Boundaries are hard. It is a challenging aspect of being human. In a life where we are created for community and intimacy, where does one person end and another begin? We are meant to care for one another, to stand in the gaps, to uplift and support and encourage. But we cannot replace what another person is responsible for. And when our relationships start to endanger what we are responsible for, boundaries need to be set. Just as they do when the health of our friends is endangered.
Since we care so deeply for the people we care for, boundaries can be difficult. To make matters worse, we often don’t know we need to set a specific boundary until we see that one has been crossed. With the precedent or pattern established, it is hard to set a new norm. And it feels harsh.
Even after the hard work of recognizing boundaries, the challenge is just beginning. The next step is to communicate them to the parties involved. And that might be the hardest part.
The first step to communicating boundaries is to set them. If you find yourself in a codependent situation or anything else that needs boundaries, it can feel as though there needs to be some give and take, some negotiation. Boundaries are a personal matter. They are the line where you stop and another person begins. If you see that line needs to be set, you need to set it.
A lot of people we counsel get stuck trying to find a way for the other person to accept the boundaries. They negotiate with them, and try to foster in the boundary step by step. They try to get the other person to agree. This is problematic for obvious reasons.
If you want to communicate your boundaries, you have to know what they are. You have to set them before you communicate them. Clear boundaries are incomplete without clear consequences. Set your boundaries and your consequences beforehand. Be gracious and generous, but firm and resolute. It is the only way to love yourself and the best way to love the people in your life.
Next, as hard as it is, you have to clearly communicate your boundaries. A lot of people will set their boundaries and then get angry when the other person continues to violate the border. The truth is the boundary was contemplated but never truly set. It is not set until it is communicated, directly, to all parties involved.
We are creatures of habit, of patterns. It is not fair to change your mindset and expect others to change their behavior in response. You have to tell them what the boundaries are if you want them to be respected. They can’t know what you don’t tell them.
This can lead to conflict and difficult conversations. That’s a good thing. That is the nature of boundaries and healthy relationships. We have to communicate the truths that may be hard to hear. Otherwise, we are settling for superficiality.
You know the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It is never more true than when communicating boundaries. In a world where we often make big verbal claims about what we are going to do but then actually do something different, keeping your boundaries are paramount.
Your boundaries will constantly be tested and tried. There is someone in your life who will get away with as much as they can. People will keep taking form you until they see a fence. Not just hear that there is one, actually see the consequences of crossing a boundary.
The most underrated way to love someone is to uphold the consequences you claim you will enforce when a boundary is crossed. It helps establish norms. Ironically, it helps the relationship operate in freedom because the passive-aggressive and under-the-surface animosity is absent. Love is about establishing boundaries appropriately. And we love not just through speech, but through action. Nothing will communicate your boundaries better than living by them.