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Boundaries, Compliance, and the Fear of Saying No

“May I tell you something embarrassing?” Robert asked me (Dr. Townsend). A new client, Robert was trying to understand why he had so much difficulty refusing his wife’s constant demands. He was going broke trying to keep up with the Joneses. “I was the only boy in my family, the youngest of four children. There was a strange double standard in my house involving physical fighting.” Robert cleared his throat, struggling to continue. “My sisters were three to seven years older than me. Until I was in sixth grade, they were a lot bigger and stronger. They’d take advantage of their size and strength and wale on me until I was bruised. I mean, they really hurt me. “The strangest part of it all was my parents’ attitude. They’d tell us, ‘Robert is the boy. Boys don’t hit girls. It’s bad manners.’ Bad manners! I was getting triple-teamed, and fighting back was bad manners?” Robert stopped. His shame kept him from continuing, but he’d said enough. He had unearthed part of the reason for his conflicts with his wife. When parents teach children that setting boundaries or saying no is bad, they are teaching them that others can do with... Continue Reading »

How to Set Holiday Boundaries with Family

When you were born, God placed you into a family for a season of time to help you grow into a mature adult. At some point this season ends, and your relationship with your parents changes from child-to-parent to adult-to-adult. The roles change from dependency and authority to mutuality. While you are to respect and care for your mother and father, you are no longer under their protection and tutelage. Children are to obey parents, while adult children are to love and honor them. Therefore, situations will occur where you need to make decisions and set boundaries with family with which they may not agree. For example, you might decide to spend some traditional holiday time apart from your family. This can often be a cause for a confrontational talk: You: “Mom, I wanted to let you know as soon as I could that I’ve made plans to go to the mountains with some friends this Christmas. I know this will be the first Christmas I won’t be with you and Dad, so I wanted to talk to you about it.” Mom: “What are you talking about? You always spend Christmas with us. Your father will be so hurt.” You:... Continue Reading »

When Negatives Are Really Positives

Written by Dr. John Townsend, exclusive to BoundariesBooks.com. People who have a hard time setting limits in their relationships often are concerned about their effect. They don’t want to be negative with others. For example, a wife with a controlling husband may be afraid he will become angry if she says no to his control. A father may fear alienating his adult child when he sets a time limit on how long he can live at home. Or a boss may be concerned about morale dropping if he has to have a tough talk with a key employee. As a result, they often postpone the talks that need to happen. It is true that confronting problems and setting limits is not a “positive” experience. That is, it involves some difficult talks and actions that feel negative in nature. People can react in defensive, angry or hurt ways. However, just because something feels negative at the time doesn’t mean it will have a negative outcome. A “no” can often result in a problem solved. Speaking the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15) and setting an appropriate limit may result in very healthy outcomes. The husband gets defensive, then in time sees... Continue Reading »