No bluffing allowed

When setting boundaries, you want to be careful about the possible consequences. In yesterday’s example, I told my husband I would not pick up his dirty clothes. That meant that if he chose not to pick them up, they would remain on the floor. I knew in advance that I didn’t mind dirty clothes laying on the floor. Setting a boundary didn’t guarantee me a certain outcome: but I knew that whatever outcome resulted, I would be able to live with it.

This returns to the question of controlling behavior. We often set boundaries in an attempt to control behavior and outcomes. So when the outcome of our boundary setting is different from our desired result, we either undermine our own boundary, or we get angry. In my example of picking up dirty clothes, I would either undermine my boundary by picking up the dirty clothes myself (although I said I would not do that), or I would become angry at my husband for not picking them up. This is unfair. If I undermine my own words, I teach my spouse that my word is not to be trusted, and that I will rescue him from the consequences of his decisions. If I pick up the clothes and yell at him, then I’m attacking him with no warning.

The moral of the story is: consider every possible outcome of the boundary you are setting. When you care passionately about an issue, you are responsible for it. If one or more of the possible outcomes is absolutely unacceptable to you, then setting a boundary is probably not the best tool. Instead, you have two choices. The first option is to make a request. Respectfully explain to your spouse that his clothes on the floor frustrate you and you would like him to clean them up. He can then say yes or no. You are free to negotiate at this point. IE, “If I pick up your clothes from the floor, I don’t have time to load the dishwasher. Which task would you prefer to take responsibility for?” The second option is to simply take responsibility for the clothes on the floor, as long as you can do so without resentment or anger. Acknowledge to yourself that you care more about clothes on the floor than your spouse does, and therefore it is worth it to you to take the time to clean them up.