Breakup adviceTo greatly increase your odds of avoiding a breakup, there is one commonly overlooked tactic to implement before getting bounced from your union: BOUNDARIES.

And, if you’ve just experienced a breakup, it’s never too late to leverage the mystic power of boundaries. Keep reading. When someone contacts State of Anxiety seeking breakup advice they’re often in the early stage of breakup pain, while experiencing an emotional cocktail of shock, disbelief, sorrow, and a roofie of anxiety. This period is further laced with an overriding sensation of destabilization. Surprisingly, you don’t have to date someone for long to become enmeshed with them. Herein lies the danger. You don’t know how it happened. You used to be so autonomous and “master of your domain.” Now you’re clutching your chest because it feels like you can’t breathe without him/her. Seems odd, right? I mean, you had an entire life before that pivotal day you met at the bar/gym/traffic light/on Tinder. So, why does it suddenly feel like you can’t make a sandwich without them?!

The allure of impenetrable personal boundaries is in their indisputable prowess to guard us from interpersonal and dating ills. They’re like invisible force-fields that repel bullshit, douchebags, emotional abusers, bullets, gamma rays and asteroids. They keep you from dating the undateable, and no one should risk dating without them. You wear a jacket when it’s cold, a helmet when you ride, a fanny-pack at the mall, and one of those laughable wrist guards when you go bowling. Yet, so few of us adorn ourselves in relational boundaries to protect the very thing that keeps us alive: Our heart! This is worse than walking down a busy street and fornicating with people at random without a condom … in some sort of bizarre street orgy. (Note: I’m from San Francisco and, sadly, such festivals exist.) Nevertheless, the very thought should make you cringe. And, so should the notion of blindly investing your heart into any relationship sans boundaries. Doing so is an open invitation to maladjusted opportunists to have their way with your life and emotional well-being. You might put your genitals somewhere dirty – but, don’t put your heart there.

Boundaries can literally prevent you from weeks, months, or years of anguish because you allowed the wrong guy or girl into your life. Have you ever got the wrong girl pregnant?? That’s 18 years. Boundaries also prevent enmeshment. At the most basic level, enmeshment is a concept where your life becomes blurred with that of another. In this scenario, we don’t know where we end and s/he begins. Whereas a healthy relationship consists of two whole entities who love and support one another, while remaining complete on their own. Enmeshment is “1 + 1 = 1.” So it goes with relationships – even marriages. He or she does not actually complete you. You damn well better remain complete on your own. Why? Two reasons: (1) You never want to complete anyone, or vice versa. A fence post that leans on another makes a shitty fence. And, (2) If, for whatever reason, the relationship/marriage ends, you will need to be a whole entity again. So, why not remain one in the first place?

But, Jon, this ‘boundaries’ crap isn’t going to help me now! I just got dumped!!” Au contraire mon frere! Establishing boundaries – even after a breakup – strengthens resolve AND helps to rebuild self-esteem following a bad breakup. Creating them will directly contribute to the healing process, while (BONUS!!) preventing you from relapsing back toward the “dark-side” (where “dark-side” = your ex). It gets even better. Establishing boundaries will actually protect you with regard to ALL of your interpersonal relationships – whether it be matters of the heart, familial relationships, or at work to keep tyrannical colleagues and managers from taking advantage of you, or stealing your pens.

If I sound pragmatic or unemotional about this, I’m not. Contrarily, I am a huge proponent of healthy people and relationships that go the distance. Enmeshment counters such. I like to think of personal boundaries as a kick-ass perimeter around the home – where “home” is a metaphor for your heart. And, not the cute white picket fence you might be envisioning. But a formidable, tall, black iron-wrought variety with sharp points on top that only a ninja eunuch would consider scaling. Add an armed sentry at the locked gate for good measure. This is precisely how your personal boundaries should work. Where the only dates allowed entry are those who meet your PREDEFINED requirements that espouse who you are and reflect what you want in your life. Your individual requirements will vary, but may include things like non-smoking, lack of/tons of facial hair, no/lots of tattoos, wants/does not want children, vegetarian/or, prefers food that craps on a vegetarian’s food, etc. These are also the characteristics typically identified as “red-flags” later when people contact us at State of Anxiety following a bad breakup. It is quite common to have sufferers write, “There were all these ‘red-flags’ early on, but I ignored them.” What if you didn’t ignore them? Even better, what if you screened for them at the boundary?

Always heed your intuition. Even better, implement personal boundaries while you are single, or after a breakup. Because the best breakup advice is the advice you won’t need later.