How to Make Setting Boundaries Easier and More Effective

Boundaries, Relationships, Communication, Parenting

Did you know you are setting boundaries all the time, maybe without even knowing it?

In the personal growth world, there is a lot of talk about boundaries.

First of all, what are they?

Boundaries are a framework around relationship dynamics.

They are the rules between people about how they interact with one another.  They can be set overtly.  Or they are just silent agreements that occur as your relationship develops.

How are you setting boundaries without knowing it?

Through your feelings and actions.

For example, if you get mad at your partner for not doing the dishes, you are setting the boundary that it is not OK with you that they are not doing their fair share.  However, consider that some ways of setting boundaries are more effective than others.

To make setting boundaries easier and more effective, consider doing these two things:

Make sure your feelings, actions and words are lined up.

If you are truly not OK with your partner not doing their dishes, let them know in a clear way with your words and actions.  If you don’t like it, but it is not a big enough deal to commit to some discomfort to change this dynamic, work on accepting the situation.  When you are clear you want to change, you could say something like: “hey, I don’t like it when there are always dishes in the sink, can we figure out a way to solve this?”  Then actually brainstorm and figure out a plan.  Then test it out, update the agreement if you need to.

If your partner is not open to a dialogue about it:

  • Clean up any poor boundary setting in the past (“I know I have nagged you and even been rude about this and I’m sorry about that”)
  • Let them know the boundary (“It is not OK with me that dishes are left in the sink for days at a time”)
  • Let them know the natural consequences (“If I see dishes in the sink that are not mine, I will put them over here so that you can take care of them”)
  • Tell them the reason you are doing that (“I don’t want build resentment towards you for doing your dishes when I don’t want to”)

Of course, you might have to take things further and designate plates that only you use if your partner wants to test out how serious you are and leave the dishes for a week.  You will have to figure out what works best in your home.  But commit to there being a solution.

If you just huff and puff while you are washing the dishes, then make an underhanded comment about how doing the dishes “isn’t that hard”, that isn’t really effective.  You are pretty much signing up for more of the same because your boundary setting strategy is not direct or clear.  You are throwing out a “cooked spaghetti” boundary: super flimsy.  And you are adding an insult in there.  People don’t take kindly to that.  They get offended.

Let natural consequences hold the boundaries, not a personal attack on someone else.

If you allow the natural consequences to do the work, you alleviate yourself from doing work that probably breeds resentment.  The resentment is what makes you lash out or withdraw.

For example, you want your teenager to get up for school on his own.  He resists this, so you keep waking him up because you are worried he won’t make it to school. Then there is fight every morning about it.  You are trying to hold a boundary by getting mad at him.

Notice how it doesn’t work.

If you let him be late for school, there will be natural consequences at school.  If you feel concerned, talk to the front office and ask about the consequences if there are multiple tardies.  Is it detention?  Report card is impacted?

If you feel like there won’t be enough of a consequence there, let him know that he needs to bring a print out of tardies to you each Saturday morning.  However many tardies will equal dollars he owes you or number of chores he has to do before spending time on video games or screens.  If you choose to have him pay you, that money can be saved up and give it to him later as a spending money for college or security deposit for his first apartment, but don’t tell him that. Let him be upset about it.  He will be.  But instead of you getting upset,  let his actions result in a direct consequence.

Let the consequences do the work rather than your anger.

Get committed and follow through on making sure your plan happens.  The clear boundary holding is up to you, not him, since you are the one that wants to change things.  Obviously, every home and school environment are different, these are just illustrations.

If you hold boundaries with your feelings (being snappy, insulting someone), that opens the door for the focus to be on how you are handling things.

That interferes with the power of the boundary.  The message is then lost.

What ways do you see that you might have accidentally been trying to hold boundaries in an unclear or ineffective way?  How can you shift?

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