Building Healthy Boundaries
What to Do When Others Fail Us
So, what happens when we fulfill our responsibilities to others, but they don’t fulfill theirs? If we are the recipients of a violation, we can set boundaries to protect ourselves from the violation recurring. But we can’t change the other person’s heart. Rather than attempting to balance an imbalanced relationship, we must be willing to simply let those gaps occur and ask God to fill in the missing pieces. If the relationship is extremely unhealthy or harmful, we may also need to withdraw from the relationship, temporarily or possibly even permanently.
Not only will we find that God can and will meet our needs when we do this, but when we don’t manipulate the situation and simply focus on “keeping our own side of the street clean,” God will also deal with the other person. In fact, it is often our own efforts to fix the situation that accelerates or worsens the problem. In our efforts to “fix,” we can literally get in the way of what God wants to do in the other person’s life.
Learning how to set boundaries in this way – allowing ourselves, others, and God to be responsible for their part in the relationship – requires the discipline of letting go and trusting God. Allowing God to change our heart in this area will lead to profound new levels of freedom, and ultimately, healthier, more well-balanced relationships. It will allow us greater sanity, as we are able to focus on the things we can change and learn to let go of the things we cannot change. When we learn to depend on God as our ultimate source, we no longer allow people to emotionally manipulate us, nor do we attempt to manipulate them. We come to understand that we are no longer dependent on what the other person has to offer, understanding that we have all our needs met through Jesus Christ. Just because others may be irresponsible, unhappy, unhealthy, or unloving doesn’t mean we need to be or have to be!
Identify Where Boundaries Should Be Built
How can we begin to set boundaries in a difficult relationship? Here is a process that you might consider using in defining and carrying out healthy, clearly defined boundaries in relationships.
- Identify where you might compromise or allow wrongful behaviors in your life because you don’t want to upset or lose the other person.
- Write a list of those behaviors along with the name of the person or persons each behavior involves.
- “I cannot allow __________ (behavior) to continue in my life.”
- “If __________ (person) continues to engage in that behavior in my life, I have the right to impose a consequence upon them in order to protect myself from the harmful effects their behavior may cause me.”
- Apply the consequence clearly and consistently.
- “If this person continually breaks or disregards my boundary without sorrow or change, I am willing to follow through with the following consequence: __________.”
In setting boundaries, we need to pray and seek God’s wisdom. If we allow our emotions to lead us, we will not make wise decisions and can be hurt by relationships even more. If we are simply reacting in anger to punish someone, we are not actually creating a boundary, but overstepping one.
Evaluate the Motives of Our Heart
- Is my desire for the person to change their behavior valid? Or could it be selfish or prideful?
- Is their current behavior in clear violation of a healthy, safe relationship? Or could it actually be healthy and safe, and that makes me feel uncomfortable or undeserving?
- Are my personal preferences or emotional needs driving my actions? Or could it be some other motivation that I may be avoiding?
- Although I can refuse to allow the person’s behavior in my life, do I understand it’s not my responsibility to control their behavior?
- Why should I not allow this behavior in my life? What might be the result if I were to continue to allow it?
- What might happen if I set a boundary that opposes this behavior? Or if I don’t? Am I willing to accept that outcome?
Remember, a boundary isn’t used to exercise control over another person’s behavior. It is used to protect our own lives, values, and wellbeing, from another person’s choices.
Boundaries and Intimacy
While it seems as though living a life based on varying degrees of boundaries could cause separation, nothing is further from the truth. In reality, when two people learn healthy boundaries, they establish a safe environment characterized by mutual respect and honor. Their connection is based upon mutual choosing, not based upon neediness. It is in this environment that the relationship can thrive and grow, creating the atmosphere for true intimacy.
What is intimacy? Intimacy is the ability to fully see another person without the fear of rejection. It is a form of closeness based on vulnerability and honesty. It allows people to see us as we truly are, where we can reveal the deeper things that make us uniquely us. I often tell my clients that true intimacy is “being fully known and fully vulnerable, yet still being fully accepted and fully loved.”
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