Are you tired of people taking advantage of you? Are you feeling like you are always giving but not receiving? If so, you may have boundary problems in your relationships. But when you learn how to set boundaries in relationships, you can feel stronger in your relationships with God and others.
What is a boundary?
We can illustrate the concept of boundaries with the picture of a house surrounded by a picket fence. The fence line shows the boundaries of the property. This property belongs to you as a homeowner. It’s your responsibility to maintain the property and protect it from invaders. It’s also your property to enjoy.
The picket fence is a border that separates the sidewalk from your yard. It is a visual indicator that no person, animal, or object can enter your property without getting permission from you first. Since you are the property owner, you have the right to open the gate to others or shut it to keep them out.
If you keep the gate shut, people may need to gain your permission before entering. But if you always leave the front gate of your fence open and unattended, people may think that it’s okay to enter your property when they wish.
Reasonable people will not enter your gate if it is closed. But unreasonable people may plow through the gate, hop over or sneak under the fence, or even break the fence down. Those all constitute boundary violations.
If unreasonable people violate your fence, you can strengthen the fence and monitor it with greater vigilance. You may need to use a stronger material, such as iron or chain link, as new fence material to keep unreasonable people out. It’s also important not to leave your front gate open all the time so you can relax in your home without worrying about who will enter whenever they please.
Boundaries in relationships work in remarkably similar ways to this word picture. The good news is that you have a lot of control over what type of boundaries to use and how you manage your property. You can put fences around your thoughts, words, and behaviors to gain a healthy sense of self-control. A qualified Christian counselor can help you guard your property against unreasonable people and learn how to let reasonable people in.
If only boundaries were as easy to set as putting up a picket fence! If you have had boundary violations for years, setting boundaries will feel hard. But it is surely possible for you to set healthy boundaries with a caring Christian counselor’s help.
Think about the relationships you have that need boundaries. Perhaps your parents are sharing unsolicited advice, or they are meddling in your personal affairs. You may have a coworker who constantly pushes work onto you. You may have a power struggle in your marriage or with your children. Any of these situations could benefit from stronger boundaries.
Healthy boundaries are a means of self-protection. They are God-given ways to preserve your mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and relationship health. If you allow people to run over your boundaries, or if you are constantly standing guard at your front gate, you may be exhausting yourself and missing the abundant life God has in mind for you. God wants you to operate within healthy boundaries so you can live to your full potential within your property lines.
Some people struggle to set boundaries because they feel false guilt. They may feel like it’s “unchristian” to stand up against mistreatment. However, Scripture is clear that God wants us to carry our own loads (Gal. 6:5) and stop being people-pleasers so we can please God instead (Gal. 1:10). God wants us to live in freedom, not bondage (Gal. 5:1) and promises a life of abundance that includes boundaries (John 10:9-10).
Jesus said in Matthew 5:37 “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No;’ anything more than this comes from evil.” Just two powerful words – yes and no – are practical tools we can use to set boundaries in relationships. These boundaries will create safe, healthy spaces in our lives so we can thrive as we pursue personal and spiritual growth.
The process of setting boundaries starts with you. In their book Boundaries, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend list boundaries you need to set for yourself, such as time, energy, personal space, spending, and more. You need to set boundaries for yourself just as much as you need to set boundaries for others.
These boundaries are gifts from God because they are intended to help you manage your own property with wisdom and intention. But you get to choose whether you will keep that power for yourself or give it to others. If you don’t fully trust God to help you manage your boundaries, people will run over your boundaries and take advantage of you.
Most of us did not grow up with healthy boundaries. Your parents or caretakers may not have offered you enough emotional support, so you may seek strength and support in others due to a lack of self-esteem.
Though we need each other, we can go too far in relying on others when we need to rely on the Lord. Also, selfish people will see these weaknesses in you and attempt to manipulate you for their own gratification. However, you can learn how to rebuild personal boundaries with guidance from a Christian counselor.
Boundaries in relationships.
Each of your relationships is affected by boundaries, whether in your family, work, school, church, or community. If your boundaries are not strong enough, you can develop many problems. But you can learn to protect your boundaries while retaining a healthy sense of self-esteem with a counselor’s help.
These are just a few examples of boundary problems you may encounter:
- Your boss asks you to do more work without adjusting your pay.
- Your spouse seems to tune out your pleas for more help around the house.
- Your mother-in-law criticizes you every time you see her, but you hold your anger inside.
- Your grown son continues to live rent-free in your house and is not seeking employment.
- You are frustrated that your neighbor never returns the things they borrowed from you.
With a counselor’s guidance, you can learn to set boundaries in each of these situations so you will have greater peace and confidence.
Boundaries in relationships are necessary and good.
Though boundaries are necessary and good for you, they require courage, hard work, commitment, and support from others. You have no guarantees that the boundary-busting person in your life will respond to boundaries you set in ways that you prefer. However, it is likely that unless you invest in the work of setting boundaries and see their value for your life, you will stay stuck in your relationship problems.
A reasonable person will respond to boundaries by apologizing and working to change their behaviors. But an unreasonable person will not usually change unless they must face consequences for boundary violations. A compassionate Christian counselor will role-play situations where you can know what to expect when setting boundaries with the people in your life.
Your counselor will also help you discover reasons that you may struggle to set boundaries. Many people need healing from childhood hurts so they can start setting boundaries now. With a counselor’s insight, you can avoid old patterns of behavior and set new patterns that help you feel stronger and more in control of your life.
If you are ready to learn about setting boundaries for better relationships, we are happy to help. Reach out today to learn which boundaries will be most helpful in your unique situation.
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