“Boundaries? I have no clue what those are and why I need them,” said the older woman as she shared her thoughts. “Well, for starters,” I added, “You have adult children who have been taking advantage of you. You do realize that, don’t you?” “Well, yes I know, but I can’t let them live on the streets can I”, she asked. “No, you don’t, but you can prepare them for taking care of themselves down the road and that’s what you should be doing.” She looked at me for several seconds then agreed.
Boundaries are important for establishing personal ground rules to avoid fights and arguments with the people you care about. Actually, boundaries help you keep your rules enforced. Wise parents place boundaries on their young children to protect them from harm. Remember these? “Don’t cross the street without looking! Keep your fingers away from the burners on the stove! Make sure you tell mom or dad where you are going!” We learned at an early age that if these boundaries were crossed then we faced the consequences. As children get older and approach their teens the rules change and so do the boundaries. A few examples: “Son, I want you to keep your room clean which means you don’t throw everything in your closet!” Be home by 8:00 PM! It’s a school night.” “I don’t want you hanging around that neighbor kid – he’s a trouble maker.” Throughout their growing up years it’s important to keep boundaries in place and make them age-appropriate.
Over the years I have learned that as we get older we tend to lose our focus and forget our own boundaries. I see it all the time in my practice. Many adults cannot set boundaries for themselves. It happens in work relationships, marriages, with close friends, etc. Following are a few examples I help people with:
1. An adult child keeps asking their senior parents for money to pay for cell phone bills, rent, car payments, and food. Why should you pay for their living expenses? How do you feel about paying for their personal expenses? Probably not very good. You don’t want to hurt their feelings so you keep writing checks or giving them cash. They are breaking the bank and you are probably paying their bills from your retirement funds. If this is a problem for you, it’s time to set up some boundaries for them and yourself.
2. You are in a marriage that you feel taken advantage of. Your spouse leaves all the housework to you. You work full time and are taking care of the kids plus making all the meals. Does this seem fair to you? Of course not but you are afraid to confront your spouse. You ask for help with some of the household chores and your spouse says he will help but never does.
3. You want help in determining how the money is being spent on expenses for the home. You ask your spouse to sit down with you and go over the bills but they rather use the credit card and not hear about the bills. What do you do and how do you set boundaries to bring peace to yourself and the home?
Boundaries in marriage are key to preventing all kinds of problems. They are simple to set up if both of you are willing to be honest and put them into place.
Make sure you share with your spouse the needs you have and why! What areas are off limits to your spouse? If you need 8 hours of sleep and your husband or wife turns on the TV to watch the late night news and you are trying to sleep tell them that is a boundary that cannot be crossed. Another boundary is the way you spend your money. Do you have an agreement with your husband or wife that you will check in with them if any item is over a certain amount? That may one of your boundaries that you both agree on. I had a client who liked to BBQ. The grill they owned was beat up and old. He was at Home Depot picking up some lumber and walked past the grills. He stopped, took a look at one, and without calling her spent $600 and brought it home. The fight over that purchased almost ended their marriage!
Let’s say you have a co-worker who dumps extra work on you but you see them spending a lot of time at the water cooler talking to co-workers about last nights baseball game. They ask you for the “favor of a lifetime” and plead for your help. Or the boss has a favorite employee that never get’s their work done and she asks you to help him catch up. What do you do? You may have a boss who is verbally abusive towards you. They may insult your intelligence with name calling and insults. You drive home a mess – shaking at the steering wheel, crying and swearing to yourself that you will never allow your boss to abuse you like that ever again, yet it happens again and again!
When you feel that you’re being taken advantage of, that’s when you set boundaries for yourself. Boundaries are key to keeping things under control in your life. It’s how you let people know that you will not allow them to step on your toes. Boundaries keep us from having lingering anger towards someone who is violating our “line in the sand”. It’s OK to have boundaries with the people we come into contact with. So, how do we set up boundaries and make them stick?
Write them down and who they will affect.
Let them know why they need boundaries.
What are the consequences if they violate your boundaries?
Sit down with the person or persons and explain why you need to have boundaries with them.
Let them ask questions so they understand why you need them.
If you’re setting boundaries with your spouse, be sensitive with them. Slamming them with your demands never works. Explain why they are important with you. Get their feedback.
These suggestions are for starters. Sit down and talk. They will help you open up and get you headed in the right direction