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 that he is not being loving to his wife, and changes. The adult child becomes resentful, then moves out and gets a job and finds his own apartment. The key employee doesn’t have a great response to the confrontation, but then changes his behavior and things go better at work.
On the other hand, avoiding the negative can actually increase our misery. The husband, the adult child and the employee continue in their behaviors, and things can get worse, with no realistic hope that matters will improve.
God calls this sowing and reaping: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (see Galatians 6:7). If we sow honesty and healthy boundaries, it may not be fun, but it should reap improved relationships, more freedom and solved problems. Sowing these healthy “negatives” will in time reap healthy positive outcomes.
Have courage. Face that tough talk and set some healthy limits. And pray for God to help you be patient for the reaping you need.