How to Test the Quality of Any Relationship

BoundariesUsually the quiet one in her group, Debbie spoke up. The topic of discussion was “conflict resolution,” and she couldn’t be silent another second. “I know how to present facts and arguments about my opinion in a caring way. But my husband will walk out on me if I start disagreeing! Now what do I do?”

Debbie’s problem is shared by many. She genuinely believes in boundaries, but she is terrified of their consequences.

Is it possible that others will become angry at our boundaries and attack or withdraw from us? Absolutely. God never gave us the power or the right to control how others respond to our “no.” Some will welcome it; some will hate it.

We can’t manipulate people into swallowing our boundaries by sugarcoating them. Boundaries are a “litmus test” for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can’t respect our boundaries are telling us that they don’t love our “no.” They only love our “yes,” our compliance.

So what does Debbie, whose husband is an avowed “boundary buster,” do? Will her husband carry out his threat to walk out on her? She can’t control his response. But if the only thing keeping Debbie’s husband home is her total compliance, is this a marriage at all? And how will problems ever be addressed when she and he avoid them?

Setting limits has to do with telling the truth. First, there is the person who welcomes your boundaries. Who accepts them. Who listens to them. Who says, “I’m glad you have a separate opinion. It makes me a better person.” This person is called wise.


Click to Tweet: God never gave us the power or the right to control how others respond to our “no.” Some will welcome it; some will hate it.


The second type hates limits. Resents your difference. Tries to manipulate you into giving up your treasures. Try our “litmus test” experiment with your significant relationships. Tell them “no” in some area. You’ll either come out with increased intimacy — or learn that there was very little to begin with.

Do Debbie’s boundaries with her husband condemn her to a life of isolation? Absolutely not. If telling the truth causes someone to leave you, this gives the church an opportunity to provide support and a spiritual and emotional “home” to the abandoned person.

In no way are we advocating divorce. The point is that you can’t make anyone stay with or love you. Ultimately that is up to your partner. Sometimes setting boundaries clarifies that you were left a long time ago, in every way, perhaps, except physically. Often, when a crisis like this occurs, it helps the struggling couple reconcile and remake their marriage into a more biblical one. The problem was raised, and now can be addressed.

Warning: the boundaryless spouse who develops limits begins changing in the marriage. There are more disagreements. There are more conflicts over values, schedules, money, kids, and sex. Quite often, however, the limits help the out-of-control spouse begin to experience the necessary pain that can motivate him or her to take more responsibility in the marriage. Many marriages are strengthened after boundaries are set because the spouse begins to miss the relationship.

Will some people abandon or attack us for having boundaries? Yes. But, it’s better to learn about their character and take steps to fix the problem than never to know in the first place.


With over 2 million copies sold, The New York Times bestseller Boundaries is the best resource for learning how to set limits and make wise decisions in any relationship. Learn more.

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  1. Tasha says

    Thank you for this article. I read them every week but this one was particularly helpful to me. I had to leave my husband last year as he had relapse into drug use. After years of financial irresponsibility, lying etc I walked out with our three children the second I found evidence. I had tried to put boundaries in place but my priority was always keeping the marriage together so I backed down. My heart is broken but as your article explains, he left me years ago. Divorce is not my ideal but as his behaviour is not improving that is the choice I will make. I cannot control his choice and I will not have my children or myself in danger and be neglected again. Please keep the weekly articles coming. Thanks.

    • Linda says

      Thank you for your heart!
      I was in a very hurtful emotional abusive situation.
      It wasn’t until I decided to set up boundaries for myself that
      Changed the way my husband viewed our relationship in a Love and respect way.
      Today we both know that until God is part of our threefold we can move on together.

    • Marie says

      My husband relapsed into drugs and drinking. When I found out I told him treatment or leave. He walked out on us that very day. He divorced me. Alcohol, drugs is a mistress you can never beat.
      I agree the children are priority,so are you. Get the divorce for financial safety as well as physical protection. If it is meant to be then Elohim (God) can and will bring the marriage back.
      You are not alone.


  2. Hzlove says

    I have had more friends walk away from a friendship because I set boundaries. I have learned that those who are friends only when they only want something from me are truly not friends at all. Acquaintances, but not friends.

  3. Ann says

    On Christmas evening, my husband told me that he has been “sexting” a coworker. Because I have read Boundaries and your articles, I immediately communicated boundaries with him regarding many behaviors that need to change in order for us to stay married. Please continue writing these articles.Thank-you for all that you do for couples and families.

  4. H says

    I was very interested in this article based on its beginnings, but I think that this takes it to the extreme. Not every relationship will end in divorce if the one partner is “non-compliant.” Is it possible to get some practical day to day operational tactics for dealing with this? My partner stonewalls or shuts down and refuses to talk through things further if I didn’t “comply” with every recommendation on certain topics (specifically financial or life management stuff). Even if I agree, but don’t put 100% of his recommendations into immediate action, I get stonewalled. He’ll immediately table the conversation limiting the ability to discuss it in the future. I’d appreciate some insight.

  5. Linda Harrison says

    Boundaries are great…until other people don’t like them. And it will happen. Go into boundary setting already knowing that people won’t like it, especially if you’re the kind of person for whom boundaries are brand new behavior.

    The hard part is that we have to be willing to back up our boundaries with action if our boundaries aren’t respected and that’s the hard part, because it makes us look at things closely and ask “how important is this to me really, and what am I willing to do to enforce my bottom line?” That’s where it gets hard.

  6. Booker says

    For years, I was too compliant and gave in on every decision and disagreement to avoid his rage and manipulation. Every time I tried to express an opinion or set a boundary, he would “punish” me and our kids with days or weeks of anger and escalating demands. Too often I gave in to keep the peace and avoid the yelling and emotional abuse. Looking back, I can see how obvious the emotional, financial, and verbal abuse was, but at the time, I just put my head down and kept on. Predictably, he had an affair. Predictably, he was angry and accusatory when I filed for divorce. Predictably, he is enraged at having to pay support, and is trying to use custody of our kids as a weapon against me. He accepts no responsibility for his choices, and blames me entirely for the financial difficulties we both face. I am learning, one conflict at a time, how to set boundaries and hold the line, even in the face of his manipulation. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have peace in my home and not walk on egg shells all the time. I look forward to the day it is final and he loses the chance to exert power over me.

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