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The Difference Between Boundaries And Agreements

Episode #784

How can boundaries and agreements contribute to the strength and stability of relationships?

What are some practical examples of boundaries and agreements that couples can implement to enhance communication and emotional safety?

In this episode, you’ll learn about the distinction between boundaries and agreements and how they contribute to relationship dynamics.

Doug and Andy discuss the importance of setting boundaries around respectful communication and honesty, while also emphasizing the collaborative nature of agreements.

Through their engaging dialogue, listeners gain valuable insights into creating a healthy framework for navigating challenges and fostering deeper connections with their partners.

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Doug Holt  00:01

Hey guys, welcome back to another episode of the TPM show. I am so excited that we’re able to keep Andy Torr here. He’s one of our master coaches. And he is at the TPM Ranch where we are right now. He just led 13 amazing men, men that had just completed The Activation Method, our flagship program, to help men rekindle their relationships, get the love and passion back into their wife’s sighs. And I got to tell you, I ran into these 13 guys at breakfast, and they are firing on all cylinders. It’s absolutely fantastic. Andy, thanks for being here, brother.

Andy Torr 00:30

Oh, man. Doug, it’s such a pleasure to be here. I’m always amazed at what a transformation can happen over three days when guys come here for the Reset and they really step up and do the work.

Doug Holt  00:39

Yeah, it’s clear. I mean, they’re doing all the work. And you and Mark and Ryan, lead them by just being along the path and laying it out for them and allowing them to step to the line as we say.

Andy Torr 00:50

Yeah, absolutely. It’s such a privilege.

Doug Holt  00:52

I love it. We had an interesting topic off camera that we’re just chatting about, and I would love to bring that to the table. We talked about the difference between boundaries, and how to set them and also agreements.

Andy Torr 01:03

Yeah, absolutely. Let me give you a frame for this. So many guys come to us here at TPM with their relationship having been on autopilot for a long time. And I got to put my hand up for this. Andy 1.0, you know, the guy who used to show up a certain kind of way in the relationship. My relationship was on autopilot for many, many years, you know. You show up, you say the vows, and you just kind of expect everything to work out okay, right? And then things fall apart and you wonder what the problem was.

So one of the things that I have the privilege of doing, which I’ve done in my own life, and I also get to lead men through now is just to create a healthy structure in relationships where there’s less guesswork, there’s less expectation, and there’s more clarity. And there’s more understanding of what are the ground rules that we get to have in place where we get to work together as a team, as a couple, as a family, that we can now build a house on? So I guess that’s a great analogy. When you’re building a house, obviously, the first thing that you need is a blueprint, master plan.

And for us here, that’s a vision, right, a vision of what’s the life that I want to have like. And then once you have the vision in place, you got to pour some foundation. Right? And if you don’t have foundation, then the house is not going to stand up when the wind blows. The foundations are usually the ground rules, right? The agreements, the way that each of you know that you’ve agreed to show up in the relationship and agreed to work together as partners, so that when you run into some weather and it blows against the house, then the house is going to withstand the storm.

Doug Holt  02:29

I love that. Would you say that boundaries are more firm and agreements are more malleable?

Andy Torr 02:35

I would say so. I would say boundaries are more protective. So a boundary is something — it’s like building a fence around our heart that protects the heart, and allows other people to know when they’re coming too close to the heart in a way that feels unsafe. And that allows our loved ones to navigate us.

So let me give you a very common example. There’s a boundary that is often set around anger, right. So let’s say we have a spouse who loses her temper, and she yells and screams and she curses and she points her finger, right? Now, anger is a natural human emotion, it’s actually a very important emotion. And so each of us gets to experience anger. But we have a responsibility when we’re in a loving relationship to not take our anger out on each other.

So a boundary is often laid down in the moment, right? I love you, and I see that you’re angry, and I noticed that you are having a really difficult time right now. But you don’t get to take your anger out on me. I am here for the anger, but I am not here to be the punching bag. You don’t get to point your finger at me, you don’t get to scream at me, you don’t get to call me names. And when you do that, I’m going to leave the room. And I’m going to come back in 15 minutes once we’ve calmed down, and then we’re going to talk like adults to each other.

That’s an example of a loving but firm boundary. You set that the first time and then if it happens again, I just want to remind you about our boundary around your anger, I’m leaving the room. Boom. Because there always gets to be a consequence around a boundary. Otherwise, it has no power. Right? So boundaries are laid down in the moment. They’re set and then they’re maintained so we get to be consistent with our boundaries.

Doug Holt  04:17

Can I interrupt you just one second?

Andy Torr  04:18

Of course.

Doug Holt  04:19

Yeah. Because you said something that I see the guys miss all the time. I shouldn’t say all the time, a majority of the time, a boundary has consequences. And a lot of the guys I’ll see they’ll set a boundary, and then somebody will cross that line and then they just move the boundary. Right? And then what is that teaching everybody?

Andy Torr  04:39

Absolutely. And boundaries can be hard for a lot of us. I didn’t set boundaries very well. I don’t think I even knew what a boundary was until it was probably too late, right. So a boundary is a way of us protecting ourselves, and it’s also a way of allowing other people to navigate us. And the fear that a lot of guys have is that if I set this boundary. And if I say no, then I’m going to lose connection, I’m going to lose the love. Right? And in fact, what often happens is the boundary is respected. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s comfortable. It’s never comfortable to bump up against somebody’s boundary.

More often than not, the boundary is like, “Okay, thank you.” Because now I know what’s the way that I can treat you. We are always treating, we’re always training people how to treat us. So if I allow somebody to rage on me, then it shows them that I don’t have respect for myself, and they can just continue to rage on me. But if I say no, you don’t get to talk to me like that, I deserve to be treated better. Oh, okay. Now we know how to navigate you.

Doug Holt  05:44

And something that’s really important, which is no surprise that you and I keep coming back to this, is the boundaries allow people to be safe when they know what to expect. And a lot of women and kids, but women will — kids don’t have the voice to do it. But women will complain, so to speak, that they don’t feel safe because of a man’s erratic behavior. I don’t know how he’s going to show up. Is he going to show up angry, anxious? Is he going to be the happy version? Do I get happy Doug? Do I get angry Doug? Do I get anxious Doug? Do I get stressed Doug? Do I get tired… So they don’t know, and that creates a lot of uncertainty. Right? Because the boundaries haven’t been set of what is acceptable and what is acceptable behavior.

Andy Torr  06:20

Absolutely. And it removes a lot of the guesswork. If I know that there’s a boundary around anger or in another place, then I know how to navigate that person, and I don’t have to guess. And that just gives me a degree of safety in the relationship.

Doug Holt  06:35

Yeah. And boundary boundaries, tell me if I’m wrong here, Andy. Boundaries can be — It’s kind of hard sometimes talking when we both know the answers to questions. I’m just going to call out the obvious here. When you set a boundary, you can set it firmly and lovingly, and I think guys miss that too.

Andy Torr  06:54

And that’s such an important piece because it can be, and I’ll just stay with this example of anger, if that’s okay. It can be very triggering to be on the receiving end of somebody’s anger. And so we want to push back really hard, right. And understanding that, you know, anger is often just a reflection of somebody who’s in pain. So we can push back really hard and we can get defensive and we can get angry in return. Or we can say, listen, I love you. I see you in your anger and I’m not going anywhere. And I can handle your anger, but you don’t get to treat me like that. You don’t get to take out your anger on me. Is there some way that I can help you manage your anger in a healthy way? Right, that’s loving and fierce, because that’s protective as well.

Doug Holt  07:37

Yeah. My wife and I have a boundary around the way that we communicate with each other, right? One boundary, call them rules, call them boundaries, whatever you want to, but we don’t communicate with each other in a disrespectful manner, period. There’s no name calling, period. And we have agreements on if things get pushed, what will happen. So for example, to use the analogy of the difference to drive it home for the guys, my wife and I have a boundary that we will not put each other down in a disagreement. There’ll be no disrespectful talk about one another. So that’s a boundary, you can’t cross that.

The agreement is also that if we do get in an argument, and one of us wants to walk away emotionally or physically from the disagreement, that we will set a time to come back to it. So that could look like this. My wife and I have an argument and I say, “You know what, I need to come back to this.” Now the agreement is if I say that, that’s acceptable, but I have to tell her when and vice versa. Hey, I just need to take a break. Let’s come back to this in two hours. Let’s come back to this Saturday. Let’s come back to this in a week. That is the agreement coming through and the boundary’s just a little bit different. Yeah.

Andy Torr  08:44

Yeah. And I love that you’ve introduced agreements into this conversation, because they’re both very important structural elements in the foundation of the relationship. One’s the concrete, one’s the rebar, but they’re different and they’re used differently. An agreement is collaborative. An agreement is, when we’re not in the heat of the moment, we’re going to add this ingredient to the relationship so that we know how to navigate one another. A boundary is set in the moment, and it’s like, okay, no, that’s too much. No, I’m not going to tolerate that.

So, there may be a boundary around anger, you don’t get to talk to me like that, and there may be an agreement around when we are experiencing anger with each other with something else, how do we make a plan to be kind to one another so that we can manage and express that anger in a safe way? Does that include taking breaks, does that just include creating opportunities for us to go and express that anger in a healthy way? And for the men, I always say if you’re feeling angry, you get to be angry, but you also have a responsibility to manage that anger in a way that is healthy so that you’re not taking it out on your loved ones.

Doug Holt  09:50

Yes. And I think something you said that I really like and I’m going to use it, I’m stealing it, is agreements are collaborative. And sometimes I think that’s just a given, but that’s a really good point to drive home. Where boundaries, I can set a boundary and I don’t need my wife’s or anybody else’s agreement to that boundary. I can just set it because it’s the right thing for me. Whereas an agreement is collaborative. How are we going to do this to move forward?

Andy Torr  10:13

Yeah. And one can follow the other, right? The boundary is, you’re angry, I’m not here for this. I’m going to leave the room and I’m going to come back and we’re going to talk about this. And then when you re-engage with one another, can we make an agreement that the next time we’re feeling angry with one another, this is how we’re going to treat each other with kindness?

Doug Holt  10:29

Yeah, absolutely. Something that my wife and I have, she’s really good at this, she’ll say, “Well, agreements change. Agreements change and business agreements can change in our house.” And I’ll follow up with that. I go, “Yes, but both people need to agree.”

Andy Torr  10:42


Doug Holt  10:43

And that’s a key.

Andy Torr  10:44

Yeah. And agreements can be made and they can be broken. And when they get broken, they get to be remade. So oh, hey, we had an agreement that we were not going to take out our anger on each other. And I noticed that you called me a name. So that agreement has been broken again. Can we just revisit this agreement, and can we just remind each other that we’ve got this agreement to not do name calling, to not throw each other under the bus?

So, it’s these tiny little ground rules that allow us, and I love the one that you and your wife have this agreement around, not name calling, right? There might be a similar agreement around we don’t trash talk each other in public, right? So many couples I see, they’re out in public, they’re out at parties, and they’re sassing each other in public in front of other people. I’m like, “Oh, that’s so destructive.” Right? You can have a ground rule around that, that when we’re in public, we’re only lifting each other up.

Doug Holt  11:30

Yeah. I love that agreement. And that’s a really important one, because it’s easy for people, especially when contentment is building up to want to get people on their side, right? “Hey, look at me, I’m the great husband, and it’s her that’s having these issues.” And they want to build – it’s like they’re building their case, and it looks awful from the outside.

Andy Torr  11:46

Well, you’re just tearing the house down, aren’t you? You’re not building it up.

Doug Holt  11:49

No, not at all, not even close. And I think it’s important to also talk about that, this methodology, or this structure that we’re creating here in this conversation can be used outside of the marriage. This can be used with kids, friends, actually in the workplace. And it’s very, very good.

Andy Torr  12:04                                                                                            

Absolutely. Every relationship needs structure, right? And we’re talking about this in a very direct way. It’s not like we’re going into a relationship saying, “Babe, we need to build some structure in the relationship.” We’re not being that overt about it. But understanding that we all need emotional safety, and a big part of emotional safety is consistency and knowing what to expect. So these little ground rules are very helpful in a marriage and in any kind of a love relationship. But they’re also essential with our children. Right? Our children need structure and consistency as well.

Doug Holt  12:36

Yeah. And one of the ways that I look at this, Andy, is because guys will ask, “Well, what boundaries should I set?” Well, that’s up to you, right? You don’t have to have a ton of boundaries. Maybe you only have one, maybe you have 10. One boundary could be we are in a monogamous relationship. And if that boundary gets broken, there are consequences to this. Now, it may not be divorce or separation even, but there are going to be consequences. And I will enforce, she needs to know that you’re going to enforce those, right?

And the analogy I use for the guys is my daughter, she’s turning four on Monday. If she gets on the kitchen table and jumps off, and I say, “Hey, don’t jump off the table again.” And then she gets up on the table, jumps off, and I say hey, don’t jump on the… and I keep repeating that, she’s not going to care. She’s going to keep getting on the table and jumping off. However, as her father, I’m worried about her getting hurt. That’s why I don’t want her to jump.

So if she jumps off, and I say, “Hey, don’t jump off the table again, I don’t want you to get hurt.” And she gets on and I go grab her and I send her to a timeout, now she knows when dad says there’s a boundary, there’s a rule here so to speak, then she knows there’s a consequence, she’s going to think twice before getting on. But she also knows that she’s safe. Here’s the container of what’s acceptable and what’s not, and allows her to have more fun, allows her to be more free. The same thing happens with our partners.

Andy Torr  13:52

Absolutely. When you’re playing a sport, you know you’re on a field or a pitch or in a court, there’s lines around the outside. That’s the out of bounds line, right. So you know that play stops if the ball goes out of bounds. It’s exactly the same thing in a relationship.

Doug Holt  14:06

Yeah, I love that. Give me a couple of examples for the guys of some healthy boundaries that most relationships could have?

Andy Torr  14:15

Well, I think that there’s an important boundary and agreement to be made around respectful communication. How do we agree to talk to one another? And what do we agree to not do for one another? So for me, I have a strong boundary against name calling. I will never call my partner a name I never have, and I will not tolerate that from my partner. So I have an agreement with my partner that we’re going to build each other up.

And the boundary is you call me a name, then there’s a consequence for that. I leave, conversations over, and then we have a clearing conversation afterwards. And there’s an apology that’s expected. And similarly, a boundary around how you show up for each other or with each other in public. You know, are you building each other up, or are you kind of tearing each other down in public? Are you making jokes about one another? Are you complaining about your wife a lot of the time, or is she complaining about you to other people?

Doug Holt  15:14

Yeah, that’s a great one.

Andy Torr  15:15

There’s a lot of guys who come into the programs that we offer here at TPM, and the wives feel like, “Oh, you’re just here to complain about me.” I’m like, actually, the guys aren’t complaining about their wives. They’re talking about their feelings, and that’s a big difference.

Doug Holt  15:29

Yeah. It’s a huge difference. I’ll throw out another one if I can, that I think — because we talked about it earlier in a previous podcast, is one can be a boundary created around secrets.

Andy Torr  15:38

For sure.

Doug Holt  15:40

And for me, a really important one that is a no-go zone is lying. I’d rather hear the hurtful truth than have you lie to me. So we will always tell the truth to each other.

Andy Torr  15:51

Absolutely. So again, there’s that ground rule, there’s that agreement in place that we have an expectation or an agreement that we’re going to tell the truth to each other, and that we’re not going to keep secrets. And that’s in the interest of creating that emotional safety. And there’s a boundary, right. So I noticed that she’s having lunch with this guy from work. That feels secretive to me and that’s a boundary for me, because it breaks our agreement. And there’s a consequence for the boundary is that we’re going to come in and we’re going to have a deep learning conversation. And that kind of, maybe the agreement needs to be reset.

Doug Holt  16:28

Yeah, you know what’s interesting, we didn’t touch on this, and it’s coming up for me right now is a lot of people, myself included, we make assumptions about, well, these should just be boundaries, you should just know this agreement. Right? But it’s not talked about. So I’ll use that, what you just said, is I’ve talked to a lot of guys, one recently, and his wife had lunch with another man, right. Now, seemingly purely platonic, just having lunch, but he went off the rails with it. And I asked him very simply, like is that an agreement you guys have in your relationship that she won’t have lunch with another guy?

And he paused for a second and thought about like, well, no, we never talked about it. But of course, you know, like, she shouldn’t be having lunch with another guy. Like, well, in some relationship, that’s completely normal, right. So you need to sit down, have the… It’s okay to be upset, it’s okay to be hurt, angry, jealous, all those emotions, let them come out, that’s great. But see where they’re coming from and then sit your wife down instead of crucifying her, which is what he was doing, making her wrong. Sit down and talk to her about what you want and see if you can come to an agreement.

Andy Torr  17:29

And all of that speaks to there’s an element of uncertainty about that part of the relationship. There’s an element of guesswork, and we never want to have guesswork in a relationship because that feels unsafe. So the more clarity that we can have, right. Each of us in a relationship gets to have outside friendships and outside relationships. But maybe there’s an agreement or a boundary around, neither of us gets to have a deep friendship with somebody who is single, a member of the opposite sex who’s single. Or maybe there’s a boundary around one-on-one time with a member of the opposite sex, right, but we can do double dates, and that’s fun.

Doug Holt  18:05

Yeah, I know people that have a boundary, or I know a couple that does this really well. They just communicate it. Like, hey, I’m going out with Sally, or I’m going on with Jim or whatever it may be. And that seems to be good enough for them. And they just don’t want the uncertainty, because what happens a lot of times, I think Andy, is even when it’s platonic, when someone finds out about something, they create their own story around it. And that’s where a lot of the trouble happens.

Andy Torr  18:28

Very easy to do, you know, coming from a place of fear and uncertainty. So, again, the boundaries and the agreements allow us to build that solid foundation for the house, and to really understand exactly what kind of a house it is we’re trying to build. And without those, it’s like, Doug, I want you to go build a house over there and just make it square. And then there’s all kinds of guesswork that can be made. But when you have a very specific and you have a blueprint, and you have all of the details in place, then you know exactly what’s being built, and that just feels like a much more stable and safe house.

Doug Holt  19:00

Yeah. One of the last tip for me anyway, Andy, that I’ll give the guys is revisit agreements regularly.

Andy Torr  19:05


Doug Holt  19:06

And have a time whether you’re doing the — Don’t do them during the quarterly check-ins, because I like the way that you do it of making it fun and light. But every once in a while, just check in with your partner and say, hey, look, we talked about this last year or last month, whenever it may be, that we both agreed not to have lunch with the opposite sex, to use that agreement. Does that still sit well with you? And if not, why not? And then you can have a dialogue about it or just reaffirm that agreement.

Andy Torr  19:31

And I love the language that you use there, Doug, because so many guys will come in hot and they come in accusatory. Like, you had lunch with that guy. And I told you that we weren’t going to do that. You broke an agreement… And it’s very accusatory and very shaming and very unsafe. Yeah. Like, babe, can we have a clarifying kind of conversation because I got some uncertainty about something in our relationship. Are you open to just having maybe an awkward or uncomfortable conversation about something. I just need some reassurance. Is that okay?

Doug Holt  19:56

Yeah. I joke about everything as you know, so I make light and fun and try my best to do it because I know Doug 1.0 would have sat there and I’d have an easel, a flip chart. [crosstalk]

Andy Torr  20:08

A boardroom meeting.

Doug Holt  20:09

I was the boardroom guy. I was so used to being in boardrooms that, you know, let’s talk about finances. Here’s the graph, you know, just make it… What I found Andy is just making it fun. And making it light, especially with tough conversations, makes it so much smoother, and everybody can relax and be their best selves.

Andy Torr  20:24

Yeah, and a little bonus tip on that one, too, because when we’re having a difficult conversation, it can be even more challenging if we make it very formal and stiff, and we sit down, and it’s face to face. And even if it’s not in the boardroom, but it’s like, we need to have a tough conversation, right? But if you create an environment where it’s a little bit more pleasant and a little bit more light, and maybe you’re not face to face, but you’re going for a walk out in nature, and you’re side by side, then it can be a little bit easier to deal with the difficult stuff than it is in that very kind of deliberate and serious environment.

Doug Holt  20:56

Yeah, for me, walks are by far my best. I like to be kinetic, and be there with the person. And a funny aside is one of our friends and fellow coaches told me a story where his wife — he had violated a boundary. And what she did is she drew him a bath, and was like babe, just drew him a bath, got him some food, and he was sitting in the bath, you know, it’s a warm bathtub, and she kneeled down next to him and said, “I’d like to talk about this boundary you violated.” And she set the scene in a perfect way to have a conversation.

Andy Torr  21:28

Exactly. She created an environment of safety for them to be able to have the difficult conversation.

Doug Holt  21:32

Yep. And one he couldn’t escape easily. Andy, I always love our conversations, and I’m looking forward to having a lot more. So, thanks so much for helping me, man.

Andy Torr  21:40

Oh. It’s such a pleasure, Doug. Thanks for having me.

Doug Holt  21:42

Gentlemen, as we always say, in the moment of insight, take massive action. We’ll see you next time on the TPM Show.