.k. before having sex.

        • dmackinnon says:

          Hi Susanne,
          Thanks for reading and thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree, often men and women see sex very differently. It makes for some interesting conversations. Good for you for being able to articulate your boundaries so clearly!


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  3. maryann says:

    help…what do you do if you have no sex drive and your partner is good to you? i am serious.. i have struggled with this for 20 years and my husband is ready to leave me because i have no sex drive.

    • dmackinnon says:

      Hi maryann,
      Thanks for your comments. Lack of sex drive is a serious issue and can have many causes. I would recommend telling your physician or care provider about the problem and asking for their advice. Make sure you see someone you are comfortable talking about this topic with, and if you don’t feel that your concerns are taken seriously, find a new doctor! Also, let your partner know that you are going to address it, as just knowing that you agree that it’s a problem and you are taking steps to make it better may help your partner feel heard.

      Best of luck!


  4. Diane, in a word- WOW. Such simple, yet such profound advice. What more is there to say.

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