Boundaries are one of my favorite topics. Why? Because boundaries are an essential key to a delicious, healthy life. We use boundaries every day, in relationships and choices, often times unconsciously. And generally, we are pretty good at negotiating boundaries.
We negotiate boundaries in many ways without ever saying a word.
When you enter a crowded elevator, everyone silently negotiates personal space boundaries. When you stand in line, you silently negotiate personal space and courtesy boundaries. When you choose your food, you are mentally negotiating boundaries around your health. When you set an alarm clock, you are negotiating a time boundary.
We also negotiate lots of relational boundaries nonverbally. For example, you’ve probably never had to say to your spouse, “Please don’t call me names.” Yet refusing to allow name calling is a boundary.
So in every day life, most of us are successful in creating and negotiating healthy boundaries. That’s why the vast majority of us spend time with our families, have healthy friendships, and participate in communities.
But as a life coach, I see where the breakdown in boundaries occurs most frequently, and I’d like to spend a few weeks blogging about those breakdowns. If you feel resentful, overwhelmed, overworked, unappreciated, taken advantage of, or fearful, you can probably resolve those negative feelings by adjusting your boundaries.
This week I’m starting with the easiest boundaries to negotiate: Boundaries with Friends.
All friendships have boundaries. You know which of your friends you can text at midnight, and which of your friends you can’t text at all. Boundaries! So how do you know if your friendship boundaries are out of whack?
Listen to your feelings. Do you feel unappreciated or resentful of a friend? When that friend texts or emails, do you feel irritated or anxious? These are signs that there is a boundary violation occurring.
Don’t freak out – just because there is a boundary violation doesn’t mean that you or your friend are a bad person! Most of the time, boundary violations between friends simply reflect changed circumstances. For example, a friend may be getting divorced and need extra support. But you may not have the emotional energy to provide all the support she needs. Are you a bad person? Nope. Is she an overly needy person? Nope. It’s just that the balance of supply and demand between you has shifted.
Creating a new balance is the tricky part of this process. A lot of this depends on how close you are and how well the two of you communicate. In my example of the divorce, the first step is to identify the specific violation that is bothering you. Is it that she expects you to text back and forth for an hour every day? Is it that she is always complaining and never asks you how YOU are? Is it that she’s constantly bad mouthing her ex (who you have always liked)? Is it that she’s dealing with a crisis every day?
Once you’ve identified the specific problem, next figure out a solution that is acceptable to you. What do YOU want? Do you want to be able to ignore your phone during dinner time without her freaking out? Do you want to maintain a cordial relationship with her ex, and find you can’t do that if she’s constantly bad mouthing him? Do you wish you could be there for her every day, but find that you aren’t getting your own responsibilities taken care of?
Now, make a powerful request. Sit down with your friend face to face. Seriously, meet in person. While you MAY be able to have this conversation on the phone, you absolutely cannot do it via text or email. Once you are face to face with your friend, use the powerful request to tell her what you want, and then the two of you can negotiate a new boundary.
Maybe you can set up a weekly coffee chat or phone call where she’s allowed to vent and say anything she wants while you listen.
Maybe she can find another person to talk to about her ex, and only talk to you about how she personally is feeling.
Maybe she can tell you a specific need that you can fill – like watching her kids once a week so she has alone time, or going to court with her, or helping her pack up her possessions.
- Notice how you feel. If you have any red flag emotions, make the decision to adjust your boundaries.
- Identify the specific boundary violation that is a problem. Be extremely specific.
- Decide what outcome you desire.
- Sit down face to face with your friend and make a powerful request to change the current boundaries between you two.
- Negotiate a new boundary.
Sound confusing? Want to rehearse the conversation with an expert? Schedule a Breath of Fresh Air with me today and we’ll do exactly that!