Boundaries Protect, But They Also Do This

BoundariesTo see how setting limits plays out in relationships, it’s important to understand that there are two types of boundaries – defining boundaries and protective boundaries. Each kind of boundary has a distinct purpose. It’s important that you learn the difference, because defining should become permanent in your life, while protective boundaries are the ones you can move “beyond.”

Defining boundaries are values that establish who you are and who you are not. They are at the core of your identity and reflect what you believe is important and valuable in life. Here are a few examples:

  • I follow God and his ways and will always live my life in him.
  • I love my family and friends, and I will treat them with grace and truth.
  • I know my mission and purpose in life, and I will not divert from it.
  • I say and receive the truth; I’m neither silent in saying it nor defensive in receiving it.

These defining boundaries help you and others know the real you, the person who has substance and stands for things that matter. They help guide your decisions and directions in life. Here are some examples of how defining boundaries might be used in your relationships:

  • “I’m looking for a position that fits my strategic abilities rather than one that is in operations.”
  • “We have a rule that all who live in this house go to church.”
  • “I want to hear the truth from you about how you think we are doing in our relationship.”
  • “I’m a night owl, so let’s not plan something that requires that we get up at, oh, dark thirty.”

This is simply how you tell people who you are and how they tell you who they are. You clarify and define yourselves with these sorts of boundaries.

Protective boundaries are different. They are designed to “guard your heart” (see Proverbs 4:23), and your life, from danger or trouble. There are times when you must protect your values, emotions, gifts, time, and energy from people and situations that may waste or injure them. Protective boundaries have several elements to them. You have to face the reality that talking hasn’t fixed a situation, and you have to set a limit.

A protective boundary might begin with a statement like this: “I want us to work this out, but nothing I’ve said has made any difference, so I’m taking a different route.” This affirms that you value the relationship and that you want the other person to understand that your actions are not punitive but, ultimately, redemptive. You are simply trying to solve a difficulty in the relationship with your protective boundaries.

The consequences portion of the boundary then needs to be stated in an “If . . . then . . .” form to make sure the other person understands you mean business. For example, consider the following statements:

  • “If you continue being thirty minutes late to events, I will take a separate car.”
  • ”I need a better work ethic from you in the office, or we’ll have to make some changes.”
  • “If you keep spending over our budget, I will cut up the credit cards.”
  • “I can’t lend you any more money until I see you making serious efforts to find a job.”
  • “I want to bring your grandkids to see you, but if you just surf the Web while we’re there, it’s not worth it to come.”
  • “I want to see my grandkids at times when you don’t need a babysitter; otherwise I feel taken advantage of.”
  • “If you won’t stop drinking too much or using drugs, I will take the kids and move out.”

Here’s the important distinction between a defining boundary and a protective boundary. A defining boundary is forever and unchangeable, part of what makes you “you”; a protective boundary can change if the other person responds to it in a healthy way. Your defining boundaries mean that, for example, you will always follow God, love people, be committed to personal and spiritual growth, and so forth.


Click to Tweet: A protective boundary can change if the other person responds to it in a healthy way.


These are the core parts of you, and you don’t change them. But you might change a protective boundary if the other person understands what they are doing to you and makes a significant change. Then you might lessen or end the consequence: no separate cars, no making changes, reissue the credit cards, and so forth. When the change happens, you no longer need the protection.


Ready to go deeper on this topic? Discover how to set healthy limits in any situation and prevent unnecessary burdens from controlling your peace and energy in the New York Times bestselling book, Boundaries.


  1. Tanya says

    I believe I have read this one before. I appreciate so much the value of these words. The Boundaries excerpts have been priceless in my life and I often pass them along to Friends. I have gleaned such great tools with their wisdom and I share the concepts with everyone.

    I feel I have met very few people with healthy boundaries in their lives. I had some great boundaries in some areas and literally open land in others. I am so grateful for these nuggets of wisdom!

  2. Anita says

    My favourite from this is “I want to see my grandkids at times when you don’t need a babysitter; otherwise I feel taken advantage of.”
    So many people nowadays use grandparents instead of child care services while they work, and that really destroys the relationship between the grandchildren and grandparents, as they have become the primary caregivers. Grandparents could and should be able to be the trusted confidants when grandchildren are having problems that they can’t or don’t want to talk to their parents about, because the grandparents are sufficiently close yet far enough away from the situation to be trusted with life’s events not going to plan.
    Losing the special relationship that grandparents should have with their grandchildren is one of the saddest things to happen in a family.

    • CB says

      Some families cannot afford other childcare options or there are none nearby the parent’s place of employment. I agree that grandparents should not be taken advantage of, but if they agree to watching a child(ren) it is on them no to complain about it. They teachnically made the choice to say yes.

      Although grandparents should not be taken advantage of, some help out their child because that parents has few or no options available.

      Here is one scenario: I am a single mother who has no daycare within 30minutes available for summer care or in my child’s school district (no after-school program) when my job is 10-20minutes in the opposite direction. So I would have to drive 30 minutes out of my way for daycare that is not in my child’s school district and they would have no where to go after school because they do get on the bus at home in the morning. This is where grandparents are helpful. I am a single mom and my kids do not see or talk to their dad. I have 4 of them. If it was not for grandparents, I could not work or go to school. I do both. I don’t do a lot of extra after-school/work things and my kids only attend those things I can take them to on my own time.

    • Cheryl Lynn Riggs says

      I respectfully submit that taking care of & spending time with our grandchildren is a great way to be close to them & a positive influence in their lives. Some would much rather garden & nurture these precious little ones than send them to childcare. No disrespect intended.

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