Establishing Boundaries vs. Building Walls

“Saying no to what doesn’t deeply matter, means you say yes to what does.”  – Unknown




I think most would agree it is easier to bury a problem, isolate yourself from a contentious situation or avoid a not so friendly person, than to face it or them head on. I know because I have spent many years of my life avoiding things or people who I just was not ready to deal with or simply preferred to not to be around.  Rarely did this decision to avert situations or people work in my favor, but it still was nonetheless easier, at least in the moment.

Unfortunately avoiding, hiding or turning a deaf ear or blind eye to anything or anyone will never be defined as a viable solution. Sure it may feel good at the time, but it will always make things worse and even more complex over time. This in itself creates a vicious cycle. The more difficult, the more we avoid, and the larger the hole or gap becomes.  To the point where the situation seems so overwhelmingly big that we retreat every time we think about it.

Now for certain seasons of our lives building a wall relationally may be the safest thing for us to do, but if it’s with a person that we will continue to be in relationship with (on any level), establishing a boundary with them will prove to be more healthy and effective than isolating.  The key is learning how to effectively navigate our way through the process of actually doing it.  Here is where the work comes in.

Because this is a choice, it means you are choosing to take the high road. This is usually not the path of least resistance, therefore it requires dedication and commitment to the process over time if you want to see tangible results.  So what does the process look like?  For me it kind of looked like this:

  1. First identify the source of contention – This may seem obvious, but many of us have not really acknowledged the real source of our contention. We may see a person as the source of our problem, when it is really a behavior that they display towards us or others that gets under our skin. We have to be aware of the difference, otherwise we will become masterful at simply throwing people away, while leaving a trail of broken relationships based on invalidated circumstances.
  2. Understand how the issue makes you feel – So saying it makes you angry is a start, but it is not enough. Take some time to become aware of what specifically bothers you with this particular situation or person. This may require support from a professional to actually get to the root, but do whatever it takes to get to the source. After years of unsuccessfully dealing with a family member that I simply wanted to give up on, and quite honestly didn’t like too much anymore, we met at a restaurant and we were finally able to get to the core issue. My choice to not simply accommodate him or overlook the issues any longer from the past created tension, but it forced a conversation that allowed us to identify the true problems.
  3. Address the one(s) that are directly connected to the issue – This can be a scary or even volatile situation, so use wisdom when approaching. You may even need to have a trusted third-party present to feel safe to have a meaningful conversation. Be careful to not attack at this time.  State the facts, how the situation is making you feel, and what you need from them moving forward.  Keep in mind it is not in your control on how they choose to respond. Be prepared for any response, and remain focused on the ultimate goal at this stage, which is to reveal your feelings only.
  4. Respond accordingly – The great thing about stating your truth is it is yours. Expressing how you feel about something is not a moment for debate. Likewise the response you receive is not up for debate either, so whatever the outcome respond accordingly, while remaining focused on establishing a boundary versus building a wall.

Healthy boundaries are critically important to maintaining relationships, because they help define how each person will participate (or not) in a marriage, partnership, family, business, etc. It may be something as simple as deciding not to clean up after your spouse any longer unless they begin to change a behavior. Here is where a wall could arise for something seemingly harmless, but have you both in divorce court after a year of unresolved issues festering for something that could have been handled. But instead, a wall could be formed and can ultimately end your relationship. Telling your spouse, “Babe, I’m not going to wash your clothes anymore unless you start helping me do such in such.”  When you’re in control, these words do not come across as mean-spirited, angry or obnoxiously loud. They are just facts that you state and plan to follow through with.  Simply stated.  This is what a healthy boundary looks like.

So the next time you find yourself ready to give up on someone, take a quick inventory on what it actually is before you attack, shut down or start building a wall. Perhaps there is hope for a better solution. Perhaps they need to hear you finally tell them your truth, mixed with a little love. Perhaps you need to establish a healthy boundary.

Keep Pressing,

Hank G

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