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6. Setting Boundaries, Part 2

Article contributed by Probe Ministries
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Affirm and Validate

Be on the other person's side.
It's grace before truth. Grace means "favor." Establish your favor, care, and belief in the person before "facing the issue."

1. In ongoing problem solving where there is no big issue, you need not utter some big proclamation of your love and commitment. You are merely correcting a problem.

"Sara, I love going to the movies with you. I really enjoy our time together. One thing that would make it better for me would be if we could leave on time. When we are late, I feel rushed, and I want to enjoy the time we have together."

"Joey, I like how you have been trying to do your chores. Would you look a little harder at the way you leave the den before you go outside to play? I end up picking up some things for you, I don't want to do that. Thanks."

Validate other people with language that lets them know you are with them and not against them.

2. In situations other than the moment-by-moment corrections, where you want to sit down and talk through a problem, a little more proclamation is needed.

"Sara, you know that I am your friend and that I am with you 100%. You know how much I value our relationship. Because of that, I need to share something with you that would make things better for me. You are late a lot. The time we have together means a lot to me, and your lateness robs me of what I really desire-to have good time with you. So I wanted to talk about it."

"Jay, I like how much you care about the work we are doing. It is really contagious, and it helps me. But I want to make sure we look at an issue that is getting in the way of our working together effectively."

"Joe, you know how much I love you and how you are the most important person on the earth to me. I am your biggest cheerleader. But something you do sometimes makes my heart sort of go away, and I want to talk with you about it."

"Sam, I want you to know that the reason I'm bringing this up is because I love you and am committed to our relationship. I love and value so many things about you. In fact, that is why I have to talk about this. I miss seeing those things because your drinking is getting serious, and we have to do something."

With significant confrontations, it is really important to firmly declare your favor, or grace, for the people you are confronting. It reestablishes that you are for rather than against them, and it establishes the connection that serves as the bridge for the truth to pass over to their heart and mind.

Do you see how this helps us carry out the second greatest commandment, "Love your neighbor as you love yourself"?

Apologize for Your Part in the Problem

One of the most powerful things ever said on confronting someone's problems came from Jesus. This message should be in every psychiatry and psychology book ever written about relationships: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matt. 7:3-5)

This passage speaks to another important dynamic in confrontation:

  • being humble
  • looking at what we have done wrong in the relationship
  • owning it first before we talk to the other person about what he/she did wrong.

The principle is this: When confronting, don't confront someone if you owe her an apology first.

If she is aware of how you have hurt and failed her, she may have thoughts like, "Well, how can you judge? You do such and so. . ." It is easier for her to be defensive, and she may actually have some evidence to back that up.

But if you begin with owning and apologizing for ways you have failed her, or for poor ways you have dealt with this failure, your humility paves the way. Here is what it does:

  1. It lets her know you care.
  2. It lets her know you are not there to lord it over her or be judgmental.
  3. It lets her know you are not there to "win."
  4. It models for her what humility looks like and takes away the shame she might feel.

If you have so much to apologize for that you cannot do it in the same conversation as the confrontation, delay the confrontation and just have an apology session first. Bring up your issue at a later time.

It is very common for an apology to open the door for the other person to see what she has done.

"Mary, I want to talk to you about the argument we had the other day. I did not like how it went, and I thought I needed to begin by telling you that I'm sorry. As I thought about it after I cooled off, I could see I was way out of line in the way I responded. It was wrong, and I'm sorry for how I behaved, and also for how that must have felt to you. Will you forgive me?"

"Joe, I want to talk about what's been going on between us. I want us to look at the ways we have been interacting and at some things that have happened, but I want to begin by telling you that I've reacted to you in very hurtful and inappropriate ways. I've been angry and judgmental much more than I've been helpful. I've nagged, been bitter, and even punished you for some things. I was wrong. I'm sorry for how that must have felt to you. Will you please forgive me?"

"Sam, as you know, I've been upset by some things you've done, and I want to talk about them. But I want you to know something first. I'm just as wrong as I've said you are. I've not held up my side of our relationship in some ways. I've come down on you way too hard and not really been your friend or ally in trying to resolve things. I lose it, and I'm not very helpful. I want to be more helpful and loving, and let you know that I'm on your side. But I can see how you could not feel that way at times because of how I have acted, and I want to apologize for my behavior and my failure to be what you need."

There is no hard and fast rule on how to do this. You can apologize and then go right into your issue. You can tell the other person you want to talk about the issue right up front, and then say, "But first I have to apologize for some things."

You don't have to begin every boundary conversation with an apology; if one is not needed, don't apologize.

Women tend to be apologetic because we learn early that it soothes ruffled feathers. . . but we can go too far and apologize for things we didn't do.

But if you are aware of ways that you have failed the person, deal with that first. It will do a lot of good, and it may give the confrontation an entirely different tone.

About apologizing: If we owe someone an apology, that's the next thing to do.

Matt. 5:23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Avoid "Shoulds"

"You should have thought about this beforehand, because then this never would have happened."
"You should plan better."
"You should write it all down. Then we wouldn't be in messes like this."

When you hear these statements, how do you feel? Guilty? Ashamed? Angry? Or do you think, "Wow! What helpful input. I wish that person could follow me around and evaluate everything I do"?

The word should feels very parental and judgmental to people.

If you're talking about the past, saying "You should have" doesn't give the other person many options other than to see how he blew it. He will often feel, "Okay, fine! Now I feel awful. What do you want me to do about it? It's done! I should have done better, but I didn't. So you are right; I am pond scum." That might be extreme, but you get the idea. It reinforces his feelings of failure and shame.

It's much more helpful to put it in question form, "If you had to do it over again, what would you do different?" That's a better way of asking, "What should you have done?" If the other person is stuck, you can say, "May I offer some feedback?" "May I make a suggestion?"

When someone says "You should," people feel their choices going away. Instead, you want the other person to freely choose to do what you are suggesting, to feel good about it, not forced into it.

That's what God does: He brings us to the point where we freely choose to do what is right because the alternative is such a bad idea.

Joshua preserved the freedom of the people of Israel when he said, "If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living" (24:15)

Joshua told them to serve God and be faithful to Him, but he also said that if it were disagreeable to them to serve the Lord, then they were free to choose whom they would serve. He preserved their choice. He was clear about what he thought was the right choice: "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." But he did not try to force them to choose what he had chosen.

In good relationships, where it does not get in the way, using should is fine. "You should do it this way, and it would work better" can sound like, "Here, let me help you get out of that bind. Turn the handle to the right, and you can get out of that basement you're locked in."

But it can also sound like, "You idiot! If you were turning the handle the right way, you wouldn't be stuck down there in the dark." To the pure, all things are pure. (Tit 1:15)

How to say it better:

Not so good: "You should have called me and told me you were going to be late. Now you have ruined the whole night for me. I could have used the time to do something constructive instead of waiting for you."
Better: "It would have really helped me if you had called when you knew you were going to be late. Please do that next time so I can make use of the time."

Not so good: "You should get up early, read the paper about new jobs, and get ahead of the game. You should also be making more calls. You are sitting around so much that you are never going to get a job. You should have been out there looking all this time, and you have just wasted your time."
Better: "Things would go better if you made some changes. You would have more success, I think, by getting an early start and using the days to find the work you agreed to seek. It seems as if you are letting really valuable time slip by."

Not so good: "You shouldn't hang around with those kids. You should be finding better friends, and you should not be out anyway. You should be here doing your homework."
Better: "I don't think that that group of friends is good for you. Some of the things they are into are things I don't want you doing, and it is tough to avoid falling into things when you are around kids who are doing them. Let's talk about what is going on, why you are there, and what you think about it all. Also, I want you to do your homework first before going out, no matter who you are with. So finish that, and then let's talk."

Not so good: "You shouldn't be drinking so much. You should focus more on me and the family. You like your beer better than us."
Better: "I am concerned about your drinking. It is becoming a problem, and we miss you. When you drink, the kids and I lose you, and we don't want that."

Watch your use of should to make sure that it is being heard correctly, as helpful. If it is used or heard as punitive, condemning, or controlling, you might want to find another word.

Be Specific

Remember Ray's professor who wouldn't tell him what she wanted in his dissertation?

We need to tell people exactly what we want them to do and what we want them to change.

Instead of "I want you to connect more with me,"

  • "Honey, I want to go for a walk with you, and I want you to tell me what is going on at work and how you are feeling about it."
  • "Marty, I want us to sit down and talk about our dreams and where we want to go from here. When can we do that?"
  • "I want to know how you are feeling lately. I want to know what you think and feel about us. I want you to tell me what it is that makes you feel good about us and what makes you feel not so good."

How to Be Specific

Global: "You are so irresponsible. I need for you to be more responsible around here."
Specific: "I feel as if there are a lot of times when you leave things undone. I want to talk about your paying the Visa bill on time and taking care of the car insurance payment like you promised. Let's talk about how to resolve this."

Global: "I want to feel more loved."
Specific: "I wish you would tell me you love me at times other than when we have sex."

Global: "You're so mean to me. I am tired of your verbal abuse."
Specific: "When you get angry at me and yell like you did last night, it hurts. I want to know that you can see how hurtful that is."

Global: "You treat me like an idiot. You act like I am so stupid."
Specific: "When you don't talk to me about our finances, like the refinance application the other day, I feel as if you think I'm too dumb to understand. And when I don't understand something and ask you a question, like about the insurance claim, you didn't answer me. You grabbed it out of my hand and said I was dense. I want you to talk to me about specifics, and if I don't understand something, answer my questions without putting me down. Please treat me like a partner, even when I don't know everything you do."

Global: "You always do this. You promise me you are going to do something, and then you forget about it and leave me hanging. This happens every time I try to depend on you."
Specific: "I need to know that if you tell me you're going to do something, it will get done. Yesterday you promised me you would get my prescription filled, and you didn't. Now I am without my antibiotic, and I'm afraid I'm not going to get over this infection before our vacation. It also happened the other day with the form I asked you to mail. I want to talk about what we can do to make this better. I love you, and I want to trust that you will do what you say you will do."

Related Topics: Boundaries, Women's Articles