One of the foundational elements of my coaching is helping clients to truly understand that we can’t control other people’s behaviour. Nor should we try.
Trying to get another person to change so they become who we want them to be is the key to misery.
None of us likes to be controlled or manipulated. When we believe this is the other person’s agenda we push back. It makes us even more determined not to change.
But what if your husband is indulging in behaviour you find unacceptable? Behaviour that is having a negative impact on you and your children?
Maybe it’s drinking to excess, gambling, taking drugs, reckless spending. Maybe it’s that he never spends time with you or his children.
If you can’t force him to change his behaviour, are you supposed to just accept it?
What’s called for are clear boundaries.
So, what is a boundary?
A boundary is a conscious decision about what you will and will not allow into your life. It is a metaphorical line we draw around ourselves to protect our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Boundaries can be spoken or unspoken.
An example of a clear boundary most of us have is that we will not allow another person to hit us. This means: “If you hit me, I will not remain in this relationship.”
When we have clear boundaries we communicate a message to the people in our lives. Setting boundaries gives us freedom because we are not constantly trying to figure out what we will or won’t accept. We avoid giving mixed messages, something that happens when our boundaries are unclear or inconsistent.
Why we don’t follow through
Often we set a boundary but fail to uphold it when another person violates it. When we don’t follow through we have simply made an empty threat. The person we set the boundary with knows we weren’t serious and the negative behaviour continues.
Why is it sometimes so very difficult for us to enforce a boundary? In my own experience and my work with clients, I think it boils down to the following:
We are afraid of the consequences and we fear the unknown (eg If I say it will be the end of our marriage, how will I survive, how will he survive, what will we tell the kids? etc.)
We have come to believe that we are somehow responsible for his behaviour and we feel guilty about following through (and your husband uses manipulation to reinforce this belief when you try).
We have taken responsibility for his emotional welfare and believe he will not be able to cope with the consequences if we uphold the boundary.
Lack of Self-Love
We don’t love ourselves and value our own emotional needs enough to believe that we deserve to have our boundaries honoured and respected.
Until we overcome these barriers and learn to value ourselves and our own needs more than his destructive behaviour, we will fail to uphold our boundaries.
In doing so, we give an unconscious message to the other person that their behaviour is acceptable. We ‘enable’ them to repeat the behaviour. And the cycle continues.
The result is that we feel helpless and powerless to change the situation. We feel trapped.
Begin with Clarity – Be really clear about the boundaries you want to set and why. Consider whether it’s appropriate to set a boundary, ie is the behaviour affecting your physical or emotional wellbeing? (If the answer is no, then a boundary is not appropriate, but you can still communicate the fact you don’t like the behaviour).
Be Prepared to Enforce it – What is the consequence for violating the boundary and are you prepared to enforce it? If the thought of enforcing your boundary brings up fear or resistance, get support from a friend or professional to help you work through it.
When we set a boundary but don’t enforce it, trust in the relationship disintegrates. In essence, we were lying. We didn’t mean what we said and we didn’t follow through. We ‘enable’ and give permission for the behaviour to continue.
Ask What’s Worse? – Is it facing up to the fear of upholding your boundary? Or is it continuing to tolerate and therefore ‘enable’ the intolerable behaviour?
The Boundary is for YOU not HIM – Understand that when you set a boundary you are not asking the other person to change their behaviour – they can behave however they want to. It is not about making a threat that says: “Do this, or else.”
In setting the boundary you get to decide how you are going to respond to that behaviour – ie “If you choose to do X, I will choose to do Y.”
Make a Commitment to Yourself – Enforcing your boundaries is a commitment you make to yourself. It is about taking care of your own needs. It is an act of self-love and self-care.
Do you value yourself enough to set and uphold clear boundaries?
What challenges have you faced in setting and enforcing boundaries with your husband or anyone else in your life? How did you overcome them?
Please share your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.
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