I get a lot of questions from my clients and followers about how to set boundaries, and wondering why the boundaries they are setting aren’t working. So I want to answer some of these questions here.
Q: How do I set a firm boundary? I’ve told my partner what he needs to stop doing and it isn’t working. What should I do next? I’m going crazy!
A: Let’s start by first defining what a boundary actually is. A boundary is for YOU! So many of my clients think that the boundary is telling the other person what you will not tolerate, and telling them to stop the behavior. But that isn’t exactly right.
When looking to set boundaries first you decide what behavior you would like to stop. You can then make a request to the other person to stop that behavior. Or start doing something that they haven’t been doing. That is the first step and clearly letting the other person know what you would like them to do or stop doing.
But put simply, a boundary is YOU deciding ahead of time what YOU will do if they either do or don’t do what you have asked them to do. Here is the simple formula:
If you do (Action you don’t want) or don’t do (action you want to start), then I will (action you will take).
For example: “If you do not stop talking to your affair partner and block them on social media by 5pm today, I will go stay with my sister for 4 days.”
“If you do not start seeing a certified life coach to help you with your addiction, then I will file for divorce.”
“If you do not share your location with me at all times, I will do what I need to to create safety for myself.”
All of these are examples of boundaries. The request, and then the decision of what YOU will do if the request is not met.
Q: Do I have to tell my partner (or the other person) what my boundary is?
A: No. You do need to make the request of them, but you don’t have to tell them what you will do.
Let me explain further with an example. I have a boundary that other humans cannot punch me when I am at the grocery store, or I will call the police. I am super clear on what I will do if someone were to punch me. But I don’t need to walk around the store yelling to everyone “Hey, don’t punch me, or I’ll call the police.” The action I would take if someone else did the thing I don’t want them to do is a natural consequence of their actions. So, too, are the actions you take as part of your boundaries.
It is up to you if you tell your partner your entire boundary. You can, or you can say that there will be natural consequences or you can say nothing after you make your request.
Q: What if he won’t do what I want him to?
A: Then you need to be ready to follow through with the second part of your boundary, that action YOU decided to take.
Other adult humans get to do whatever they want. I know that isn’t what you want to hear, but it is true. Your partner can totally choose to not do what you have requested. However, they do not get to choose the actions you will take as a natural consequence.
Setting boundaries ahead of time takes the drama out of holding them. For instance, if someone punched me at the store I would simply call the police. There wouldn’t be a further bargaining conversation asking them to “pretty please with a cherry on top please stop.” There is zero drama because I decided from a very clear headspace what I will do in the event anyone ever assaults me at the grocery store.
When YOU decide ahead of time from a clear headspace what YOU will do if your partner is unwilling to meet your request, then there is also no drama. They made a decision. They acted. They are showing you with their actions what they want to be doing. If they wanted to do something different, they would. But they don’t want to do something different, they want to be doing exactly what they are doing.
Q: What if they say they are working on changing and promise not to do it next time.
A: If they are telling the truth and changing as they say, then you will see that in their actions. Their actions and words will match. Once you have made your request it is time for action. Listen to their ACTIONS to hear what they really want to be doing. It is likely you have gotten to this place because there is a long history of their words and actions not matching. Time to turn off the volume on the words they are saying, and turn up the volume on their actions, and only listen to that for a while.
Q: What if my friends and family (or even therapist) don’t agree with my boundaries?
A: No one else on the planet needs to agree with your boundary. It is for YOU! No one else is living your life. This is where trusting your gut really matters, and you decide exactly what is right for you, no matter if anyone else agrees.
I truly mean this. You are your best expert. Only you will know exactly what your boundary will be made of. You get to request what you want in your relationship and you, AND ONLY YOU, get to decide what you will do depending on if the boundary request is met or not.
I love helping my clients learn to set and hold boundaries. Let me quickly tell you about a couple of clients that I recently helped with some boundaries.
One of my clients wanted to set a boundary around their husband messaging other women online. Before I helped her, the boundary she thought she set was “You have to stop talking to other women right now!” and she had screamed it at him over and over, for weeks. And he didn’t stop. After she and I worked on her boundary together she decided on “I would like you to stop messaging other women online. If you don’t, I will move out of our bedroom into the guest bedroom. If it continues after that I will leave and file for divorce.”
Those are some pretty big actions and she was scared to set this boundary. But she also knew she couldn’t continue on the path she had been on. So she set this new boundary with her husband and told him what she would do if he didn’t respect her request. Well he kept messaging other women, so she quietly moved herself into the guest bedroom. At bedtime he asked what she was doing, told her she was ridiculous and selfish and acting like a baby. She calmly told him “I was already very clear with you about what I would be doing if you continued to talk to other women online. And I am prepared to leave and file for divorce if it continues further.” and ended the conversation and went to bed in the guest bedroom.
A couple days later he came to her and told her that he had made an appointment with a life coach and was going to start working with him the next week and really wanted to make amends and invited her back to their room. She thanked him for taking those steps and told him that she would only move back into their room after some real change and work had happened. About 4 months later after he showed he was genuine about doing the work to change his ways and his words and actions matched, she moved back into the bedroom and they continue to work on their relationship.
Another client was having a hard time with communication with her ex-husband, who happens to be a covert narcissist. The boundary she tried to set was reminding him what their parenting plan said and saying to him, “You must reply to my message within two days.” The result of that was that he never replied within two days, and often replied after 5 to 10 days .
After working with me, she set this new boundary, “if you do not reply to my emails within 48 hours and this happens more than two times, then I will enroll us in a co parenting app where a mediator will handle all of our communication.” Their parenting plan clearly stated that he needed to reply to emails within 48 hours, however left on his own, he was unwilling to follow through with that. Once she set this very clear boundary and he did not reply twice within the 48 hours she simply set up the mediator communication app. He was notified by the mediator that he was going to be handling communication, that he (the ex) was currently in contempt of court, and that if he didn’t start replying within 48 hours legal action could be taken. All of a sudden, now that there was someone who could actually take legal action, he started replying within 48 hours.
Did the app and service cost her money? Yes. Was she willing to hold her boundary in order to get the result she wanted and gain some peace? Also yes!
These specific examples may not work for you. That is the beauty of boundaries, you get to choose exactly the one that is right for YOU! I want to help you set clear boundaries and then hold them.
Use this link to schedule a session with me where I will help you set a boundary together on our first call, and help you decide if we are a good fit for working together further. Investing in life coaching is investing in your future self!
The changes that I help my clients make are changes that they keep with them forever. These changes don’t just help them in the 12 weeks we work together, it helps them for years to come. For instance, I don’t just tell them what their boundary should be, I teach them how to set and hold boundaries that work and make sense to them. These clients have used their life coaching sessions to learn how to do this work ON THEIR OWN even after they have finished their sessions with me. And I can help you too!
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