Posts Tagged: boundaries

Communicating Boundaries (without losing your cool)

As I write this, I’m on a plane next to a mother with a baby. This baby is trying to type on my keyboard with her sippy cup. And it reminds me that boundaries are hard…. Really hard…. To set.
What should I do? Should I say something to the mother? I don’t think she is aware. Should I let it go and just use my delete button? Should I close my lap top and call it quits?

Boundaries are hard. Whether we are on a plane with strangers and their children, or in a long term committed relationship, synchronizing everyone’s needs and desires seems an impossible task.

Why we don’t set them: We usually will have reasons why we don’t set boundaries in the front end of a relationship:

  1. We don’t want to seem selfish, uncaring or high maintenance.
  2. We don’t want to imposition others.
  3. We hope the situation will get better, so we say nothing.
  4. We were taught that our needs weren’t as important as other’s.
  5. We are afraid of potentially negative or awkward interactions.

Can you relate to any of these reasons? You may find yourself right now, regretting or rehearsing one of these boundary-less situations that didn’t turn out well. I’ve been there.  Avoiding boundaries may seem like the “peaceable way of least resistance.” However, being boundary-less can sabotage what could be a great relationship.

Here are some tips that I’ve learned and now practice to help relationships navigate healthy boundaries.

Communicating a Boundary

  1. Communicate the value of the relationship. When a boundary has been crossed, unintentionally or not, the relationship can feel stretched, stressed or burdened. It is like different ingredients in a pot with the burner on. Things are going to bubble with enough heat. It’s important to say things like, “Our time together is important to me,” and “I really value our friendship,” and “your happiness is just as important as mine.” These statements help both parties to keep the main thing the main thing. They help us remember that we love each other and that we want what is best for both.
  2. Review your feelings and needs. Depending on your personality, you may be more practiced than others at sharing your feelings and needs with others. For those of you who have difficulty tolerating disagreement or discomfort of confrontation, you may avoid sharing your feelings. Here are some options of what to say, “When you tell me how to drive, I feel stressed,” and “I need support when I’m offering child raising ideas,” and “When you go grocery shopping, I need specific things too.” Stating your thoughts, needs and feelings is an exercise in self-respect. When you respect yourself and your boundaries, you are teaching others how to respect you as well. Communicating boundaries with people who value you usually goes much better than anticipated.
  3. Communicate a couple of solutions. After you have got your courage up to ask for what you need, (whew, you did it! Good job!) then you can brainstorm some ideas that will be beneficial for both parties. Maybe it can even be an opportunity for increased understanding and closeness. If you come in to the conversation with a couple of solutions, it may communicate to the other person just how committed you are to making the relationship work.


  • Don’t wait until you’re mad to set your boundary. Has this happened to you? Yeah, me too. Luckily, I’ve learned the importance of setting the boundary early on in the relationship so that expectations are set for all parties.
  • What if you already are mad? You may need to apologize for losing it, for snapping, for saying things you shouldn’t have. After you apologize, and seek to make a mends with the person, you may want to ask for a boundary to be set. I can imagine a conversation could sound like this, “I’m sorry for over-reacting and the things I said. I let my anger get the best of me. Would it be ok if we figured out a different solution for _________________. The way it is now really isn’t working for me.”
  • Remember to keep an “Us Together” attitude instead of a “me vs. them” attitude. Togetherness, mutually understanding and partnership is the goal if at all possible.
  • Caveat: if the other person is indifferent, unable, or unwilling to work together toward a solution, then togetherness and closeness is not an option. Most of the time, people are able to work toward some level of agreement and mutual respect. But on occasion, some won’t. It’s ok to stop trying in these cases.

Communicating boundaries is not easy. Doing it often and early actually gives the relationship opportunity to self-correct. It is a means toward togetherness, not away from it. What feels awkward and uncomfortable in the beginning, can produce wonderful results in the long run. Greater safety, shared experiences, and tighter bonds can be the result of boundaries handled well.

Need additional help? If you’re in the Seattle area, there is a great workshop I’d like you to know about. The name of this two day conference is “Is Childhood Trauma Intruding into Your Relationships?” Discover the Fullness of Joy You Are Create to Experience with keynote speakers, Dr. Bill & Pamela Ronzheimer, Marriage Reconstruction Ministries. I’ll be there too! Click Here for more information.

Take Back Your Power

Have you ever been in a relationship with a partner or boss or acquaintance where the conversation gets ugly? Maybe you are shocked by what was said and frozen to silence. Or maybe you were angered and snapped back something equaling mean-spirited. Whatever the scenario, you’ve probably wished later that you were able to respond more wisely.

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Often, when a conversation or disagreement starts to go south, one or both parties begin acting childishly. They use sarcasm, threats, name-calling and blame shifting to prove their point or win. These are emotionally immature ways of communicating, with emotionally charged feelings that result in immature understanding and poor problem solving. No Bueno.

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It doesn’t have to be that way. Although you can’t control what the other person does or says, you can control how you respond. Often reactions to negative stimulus (like mean words, gestures or attitudes) are automatic and unconscious. We barely even recognize what we are doing or saying until it’s over. Today, I’ll give you some tips on how to recognize your part in the unhealthy dynamic and ways to improve.

For a little exercise, choose a recent argument or dilemma in which you reacted problematically. If you can become more aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and actions, even the unconscious ones, you’re much more likely to gain control of them. Here are some questions to ask yourself so you can be less reactive to painful stimulus:

  • Why was I so angry/scared/withdrawn?
  • What exactly was I feeling when it happened?
  • Does that feeling remind me of a familiar feeling from my past?
  • Did I react similarly this time as I used to react to past painful stimulus?
  • Knowing what I know now, what would have been an appropriate response?
  • What kind of response would have solved the problem instead of added to it?

Once you are able to answer these questions with certainty, you will be twice as likely to respond with wisdom the next time you are faced with a painful or scary stimulus. We can not control or be responsible for other people’s choices or behaviors, but we can determine how we will respond to them. This is especially true in long standing close relationships because behavior patterns can be observed and even predicted. We know that another challenge will arise and another disagreement will emerge. Think about how you might want to respond next time with the following tips:

  • Recognize your triggers.
  • Slow down your response enough to think it through.
  • Imagine yourself responding the way you want to.
  • Recognize your personal needs for respect.
  • Determine your boundaries ahead of time.
  • Assert those boundaries with love and respect.

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This list might take us our lifetime to master, but the energy trying is always worth it. Being a student of our own feelings and behavior adds value to out circle of influence. The more we are able to harness the power of our response, the stronger we become, the straighter we hold our heads, and the better we are treated in return. We can not expect others to value us more than we value ourselves. Taking hold of ourselves, while connecting with others in emotionally adult ways is the call for all of us.

Setting Boundaries with an Angry Person: Part II

You know you need to say something. You know that what they’re doing isn’t right or respectful. But speaking up to an angry person can be intimidating. You don’t know how he/she may react. You don’t want to make things worse. But, you also know you can’t keep going on the same way. Last week, we talked about the important steps of preparation that should be made before you set a boundary with an angry person, including getting a third party to help. Click here if you missed it.

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Dealing with an angry person over long periods of time, can end up making you feel down, hopeless and even depressed. That’s why setting boundaries with angry people is absolutely necessary to your emotional health. If you’re tired of feeling bad, or scared, or second best, here are the next five steps on how to Set a Boundary with an Angry Person.

  1. Step One: Ask for What You Want. Many times, woman married to angry man will dance around their boundary. They hint and poke and laugh nervously, but they don’t ask directly for what they want or need. Their fear of getting barked at has made them timid. This passive asking frustrates the situation further and evokes more hostility from their partners. Be direct and state directly what you want and what you are willing to do to get it.
  2. Step Two: Push Repeat. An angry person will use any number of tactics to sway you away from your boundary. You may experience pouting, tantrums, the silence treatment, character attack, love bombs, promises, excuses, sob stories, bible lectures, and threats to leave. He may explode or be cruel or get you off track with one of his problems. This is not ok. Be aware of these tactics and expect them. Then repeat your boundary. There is no need to provide more explanation, just the repetition of your boundary is enough.
  3. Step Three: Walking away in Peace. There is a small chance that he will respect your boundary without much resistance or manipulation. If he is tired of his own anger, and wants a change, then he may be willing to join you in creating a healthier dynamic. However, more times than not, the angry person will not cooperate happily with this boundary. You may need to walk away from the conversation in peace. Remember, you don’t need him to understand or approve of your boundary, you just need him to comply with it.
  4. Step Four: Follow Through. Honestly, the follow through is harder than all the other steps put together. It takes a lot of emotional effort and ego strength to get to this point. Congratulate yourself. However, the process is not over. More than likely, the angry person will test your resolve and push back to see if you’re bluffing. It’s paramount to really stand your ground here. You may experience even more pouting, tantrums, threats, personal attacks, etc., but it is important to hold firm to your boundary. Giving in now will do more harm to you than had you never made the boundary in the first place. If he does not comply to your boundary, then it is time for increased distance and safety.
  5. Step Five: Ask for Help You may need additional resources like a counselor, your pastor, an attorney, or law enforcement.

woman to marry

If you are with a person who recognizes the error of taking his anger out on you, then you will see that the more boundaries you set, the more willing he is to respect them. However, if he/she gets more hostile or manipulative, then you know he/she is not interested in respecting you or your boundaries and you will need serious intervention to be emotionally and physically safe.

How to Set Boundaries with an Angry Person: Part I

Have you tried to talk sense with someone who is hell bent on being right? Have you tried to say “no” to someone only to acquiesce in order to calm him down? If you are in a relationship with an angry person, you know just how difficult it is to set a boundary, ask for something you need, or say “no” to something he wants.

Dealing with an angry person over long periods of time, can end up making you feel down, hopeless and even depressed.

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That’s why setting boundaries with angry people is absolutely necessary to your emotional health. Anger can be used to control you with fear and threats. You may feel intimidated to hold an angry person accountable for fear of reprisal. Angry people use their angry, threatening persona to keep from having to take responsibility for their actions.

Women in relationships with angry men often feel small and insignificant, as though their needs and opinions are less important than their husband’s. Sometimes I hear women say things like, “It’s just better to be quiet,” or “I walk on eggshells,” or “Nothing I say is ever right.” This dynamic slowly erodes a women’s sense of worth and joy, leaving her to live in quiet fear and depression.

Setting boundaries is a crucial step when trying to change a relationship power imbalance. The practice of setting boundaries can actually return a sense of value and empowerment to the woman setting them.

What is a boundary: a boundary is a limit or expectation placed between two people. Neighbors have property lines. Business partners have shares. We operate under spoken and unspoken agreements all the time. Problems arise in relationships when the boundary lines are disrespected, unclear, or manipulated for the gain of power. The best way to understand healthy boundaries is simply having the ability to share an opinion, need or limit with the expectation of it being respected and accommodated for.

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  1. Step One: Without sharing anything with your partner yet, identify your needs, wants and limits. Explore them, legitimize them and journal them. What is it that you need, but are afraid to ask for? Give yourself permission to value your own needs, wants and limits. Be specific. What do you need financially, emotionally, physically, personally, spiritually? Do you need your partner to get help for his addiction, his anger, or his anxiety? Allow yourself the freedom to brainstorm about your own needs and wants.
  2. Step Two: Research ways to meet your own needs and limits. Explore your options and resources. Put some effort, investment and time into honoring and meeting those needs and limits. Do you want your own gym membership? Your own bank account? More privacy? More space? Hired help for the house or kids? Marriage counseling? Weekly massage?  Look into ways that you can get the support and self care you need. The more options you give yourself, the more power and freedom you will feel. Now wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute. I know what you’re thinking. “He’s just going to say “NO” to anything I need or ask for!” You might be exactly right. But right now, you are exploring your needs and limits, and what you believe to be reasonable. Resist the temptation to filter your needs through his approval.
  3. Step Three: Get Support. It is advisable to invite a third party into the conversation. Whether pastor, friend or counselor, a third party can help you verbalize your needs, and help your partner hear with an open mind. You may feel unsafe or afraid to set a boundary without the accountability of someone your husband respects. If so, that is a good signal to invite extra reinforcements. Some women will skip this step because, “Talking about his anger problem with the pastor will only make him angrier. I’ll pay for it once we get home.” This may be very true. This can be a very scary situation that calls for a safety plan, especially if your partner has ever abused you or threatened to abuse you before. (Click here for helpful information to keep yourself safe.)

At this point in the steps, you still haven’t had to confront your partner yet. You are still in the Planning stages of discovery and support. There are four more steps to setting strong boundaries with an angry person, but Google and Bing like bite-sized blog posts, and so do millennials. (I see you, 20 somethings.) That’s why I’ve separated this post into two parts. These three steps are worth spending the extra time on, so I feel ok stopping at this point (sorry, not sorry.) It’s tempting to just skip to the part when you “Tell him the boundary already!” However, without doing the necessary leg work of these three important steps, your boundary could come out befuzzled, and go kerplunck as soon as it comes out. You know what I mean. You “kinda” set the boundary, “sorta” ask for what you need, and beat around the bush until you back-paddle and hide. Or  you do the opposite and make demands, chasing them down with character assassination. No Bueno. Neither work, and neither is healthy adult functioning.


Spend some time on these first three steps until your needs and wants seem boringly normal, not lofty and unattainable. Be so sure and so solid of your own value that no amount of anger could shake you loose from your inherent worth.

Words of Warning: People who have a pattern of anger, hostility and emotional or physically abusive behavior need psychotherapeutic, and sometimes legal intervention. Without it, nothing will change. And even if counseling is engaged, there is no guarantee that he will put the effort in to truly changing. The process of setting boundaries with an angry person is less about whether he changes or not, and more about giving yourself what you need. If the angry person gets more hostile as a result of your insistence for respect, then consider legal advice, a no-contact order and supportive intervention from a third party.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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