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boundaries post

Setting boundaries: The cost of avoiding conflict

Your friends call you “easy going.” You never get into an argument about where to go eat dinner, or who is going to do the chores, or pick up the kids, or host the holiday dinner—you are known as a “people pleaser.” And, while it sounds nice and simple, it has some long-term costs.

By failing to set boundaries with others, you will quickly take on more than you can handle. Those around you may abuse their relationship with you because they know you will never say “no.” You may start to form feelings of resentment against those in your life for putting so much on your shoulders. 

Creating Balance

That being said, standing up for yourself also has its challenges. It tends to lead to arguments—it forces you to stand your ground, and to take a stand for you. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, forces you to have some “guts.” But, contrary to popular belief, it can actually strengthen the relationships in your life. 

So, how do you create a balance? How do you set boundaries you are comfortable with?

1.) Recognize and acknowledge your feelings—Recognizing your feelings instead of pushing them to the side is the first step in making positive changes. By acknowledging that your feelings have merit—that you matter—you can take better care of yourself.

2.)Evaluate how your boundaries have been crossed—Does this person always call to borrow money and never pay you back? Does a friend always expect you to take care of her kids? 

3.)Decide how to set a boundary—Come up with a plan to talk calmly and confidently about your feelings to this person. Determine the best solution to the problem, maybe you will pick up the kids from school two days a week instead of five.

4.)Voice It—You have determined what the problem is and how to approach it, now do it. Set the boundary. If you experience some backlash, understand that it might be better to just walk away for the time being. It won’t do you, or the other person, any good to argue. 

5.)Take care of yourself— Don’t feel guilty for doing something to improve your wellbeing. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. You need to be healthy and happy, so you can be the best version of you—so you can do your best work, be a good spouse, parent, and friend.

You are not obligated to take BS

We all cross people in our lives that put on an act, give us their bullshit and expect that we will just lay down and take it. But, we don’t have to. It doesn’t matter who this person is in your life —a boss, a coworker, a parent, a close friend, a spouse, an acquaintance, a doctor, etc. It doesn’t matter who they are, you are not obligated to take their crap. 

There is no concrete rule book in life, but one thing is for certain—you need to be your biggest advocate. You can’t rely on others. Even the closest people to you will let you down sometimes. We are all human. When someone is treating you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, you don’t need to just sit back and take it. Stand up for yourself and set boundaries. 

Those boundaries can take many different forms. It might mean ignoring calls or texts from this person. It might mean ending all interactions. It might mean being straight with them. You can tell this person that you won’t put up with whatever they are doing. Be honest with them and yourself and be your biggest advocate. No one knows you better than you. No one is inside your head feeling what you are feeling, seeing things the exact way you see them.

Even if you are someone that doesn’t like conflict, you are afraid of letting someone down, or you worry about how you are seen, what about you? The ball is in your court. You can protect yourself and separate yourself from toxic situations. You don’t have to leave all the choices up to others. You can make the best choices for yourself. Trust me, even if it is hard to make the first move you will feel better in the long run. 

How to teach your kids forgiveness?

Forgiveness can be a hard thing for adults, let alone kids. Which is even more reason why it is such an important life skill. Bad things are going to happen to us and our children. People will wrong us along this journey of life and holding grudges just weighs us down. So, how do we teach our kids to forgive? 

First things first—we need to be the example. It is hard sometimes to think about the fact that our kids are always looking to us for the answers. They use the adults in their life to determine how they should respond to things happening around them. As a parent, we are not perfect. Yes, I know that is hard to hear, but it’s true. We are human and humans are not perfect. So, when we inevitably mess up in front of our kids—hone up to it. Our kids need to see us admit to wrongdoing, they need to see us forgive ourselves and those around us. If your kids make a mistake, tell them “you forgive them.” Make it clear that you are putting the past behind you and moving forward with a clean slate. This will teach your kids to do the same. 

Read your children books, tell them stories that involve forgiveness. This is a great way to start building up this concept to young children who often relate more to fictional characters than the real people in their lives. Talk about the stories when you are done reading them, make sure your child understands the point and why forgiveness is important. 

Talk to your children about generosity, worth, kindness, respect, and love. These concepts go hand-in-hand with forgiveness. As your child starts to empathize with others and see the beauty and strengths of other people, forgiveness becomes easier. When we forgive we are loving others who likely didn’t show us the same love when they wronged us. We are showing respect to those who are not respecting us back. We are being the bigger person, at least in the moment. 

It is important to explain to children that forgiveness doesn’t mean an automatic reconciliation. It doesn’t mean that the action simply disappears. But it does mean that we can move forward. Make it clear to your child that if they are repeatedly wronged by the same person, it is ok to separate. They can forgive, by not holding a grudge, but that doesn’t mean they have to be submissive. They don’t have to put themselves in toxic situations. They can stand up for themselves. They should. They can establish boundaries.

Just like sharing, the concept of forgiveness takes time. It takes repeated effort. The best thing you can do as a parent is to forgive your kids, forgive yourself, and talk to your kids about these things. Be there and provide your kids with a safe place to come and share if they don’t know how to proceed. 

How have you taught forgiveness? 

Ask Mabel: Co-parents disagree on electronic use

Concerned Client: My husband and I have a blended family. I have three kids and he has two. My children are with us most of the time, while his share time between our home and their mom’s. Lately, my husband has been trying to manage the amount of screen time my kids get when they get home from school. He doesn’t believe they should have any. Instead, he would rather see them do their homework or play outside. He thinks any tablet time is setting them up for bad habits as adults. His kids usually go to their mom’s house after school and they have as much screen time as they like, and he can’t do anything about it. 

I am frustrated because I have always let my kids have an hour when they get home to relax and unwind with their tablets. They play games, watch shows, whatever their heart desires. I think it is important that they are allowed this freedom. I feel like my husband is micromanaging my kids because he doesn’t have a say in how his kids spend their time after school. I don’t like it. I don’t think he has a right to step in on this issue. I have always been on board with co-parenting to a point but I feel like my husband is lecturing me on something that I don’t think is a big deal because he can’t say these things to his ex-wife. 

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Mabel: It is hard for kids in these situations. Kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what the adult issues are, his kids might feel like second-class citizens because they see your kids getting screen time and they are not allowed. It is important that you and your spouse try to find a middle ground. Put aside your adult issues and find a way to unify the situation so that all the children have the same rules. 

If there is inequality in the household, his kids may not respond to your parenting. They will have the conscious or unconscious impression that you always side with your kids, and your kids are treated better than they are. Screen time might not seem like a big deal, but I am sure to the kids it is a huge issue. 

Setting boundaries with repeat offenders

The first time someone does something that offends me, I let it go. I try to educate the person on why they offended me and ask them kindly to please refrain from doing it again. Then I brush it off. 

The second time someone offends me, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I think “well maybe it was a misunderstanding.” I talk to them and keep open lines of communication. I move on. 

The third time that someone offends me, that’s it. I have been kind and open-minded up to this point. I have educated this person. They know exactly how I feel and realize what they are doing is going to be hurtful to me. Yet they do it anyway. This person is being blatantly disrespectful to my wishes. They obviously don’t care enough about my feelings to change their ways. 

Set Boundaries

It is important for your own wellbeing to set boundaries with repeat offenders. People that are constantly disrespecting your wishes, overstepping your boundaries, offending you in some way or another, are not worth your time. These people are toxic to your mental health. It is ok to let these people go from your life. You don’t have to be around or interact with people who don’t care enough to respect your wishes. 

Boundaries are crucial to your happiness, your personal comfort, and your overall health. Feeling hurt or stressed because people are consistently offending you is damaging your mental wellbeing and therefore also harmful to your physical health. You have the right to stand up for yourself, to fight for your happiness. You need to take care of you and show these repeat offenders that you won’t stand for their behavior toward you. Then let it go. 

What do you do when someone pushes their emotional labor onto you?

I once met someone from a business meeting. We made an appointment to talk and then he asked me if I could remind him the day before the phone meeting, so he wouldn’t forget. The feminist part of me started fuming. He had just treated me like his secretary. 

This is called emotional labor. He didn’t want to stress over remembering our meeting so he was asking me to. That’s not fair. That is implying that my time is less valuable than his. You have every right to feel offended when someone pushes their emotional labor onto you. He could easily have set a reminder in his phone, added it to his calendar. He didn’t need me to add another thing to my to-do list. What do you do when someone treats you this way?

What do you do?

Ignoring the request seems like the easiest way to take on this tough situation. You, obviously, want to keep a professional relationship but that doesn’t mean you have to take this shit. If they care enough they will make the meeting. If they don’t make it then its their fault, not yours. And, frankly at that point it is not worth your time. If they don’t have the capacity to remember the meeting on their own then it didn’t matter as much as it should have. 

A nice response would be to say: “Funny, I was about to ask you the same. I suppose we will just have to remind ourselves then.” It is you standing up for yourself, setting boundaries, and showing this person that your time is just as valuable as theirs. You don’t have to be forced into taking on other peoples emotional labor just because you are afraid of offending. You have the right to take care of you. 

boundary title

Boundaries and Relationships Intersect

Boundaries in any relationship — whether between family or a romantic partnership— are extremely important to maintaining a healthy, happy relationship. That being said, there are logical and illogical ways to set a boundary. 

boundary graph

Let’s talk about Joan (a fictional client). Joan is very close with her father who lives in another state. They have always talked frequently, sharing news of their days. Joan recently got married and is beginning her life with her significant other, but Joan’s dad’s (we will call him Joe) calls are getting more frequent and are beginning to cause issues in Joan’s marriage. Joe is calling Joan every morning before she goes to work, waking up others in the home, and every evening. He is hurt when she doesn’t answer and begins to worry if she is ok—sending her multiple texts and calling repeatedly. Joe just loves his daughter and misses her, but Joan is feeling smothered and overwhelmed. She is trying to build a new life with her husband and her dad is making it difficult for her to do that. How should she approach this sticky situation?

Joan could call her dad upset and ask him to stop calling her and stop texting her nonstop. She could ignore her feelings and struggles and keep letting the calls come in, while building resentment against her father. These are opposite sides of the spectrum. One is establishing a boundary but in a major, and hurtful, way. The other is failing to set a boundary at all further harming the relationship. 

A more logical way to establish a boundary would be to come up with a happy middle ground. She can explain to her dad that the frequent calls are playing a toll on her marriage and instead offer to call her dad on her way home from work a few times a week. She can explain to him that while she still loves him dearly, and he will always be her dad, she also needs to work on her marriage. By setting a boundary like this she is maintaining the integrity of the relationship. Her dad might be disappointed at this news, but he will likely be able to get over it and understand.

Boundaries are all about protecting yourself, your relationships, and living your happiest, healthiest life. If you need help with establishing a boundary, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who can help to guide you. 

Grudges vs boundaries: the powerful difference

Grudges and boundaries can often be perceived as similar — but they are so very different from each other. 

Grudges are a form of punishment. It is constantly holding something over another person’s head, not letting them recover for a past failure, it is not accepting that people can grow and learn from mistakes. Grudges are toxic to relationships. We are all human beings, meaning we are all going to do things that others are not ok with at some point or another. When a grudge is established it leaves the other person stuck, unable to recover from that action or actions that injured the relationship in the past. It is a lack of forgiveness and acceptance. 

Boundaries are an act of protection for your personal self and the relationship you are in. They are away to help keep the relationship on a positive track so neither partner gets burnt out or overwhelmed by past issues. It involves growth, acceptance, open communication, understanding, and in some cases compromise.

Boundaries are about love

Grudges often lead to burn out because they are established by internalizing strong feelings and not determining solutions to move forward. It is like stepping on a piece of gum and not being able to move forward without that bump on the bottom of your shoe. A boundary is wiping that gum off, accepting the evidence that it was once there, but moving forward without that bump. 

Maybe your partner forgot about an important dinner which left you feeling upset and hurt, a grudge would mean you are always bringing it up every time a dinner is planned and you are overwhelmed with worry that he/she/they will forget. A boundary would be telling your significant other how upset you were, finding out what happened to them and why they missed the dinner and then figuring out how to make sure it won’t happen again. Maybe they need a morning reminder, or an alarm on their phone, whatever it is work together to solve the issue rather than tucking it all away.  Grow and learn together and you will be making your relationship stronger.

You Can Love Someone and Still Have Boundaries

Just because you are in love does not mean you have to let everything go. Love can—and should—involve boundaries. You and your significant other are still two separate people with different needs, wants, expectations. Boundaries are healthy.

Boundaries often have a bad rap. They can be perceived as pushing away the other or creating distance. That is not the case at all, the healthiest of relationships have boundaries. A relationship isn’t a free ride in another person’s life. It does not entitle one person to treat another a certain way. Establishing boundaries can very much be an act of love. It is a way to get deeper in the intimate details of your significant other’s personality and needs. It is opening the doors of communication and being honest with each other. 

Boundaries are a way to love yourself

Boundaries are a way to love yourself, to make strides in your life to take care of you and what you need, and they are also a way of loving another. There is the saying “I love you too much to let you act like that.” Think about your children and when you have had to punish them for hitting a sibling, or stealing from a friend— you are establishing a boundary by telling them you are not ok with that. Similar things can happen in a relationship—maybe you have a partner who frequently takes part in unhealthy behaviors or is short-tempered. By communicating with your partner that these behaviors are things you are not comfortable with and you will not stand by and be part of them then you are doing some good for yourself and for your partner. You want to see them live their best life. 

We all have limits

We need each other but we all also have limits. A boundary can be as simple as establishing a time to be by yourself. Maybe after work you are stressed and just need to unwind in quiet, so you lock yourself away to watch a few minutes of TV or read a book and you ask your partner to leave you be during that time. Maybe you have a longstanding tradition with a family member that is special and your significant other suddenly wants to be part of it, and you explain that this is something that is important to you and this family member—a tradition of sorts. Maybe its a food that you don’t like and you ask your partner not to prepare that item for you personally any more. Or maybe it is down to how your clothes are folded or a chore around the house is performed. If you are not ok with it, it is ok to tell the other person to leave it be and you will take care of it. 

When setting boundaries with your partner be calm, open your heart and mind to what they have to say, and establish greater respect for both yourself and him/her/they. When we keep our mouths shut and just “go with it,” or try to be “above” by not saying anything we are quietly building up resentment that will eventually explode into an argument or even the end of the relationship. Before things get to that point, speak your concerns, let your partner know what you need and acknowledge that they also have needs. 

What are some boundaries you have set with a partner?

Why we shouldn’t unconditionally love

Unconditional love makes sense for things that people have no control over like their skin color, abilities, disabilities, or if they are laid-off from a job. But, when people have a choice and they choose to be unkind we have the right to create boundaries.  We don’t have to, in fact, we should not, always unconditionally love another. 

We don’t have to put up with other people taking advantage of us, being mean or rude to us, or hurting us in any way. Saying that we should “always love unconditionally” is saying that we should not consider our own personal wellbeing, our feelings, and emotions about a situation. Instead, it is helpful to look at people and their actions as a choice vs. no choice. 

Loving others for the things they have no choice over is healthy while loving others for the unkind things they choose to do to us is not healthy. We need to stand up for ourselves, protect ourselves from wrongdoing by establishing boundaries with those that are toxic to our wellbeing. Loving unconditionally sets a tone that says people can walk all over us with no consequences.

Unconditional love is great for our children who are young and don’t have the capacity to always understand their actions and how they could be hurtful. But, for an adult partner, family member, or friend who makes the choice to hurt physically or emotionally, we have the right to set boundaries. 

What do you think about love? Should it be unconditional?