How to Set Limits on Yourself

Boundaries

Sarah had been working on major boundaries issues in her therapy for a while now. She was seeing progress in resolving responsibility conflicts with her parents, her husband, and her kids. Yet today she introduced a new issue.

“I haven’t told you about this relationship before, though I guess I should have. I have tremendous boundary problems with this woman. She eats too much, and has an attacking tongue. She’s undependable — lets me down all the time. And she’s spent money of mine and hasn’t paid me back in years.”

“Why haven’t you mentioned her before?” I asked.

“Because she’s me,” Sarah replied….

The Two Types of Liars

Boundaries in Dating

The ability to build a healthy relationship is based on the degree to which you are able to be clear and honest about everything, especially in a dating situation. Sometimes, people will deceive each other about the nature of other people in their lives. They may act like someone is “just a friend,” when in reality there is more of a history or more in the present than is being said.

For example, I (Dr. Cloud) was working with a man named Frank who was trying to figure out his relationship with the woman he was dating. He had a funny feeling that something was wrong….

How to Risk Trusting Someone Again

Beyond Boundaries

When you’ve been let down by someone who matters a great deal to you, moving beyond boundaries is not easy work — but it is important. One thing you can do in this regard is to figure out if the problem that was previously an obstacle is truly being transformed. In other words, is this person really changing? Is the big problem being solved the right way?

Here’s an example. I (Dr. Townsend) worked with a couple in which the husband, Bill, was a nice guy but irresponsible. He was one of those likeable people who loves to hang out with others and is a lot of fun. But Bill’s performance in life did not match up to his personality . . .

The Truest Test of Trust

Beyond Boundaries

The extent to which other people are concerned about their impact on you is the extent to which you can trust them. You trust them because you know it’s not just you looking after yourself; they are looking after you too.

For example, I (Dr. Townsend) was working with Steve and Lisa on learning this, so that they could connect on a deeper level. She had a tendency to criticize him in public. It wasn’t mean or harsh. It was more like he was always the idiot in her stories: how he dented the car, got the flight info wrong, let their daughter wrap him around her finger, and so on. He brought it up in our session. Here is how the conversation between the three of us went: …

Why Actions Speak Louder Than Words When It Comes to Love

Boundaries in Marriage

George sat in my (Dr. Cloud’s) office, despondent. His wife, Janet, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, George seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Janet had had enough.

“I love her so much,” George said to me. “Doesn’t she see that?”

“I believe that you love her,” I said. “But in reality, I don’t think that she sees your love. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children …

What to Do When Trust Is Broken

Several years ago, I (Dr. Cloud) went to a conference on working with character disorders, and the instructor was giving a list of priorities to psychologists who treat them. “Character disorder” is a catch-all term, but one way of defining it is “people who do not take ownership and responsibility for their lives.” I will never forget what the instructor said about the number-one priority—other than protecting your personal safety—in treating character disorders. He said, “As soon as there is any kind of deception, stop everything.” If you are trying to help someone and he is lying to you in some way, there is no relationship. The whole thing is a farce, and you should not go any further in trying to help the person until you settle the issue of deception. There are no other issues at that point except that one. Trust is everything in a helping relationship, and when it is broken, it becomes the only issue to work on. Either fix that or end the relationship. Where there is deception, there is no relationship. It was wise training and good counsel from a very experienced leader in the field. Thirty-five years of practice had taught him... Continue Reading »

Why Your Spouse Will Fail You and What to Do About It

I (Dr. Cloud) was leading a seminar, and I asked the audience of married couples to stop for a moment and think of their spouse. I told them to think of all of the wonderful things that they love about their spouse and to concentrate on how awesome that person is and how much they love him or her. “Think of the wonderful qualities that you admire and that attracted you to that person. Let those feelings fill you,” I told them. Then, after they were feeling all giddy and in love again, I asked each person to turn to their spouse who was idealizing them at that moment and to repeat after me, “Honey, I am a sinner. I will fail you, and I will hurt you.” You could feel the sense of discombobulation in the room. In one moment, they were shaken from the ideal to the real. Some began to laugh as they got it. Some felt even closer to each other. Some looked up confused as if they did not know what to do with my invitation. But that is reality. The person you love the most and have committed your life to is an imperfect... Continue Reading »

How to Forgive When It’s Hard to Forget

“I know I’m supposed to forgive,” a woman said to me (Dr. Cloud) at a recent seminar. “But, I just can’t open myself up to that kind of hurt anymore. I know I should forgive him and trust him, but if I let him back in, the same thing will happen, and I can’t go through that again.” “Who said anything about ‘trusting’ him?” I asked. “I don’t think you should trust him either.” “But you said I was supposed to forgive him, and if I do that, doesn’t that mean giving him another chance? Don’t I have to open up to him again?” “No, you don’t,” I replied. “Forgiveness and trust are two totally different things. In fact, that’s part of your problem. Every time he’s done this, he’s come back and apologized, and you have just accepted him right back into your life, and nothing has changed. You trusted him, nothing was different, and he did it again. I don’t think that’s wise.” “Well,” she asked, “How can I forgive him without opening myself up to being hurt again?” Good question. We hear this problem over and over again. People have been hurt, and they do one of... Continue Reading »