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My girlfriend and I have been together for 6 months.

Early one morning, after a conversation we'd had the previous night, she calls me to ask me if I own a very private object. Not wanting to lie, I answered affirmatively. It is securely tucked away and there's no way anyone could accidentally find it, let alone see it. I myself have not looked at it since before the relationship began, but knowing I have it gives me a sense of comfort.

(Yes, I'm being deliberately vague about "the object" so as to deal with the specific technical question rather than any opinions over the object itself. But, if it helps, think of it like it's a nude painting of a dead relative by a famous painter or something like that. It could be a knife block given to me by an ex, as another example. You can have opinions about it, but this specific question is a technical question about boundaries and not about the object itself. )

She explains that:

  • she feels "betrayed" by me having this object,
  • that it is a violation of her personal boundaries, and
  • she demands that I destroy it immediately.

She asks why I have it and, again not wanting to lie, I explain that it gives me comfort. She uses that explanation to suggest I'm emotionally attached to the object and attempts to place herself and the object on the same exclusionary scale. "The object is more important to me than her, and I can be with her, or I can have the object, not both." I know myself that I would never place her and the object on a scale, but she has continued to insist that it's part of her personal boundary that I not have it.

Conversely, I liken her asking me about it as being an invasion on my personal privacy. I feel invaded that she asked about it, and upset that she is prioritising her feelings and ignoring mine. After some weeks of this argument, and the relationship degrading significantly, she eventually acknowledges that asking about it was an invasion of my privacy, but she still demands that me owning it violates her personal boundaries nonetheless. She says I'm not taking responsibility for her feelings.

Reading about emotional boundaries I come across two categories about personal boundary violations:

  1. taking responsibility for another’s feelings,
  2. sacrificing your own needs to please another.

I have never heard of any personal boundary extending into another person's space, particularly such a private space (we are not living together). I understood boundaries to be mutually exclusive and, in most cases active in some way. In other words, I'd have to do something (even if it's verbal) to cross a personal boundary or, at the very least, have it exposed like putting it on the mantelpiece or showing it to her in some way. It feels like an overreach. Suggesting that they can be passive and inactive, that by merely owning something unrelated to them I could be violating someone's personal space makes me very uncomfortable. It also would seem to create huge, conflict-filled overlaps in emotional responsibility.

She says that the action is me gaining the object before we got together. So, therefore, I was already violating her personal boundary when we got together without her knowledge. I have attempted to resolve this by suggesting I move the object out of my house but that is not acceptable to her in the longer term.

It may be just that me not owning this object is a "dealbreaker" but I don't think that's quite what she means. There's something broader about boundaries that she's trying to elude which, from the arguments we've had, I'm not understanding fully.

Main Question: Are my own belongings really a part of someone else's boundaries in a relationship?

Extra Question: In an effort to understand her, if it's not within her own personal boundary, what other component of the relationship could I be violating by owning an object that upsets her that I could suggest to use in place of the word "boundary"?

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    I don't quite understand the properties of the object. The "famous painter" example: maybe that it is extremly valuable (to collectors)? But what does nudity have to do with it? For the knife example: that it is from aomeone you had feelings for? But how do these two fit together? – guest Oct 8 '20 at 5:35
  • That's the point. It's not the qualities of the object I'm focusing on. It's the idea that her personal boundaries would extend into my space that seems unfathomable. The nude painting example could trigger something in someone who's conservative, the knife block could be an emotional attachment to a previous relationship. I'm not so much concerned about this particular argument as much as how far it could be used in the relationship as a way of her exercising her feelings & beliefs over me in the context of responsibilty. – FreeSpirit Oct 8 '20 at 5:36
  • ...unfathomable as a boundary, at least. I fully care about how she feels about it, and that's why I offered to move it to another place, but this seems more like a type of infidelity than crossing boundaries, particularly in the context of "betrayal". – FreeSpirit Oct 8 '20 at 5:49
  • I have the feeling there is something about the object I can't understand. You never even looked at the object and it is far away, yet you think that moving it would change something? And is the sole object itself or that fact that it says something about your values (eg it is a stolen object and she believes you should give it back/give it to the poor)? – guest Oct 8 '20 at 6:00
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    Are you owning something something illegal? I could easily have this reaction myself if my boyfriend admitted secured something of this kind, with the fact he would endanger me. But we can't really explain what could be violated if you don't at least provide on what grounds or what type of argument she explains as to feel ill at ease. – Arthur Hv Oct 8 '20 at 7:19
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I think you may be focusing too closely on a specific definition of "boundary", leading you to think of the object in question as having to be only within your "boundaries" or only within hers. While this is applicable in the case of literal physical boundaries (no piece of land can be both Canadian soil and US soil at the same time), personal boundaries aren't mutually exclusive in the same way.

In more concrete terms, personal boundaries include what you will accept from another person.

One fairly common example would be "I could never be with someone who owns a firearm." If we take that example and presume for the moment that your private object is a handgun, then you can probably see why, if your partner isn't comfortable with guns, or if she has had bad experiences involving them, it would be entirely legitimate for her to say that she can't stay with you if you insist on owning one, as that would violate her boundaries, even though the gun is your property, not hers.

However, another fairly common example is "I could never be with someone who still has mementos of previous relationships" - photos of an ex, a knife block given by a past girlfriend, whatever. Boundaries of this sort are often rooted in insecurity with the current relationship ("If you have me, what do you need reminders of her for?") and can sometimes be more flexible for that reason. As the person grows to feel more secure in the current relationship and develop trust that the memento doesn't indicate an ongoing desire to return to the previous partner, they may relax this kind of boundary, or even drop it entirely - but there's no guarantee that they will do so.

With the information you've provided, there's no way to guess at whether the object in question violates a "hard" boundary or a "soft" one, but, either way, the key point about her boundaries is that they are hers and they are about her, not about you. If you want to make progress on this issue, you'll need to discuss the boundary without being defensive about your object and attempt to figure out why this is important to her. Once you know that, you may be able to find a way to provide whatever it is she needs while also keeping the object, but there is also the possibility that you may come to see that her needs and you owning the object truly are mutually exclusive.

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I agree with you that "boundary" is normally used in the context of other people's interactions with oneself. You do not own the object at her.

"My partner owning X is a dealbreaker for me" (because it grosses me out, because it makes me think he is a bad person ..) would be a more correct way of putting it.

But focusing on semantics here is a red herring.

You should sit down and really talk about why the object is so abhorrent to her, and why it is quite normal to you.

If you are both unable to understand the other person's point of view despite sincerely trying, your values are apparently misaligned, which does not bode well for the long-term stability of your relationship.

Just consider the following - visiting with your family, where the house is full of the stuff, will be torture for her, right? When you have kids, will she allow them to be around your folks who own lots of X's?

View this as an opportunity (for the both of you, of course) to figure out now, at a very early point in your relationship, whether you are compatible / whether you are able to resolve disagreements. More important issues than object X will come up the longer a relationship progresses and the "cost" of dissolving it will only be higher.

Best of luck, however, it turns out!

PS I will take part in the guessing game and put my money on a stuffed animal (the taxidermist kind) or perhaps a human skull ;-)

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