For most of us, boundaries prove to be one of the most misunderstood and most difficult skills we must learn on this journey. But Christy Kane, a former coach with A Circle of Joy who is now doing her practicum at Soul Work Counseling in Minneapolis, does a great job of shedding light on boundaries in the following pieces she wrote during her time on our team. And I think you will especially enjoy the comical—and effective—example in the first piece below in Christy’s thoughts on boundaries!
Mom on Strike!
Putting Boundaries to the Test
I am the mom of two boys, a teenager and a "tween." Recently, I became quite frustrated with the arguments and lack of responsibility they'd been showing. They were fighting nearly constantly with each other over everything. If one said the sky was blue, the other would inevitably say it was purple. They were also fighting increasingly about "whose turn" it was to help with the dishes or take the dog out—especially if he hadn't gone "number two" for a while. After having to clean up several days worth of doggie doo because the boys had just left it on the ground right outside the patio door, then coming into the house to see several days worth of dishes piled on every flat surface in the kitchen that I'd asked multiple times that they take care of to no avail, I'd finally had enough. I went on strike. My terms were that I would not do anything at all for them except things that had to do with their health and safety. This meant I would not cook for them, do laundry for them, give them permission for anything including video games, TV, hanging out with friends, etc. If they got a cut, I'd clean and dress it. If they got sick, I'd take them to the doctor and see that they got the medicine they needed to make them better. That was it.
That the boys were shocked was an understatement. Of course, they hated the idea. The first question they asked amid their incredulity was, "How long?" to which I replied calmly, "Until you guys get it and I see progress." Thinking my strike would last a couple of days to a week at most, I walked away and let them ponder their plight.
Two weeks later, the strike was still going. The boys were still arguing about everything and neglecting being helpful around the house. I had to keep reminding myself not to give in by bringing home a movie for them to watch together, not including them in my mealtime preparations and so on. It was hard. They didn't realize how much I wanted for things to go back to a better form of normal. Three weeks. Then 25 days. I had upped the ante many times from building a snowman in the front yard and giving it a "Mom on Strike!!" sign to cooking some of the boys' favorite foods for just my husband and I. Finally, after sitting them down again for a heart-to-heart talk, I started seeing the progress and consistency I needed to see. Three days later, I was able to end my strike, and for the most part, the boys have been much more willing to help out without arguing and complaining ever since.
When we set new, healthy boundaries in our lives (letting others know what we can and cannot live with) we often envision things changing fairly quickly. As days turn into weeks, and weeks turn into months, we get discouraged and sometimes even downright depressed, wanting to give up trying. For some, things never change, and their boundaries are never honored. However, whether a boundary is honored by others or not, it does cause change. In the course of my strike, I found I was becoming calmer and less stressed when dealing with the fact that my boys were not progressing as quickly as I had thought they would. I was able to let go of the fact that their dishes were piled up, their things were lying all over the house, and that on a couple of occasions, they wore dirty clothes to school. I allowed them to experience the natural, real-world consequences of their actions rather than yelling and cajoling—or swooping in to rescue them. I let them be in control of the timeline, and let them deal with the resulting problems on their own.
We, too, may find that we change for the better when we choose to stick to our boundaries, even if our husbands do not change. We can become calmer, more peaceful and stronger in confidence for it. Remember, we do not set boundaries to make another person change. We set boundaries for ourselves—to define what we can and cannot live with, and then remove the buffer (us) between our spouse and the natural consequences of their behavior (detaching).
In my strike, I let them know I could no longer live with being ignored and dismissed when I asked for their help, and removed myself from the process of taking care of everything for them, allowing them to experience the consequences of not taking responsibility for themselves. This showed them the reality of what will happen when they are on their own someday if they do not change. In my marriage, I learned to set boundaries with my husband—the boundaries that said I could no longer live with his addictive behavior and the chaos it brought into our lives. By doing so, I no longer stood as a buffer between him and the consequences of his addictive choices and left the responsibility for his actions squarely with him.
In setting boundaries, we hope that our husbands will finally see themselves and change. But primarily, we set them to protect ourselves and strengthen ourselves, so that regardless of what our husbands choose, we can be healthier, stronger and more confident. When we allow others to accept responsibility for their actions and choices, we find freedom and serenity.
When most of us think of boundaries, we think of rules; of telling others what they can and cannot do. But in reality, boundaries are fences we draw around ourselves, not others. They are fences to keep out of our space things that don’t work in our lives. Christy explains below….
4 Myths About Boundaries
Myth #1: “Boundaries” is just a fancy word for RULES!
Not true. Boundaries are not something we place on anyone else. We create boundaries to make our needs—for safety, for good communication, for health—clear, as well as to define ahead of time what our response will be if our boundaries are not honored. The healthiest boundaries are written as “I” statements, not “You must” or “You can’t” or “You will.” Rather “I need” or “I feel.”
Myth #2: Boundaries are controlling
Again, not true. We are not telling anyone what they can or cannot do when we set boundaries. We are merely stating what WE can and cannot live with. Others are perfectly free to choose whether or not to honor the boundaries that we set.
Myth #3: Boundaries are punishing
This, also, is not true at all. Yes, many of our boundaries have attached to them a course of action we will take if our boundaries are not honored—especially if they are repeatedly ignored. The purpose of this action is not punishment, but awareness and empowerment. It is a means of taking responsibility for our own needs by finding an alternate means of having them met—in a healthy way—should our spouse choose not to. It is their choice whether or not to honor our boundaries, and if they choose not to, they are CHOOSING the results.
Myth #4: Enacting an action like separation from a spouse is unforgiving—it’s holding a grudge
Not necessarily true. While I cannot judge the heart of anyone other than myself, when I have had to take action in response to a trampled boundary, it has had nothing to do with forgiveness and everything to do with empowerment and protecting myself. There is a big difference between protecting and taking care of ourselves (and our families) and holding a grudge. I can forgive a person AND choose to separate from them. I can put temporary or permanent space between myself and someone who has harmed me and still release them with forgiveness.
Are you becoming someone you don’t want to be as a result of the relationship you are in? Do you question what your gut is telling you? Do you feel alone and have no one who will listen?
I have 20 years of experience helping people manage and overcome destructive and dysfunctional relationships as a Certified Life Coach. I have worked with women both one on one and in support groups for those impacted by a partner’s sex addiction and compulsive behaviors.
I am currently finishing my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy online with Northcentral University in California & have started my practicum site work at Soul Work Counseling in Champlin, Minnesota. If you live in the Twin Cities area, I offer Journey to Healing & Joy groups face-to-face out of my clinical practice, and I would love to help you on your healing journey.