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Is your family driving you crazy? Do you struggle with establishing healthy limits in your relationships? Consider the blessing of healthy boundaries for your relationships. A boundary is a limit you set regarding what behavior you will tolerate from other people. Boundaries help define your identity and your integrity. When someone crosses your boundary, something inside of you will react. The reaction may be subtle or unmistakable. Either way, you will know something isn’t right. This may be especially true for your physical boundaries, such as when someone infringes on your personal space or touches you inappropriately. But there are many other kinds of boundary crossings.

Examples of boundary crossing

  • A married man/woman sharing intimate details regarding their spouse.
  • A parent doing the same with a child.
  • Grandparents who insist on breaking rules that the parents set for their children.
  • Anyone who won’t respect your “no” and proceeds to pressure, manipulate, or “guilt trip” you into giving in.
  • Relatives who ask personal questions about how much you earn, spend on purchases, or have in savings.
  • Parents or adult children who drop in, when they’ve been asked to call first.
  • Someone who rearranges your furniture while they are babysitting.
  • Aunt Susie who insists on asking her single nephew if he is ever going to get married or asks a young married couple when they will have children.
  • Uncle Jim, who invariably gives you a sustained hug even though it makes you uncomfortable to the point of wanting to avoid him.
  • Grandparents who are very vocal about how their grandchildren should be reared.

And the list goes on!

Setting and maintaining boundaries 

Setting boundaries—and maintaining them—is often difficult for people, and it can be especially difficult with parents and other close family members. If you didn’t learn the art of setting boundaries growing up, it is highly likely that your relatives didn't either. Your relatives may be pushy, manipulative, and controlling people, but they may also be nice people who interfere because they love you, are concerned about you, and have never learned appropriate boundaries themselves. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should allow inappropriate boundary crossing to continue.

Jesus said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:4, NIV). In 1 John 4:20 we read, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen." Scripture is very clear that God is primarily concerned about what is in our hearts because that is what prompts our words and our actions. Smiling and speaking kindly to someone, while inwardly seething with resentment, definitely does not please God, and the risk is that your resentment may erupt in angry words and damage your relationships. So let’s be clear that it is healthy for Christians to set boundaries.

It is critical for our spiritual, as well as our emotional, and relational health to maintain clear boundaries with others.

Steps for setting healthy boundaries

  1. Decide what behavior you will accept from others.
  2. Formulate a very clear statement of your expectations. Example: Instead of “Don’t just drop in,” say, “Please call first to arrange a time to visit.”
  3. It is often helpful to write the statement on a piece of paper.
  4. Practice saying it in front of a mirror to be sure your facial expression matches your message.
  5. If you call to deliver your message, have the paper in front of you.
  6. If you are with the person, use only the statement you’ve written.
  7. Continue to restate the message if the other person objects, argues, or tries to put a guilt trip on you.
  8. If they persist after a few exchanges, politely excuse yourself and exit the conversation.
  9. Don’t be surprised if the people in your life don’t like your new boundaries.
  10. Be prepared to lovingly and firmly maintain them.
  11. Occasional push back is quite typical, so be alert!

Taking the time to learn boundary setting skills and practicing them will benefit you greatly, and your relationships will be much more rewarding.

Learn more

Please refer to the resources listed below for greater depth and detail about establishing healthy boundaries:

  • Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life, Henry Cloud & John Townsend
  • Fool-Proofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life, Jan Silvious
  • No More Christian Nice Girl: When Just Being Nice—Instead of Good—Hurts You, Your Family, and Your Friends, Paul Coughlin and Jennifer D. Degler, Ph.D.
  • No More Christian Nice Guy: When Being Nice—Instead of Good—Hurts Men, Women, and Children, Paul Coughlin and Laura Schlessinger
  • Breakthrough: When to Give in, How to Push Back, Tim Clinton and Pat Springle
  • Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No: Making Life Right When It Feels All Wrong, Herbert Fensterheim and Jean Baer

If your family is driving you crazy consider whether your most loving action might be to establish and maintain a healthy boundary.

 

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