How Boundary Problems Show Up in Our Relationships

Last week I shared why strong relationships need healthy boundaries. It’s normal to struggles with boundaries in our relationships with God, ourselves and others. This week we’ll talk about boundary confusion with God and others. Next week we’ll take a look at boundary confusion with ourselves.

You might wonder how problems with healthy boundaries shows up in our relationships. Here’s some examples. I’d love to know what you think!

Boundary Confusion with God

When I’m confused about what I’m responsible for and what God is responsible for I may think…

  • God should always say yes to me (“Genie in a lamp”)                                                                                        
  • God is responsible to keep me from suffering loss, whether or not I take responsibility for my life
  • God fails me when He doesn’t intervene to protect me and my loved ones from harm
  • God expects me to love Him and others without being responsible for my own legitimate, God-given needs

TRUTH: God interacts with us and the world as He sees fit. He has reasons we don’t understand for what He allows in our life. We have a tiny piece of the big picture that God is dealing with. He wants to be a close companion in our life, and promises to be with us in life’s struggles (Heb 13:5)

Working on My Boundary Confusion with God

Talk to God about how you are struggling. Maybe say,

“God, I don’t want to be mad at you for not following through in the ways I think you should. I’m realizing now that I have a young or simplistic view of the world, and expect you to do what I want, and protect me from all harm. I know you are good, loving and just even when I don’t understand what you allow in my life. I think I want ‘heaven on earth’, but I know that is not the kind of world we live in right now. Please help me to trust you no matter what. I want you to walk with me and grow closer to you every day.”

Boundary Confusion with Others

When I’m confused about what I’m responsible for and what others are responsible for I may think…

  • If I say no to others, I’m being selfish
  • I am indispensable to the needs of others
  • If I tell someone what I want and need, they are selfish or don’t love me if they don’t comply.
  • My happiness is the responsibility of someone else in my life

TRUTH: The reality is that others can be with me or not. It is normal to want close personal relationships in our lives. Ultimately, I am responsible for my life and happiness. I have choices about what I do and don’t do, and need to both give and receive (in healthy ways) in my relationships.

Some if this information based on information shared in Secrets of Your Family Tree, by Carder, et all)

Working on Setting Boundaries with Others

Realize that there is a Big Difference in setting a boundary with someone who welcomes boundaries vs. someone who resists them. We need to also ask ourselves, “Which one am I?”

Characteristics of someone who welcomes the boundary

  • Willing to look at self
  • Able to see when wrong
  • Open to feedback and the truth about themselves
  • Don’t become defensive when the other shares a concern
  • Allow the other person to be different from them
  • See their own need for growth and change

Characteristics of someone who resists the boundary:

  • Doesn’t see the need to look at oneself and make changes
  • Unable or unwilling to truly see the needs of the other person
  • Does not see compromise and the honoring of individual needs as a goal
  • Is unable to see the impact his/her behavior has on others
  • Doesn’t feel empathy for what the other person is feeling
  • A sense that “I should be able to do whatever I want”, and not suffer consequences for my actions
  • In a lot of personal pain, so unable to see the other person’s needs
  • Strong desire to be in control

What You Can Do to Set Boundaries with Others

  • Identify the specific issue you want to address with the other person
  • Start bringing up something small
  • State it simply and clearly. Do not bring in other issues, or state your concern in a blaming way. Wait until you can have a loving attitude.
  • Be clear about the consequence you will follow through with
  • Explain that your motivation is for the relationship. You want to prevent resentment, nagging, shaming, etc.
  • Follow through if problem continues

Here’s an example:

You are upset with your spouse for frequently being late when you go places together. You’ve nagged, gotten angry, and lectured to get your spouse to be on time, to no avail. You’ve noticed feelings of resentment building up inside toward your spouse. You don’t like it when you yell, nag and bug your spouse about this. You decide to try something different this time, instead of telling your spouse what he/she should do. This time you decide what you are going to do differently. You say to your spouse before an upcoming event:

“Honey, I feel bad that I’ve yelled at you about being late. I want to stop doing this, and I also want to be on time to events. I’d like to let you know my plan to get to places on time without yelling at you when I’m afraid we’ll be late. Next time we are going somewhere together let’s plan on driving together. I’ll let you know when I’d like us to leave so as to not be late. If I feel we aren’t leaving when I’d like to arrive on time, I’ll take my car (or uber) so I can get there on time. I’ll save you a spot right next to me and see you when you get there. I won’t bug you or make any snide comments, I’ll just let you know I’m heading out. This way I can be on time and not yell or make you feel bad.”

Notice that setting healthy boundaries with another person has to do with deciding and following through with what you will do or not do in a given situation. This protects your heart from becoming bitter toward the other person, or from feeling powerless to the actions of the other person.

Here some resources if you’d like to read more how to set healthy boundaries. Cloud and Townsend have wonderful books the deal with healthy boundaries: Boundaries, Boundaries with Kids, Boundaries in Marriage and Boundaries in Dating to name a few.

I hope this blog post has been helpful for you. Next week I’ll share more about the boundary confusions we experience with ourselves, and how to grow in this area.

I’d love to hear from you. What made sense or stood out to you? What did you think about boundary confusion with God and others? What did you think about the example I gave for setting a boundary with a spouse? How are you growing in setting healthy boundaries in your relationships?

Please share this post with anyone you feel could benefit, or on social media. We’re in this together…

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6 thoughts on “How Boundary Problems Show Up in Our Relationships

  1. Oh, Kim, this is another wonderful message and one that I wish I had been much more aware of and its value earlier in my life. But, I have found that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, so to speak. No matter what age or what is going on in life, we can benefit from following this wise advice and reap the many benefits and blessings.
    Thank you for your powerful ministry. You make a difference.
    You are loved, you know!

  2. Thank you so much Kim!
    —And thank you for your comment to me back on the thread “We Often Devalue Our Need for Emotional Connection”. You are such a r-e-a-l-l-y good encourager. —I’ve always thought that!

    . . . I love the model language you provided that we can use in regards to boundaries (re: A spouse that is habitually late). Great stuff. —And I want to remind everyone of positive reinforcement. . . .You own your boundaries, wherever you decide to set them. If you set limits with your husband and he responds maturely and lovingly, you can renegotiate the boundaries! In addition, you can then totally change the boundary once you are in a safer place. . . .And with setting boundaries, change is frightening. It may comfort everyone to know that if you are really afraid, you are possibly on the right road—the road to change and growth. If we are not totally frightened at some point each day, we are not stretching ourselves very far.

    I loved the “Talk to God about how you are struggling” verbiage. I just prayed that today. It makes a great prayer!

    . . .If I want to live an authentic, meaningful life, I need to master the art of disappointing and upsetting others, hurting feelings, and living with the reality that some people just won’t like me (—I so hate that!), but I am always working on it. —Hopefully, boundaries only scare off the people that were not meant to be in your life.

    I think my biggest downfall is internal boundaries (—inside of me) actually having boundaries with myself. . . .The issues (—whatever form it takes) would not be happening *externally* if it was not happening *internally* first (—with ourselves). In other words, I have to BE the change I want to see in my world. I need to be able to say “NO” to myself (—If that makes any sense???) —It’s like so many others things, you solve it internally, it is mostly solved externally. Without internal boundaries (—limits I put on my own internal dance) the external boundaries very often fail.

    1. Hi Aleea…so glad this was helpful. I loved what you shared…“It may comfort everyone to know that if you are really afraid, you are possibly on the right road—the road to change and growth. If we are not totally frightened at some point each day, we are not stretching ourselves very far.” That is so good for everyone to know!

      I agree with you that internal boundaries are of the most importance. Check back next week for a blog post about this! Always great to hear from you!

  3. Dear Kim-

    Thank you so much for being vulnerable and open in sharing all that you write. You are a great teacher and have been beautifully used by God. I have truly been blessed by you!

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