When Negatives Are Really Positives

BoundariesWritten 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.


Learn more about setting boundaries from the New York Times bestseller Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Learn More

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  1. Jennifer says

    This article is truly an answer to prayer. Thank you. I’ve read the books and had practice previously with protecting my boundaries, but I’m being thoroughly tested again…. And this article was great encouragement!!

  2. Paula Reich says

    For those of us who are card-carrying members of codependents anonymous, setting boundaries feels really bad. It feels like the opposite of extending grace. it feels almost non-Christian. Although I know that is not true, getting my heart to line up with my head is a constant battle. Thanks for the coaching and putting things back into perspective.

  3. Anne Horne says

    This is very timely for me. I will be purchasing the audible version of this book. Have just finished Necessary Endings and it was powerful.

    thank you.

  4. Shirley J Castiglia says

    Thank you Dr. Townsend. I needed this article. In December I decided to quit one of my jobs that I had for 11 1/2 yrs and continue to work my church job. I was looking forward to having time with my friends and great grand children, one of whom is autistic. The Lord turned my heart to my Mom. I was in complete shock. Twice He said make the decision. Last year I told the Lord I didn’t see myself working at 70 and I would like to go back to living by faith. I made the decision to go. January 29 I was here in NJ. I was hit with a Daughter Do List a mile long and a step-father who is very controlling. Mom is in a hurry to get things done. She said time is short. Step-father criticized me for 2 months with everything he felt I was doing wrong. This is May 2, I turned 70 April 30. The last 3 months has been terribly difficult. Living with them is so different than a 2 week vacation in the summer. Setting boundaries is not one of my strong points, but out of pure exhaustion and stress, I had to let Mom know that I needed a break and that I have time sensitive paperwork to do for retirement and that there is only so much I can accomplish in a day. I have to prioritize. I do all the driving and cook dinner every night. There is tension between my step father and I. The criticism has gotten less, but still there at times. He is also passive / aggressive. I am learning to stick to my boundaries which they do not understand. I find if I reassure Mom things will get done, she is ok. My step-father is another matter that I am working on. This article helps me to understand that God honors my boundaries and the other people involved may not like it and still try to ignore my boundaries. I am learning to stand where I know I honor God by taking care of myself, so I can properly help them. I don’t like the tension, but I continue to go toward them instead of pulling back. Blessings Dr. Townsend.

  5. Lynn says

    I am realizing the price to be paid just from this behavior. Many times when we failed to act right away or we do not support the stated behav ior without acting in a timely fashion ,it causes all kinds of negative experiences that could have been avoided. Really I am new to boundaries setting in I was not taught this 7ntil the last five yrs or so. I am finding it interesting that those who have learned these things in childhood feel that others do not or it is sinful for them to practice boundaries. Strange my childhood family was more accepting and began the practice than leaders in a Church setting claiming they have knowledge base on Christian counseling. I am always appreciative that this site and the books include the Biblical aspect so I can share with each other and learn how to truly love others the way God lives us.

  6. Linda says

    Boundaries and learning to practice them are changing my life for the better. Wish I’d learned all this stuff 30 years ago.

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