I shared an email exchange between me and my ex with a couple friends for accountability. One of them replied she was glad I continued to set healthy boundaries, because she has another friend in a similar situation who is struggling with boundaries and finding herself repeatedly hurt.
It prompted me to think about healthy boundaries and how to determine and maintain them. I’d say, “use common sense,” but sense is not so common. I’d say, “use wisdom,” but I’m not sure we view wisdom as something to seek and apply as commonly as we make up our minds what we most want and are comfortable with projecting it onto what we claim as wisdom.
But here are a few things to consider.
- Consider safety and risk. When my ex reached out to talk to me many months after he left the marriage, I told him I would only do so in front of a counselor or mutual friend – for my safety. Not that I felt he would harm me physically, but there had been significant emotional damage. I wanted a witness to any manipulation or deception. However, healthy boundaries take both safety and risk into consideration. We cannot completely insure safety from all harm. Relationships always have some risk involved. Don’t go into any situation wearing blinders. Think what might happen, but don’t get paralyzed by it.
- Respond for the right reasons. Acknowledge your anger, bitterness, jealousy, etc., but don’t let any of it drive your responses. In essence, you then let another person or your feelings determine your next steps, and both can be deceptive. Take a deep breath and consider what you want a situation or relationship to look like several years down the road. Of course, the outcome you prefer might not become reality, but at least you will have planted the seed to keep it as a possibility.
- Set aside conditional benchmarks. If he/she and only if might sound good at the time, but such conditions position you to watch for specific benchmarks in order for you to respond. Situations and relationships are more complex than that. For example, someone might want to say the words or phrase you want to hear but with a misguided, ill-intended motivation. Or you might not hear a specific phrase, but you are so focused on listening for it, you miss other progress.
- Trust someone to keep you in check. I recommend two or three someones. Many more than that confuses things when you get varying opinions and begin polling until you get the consensus you most want. Just one person is limited and needs another check and balance. Be sure to let the people know truth and accountability are more important to you than comfort. Choose good listeners, and commit to listening well in return.
- Be willing to change. What defines a healthy boundary in one situation or relationship will not necessarily apply a month or so down the road. Reassess regularly. Revisit why certain boundaries were healthy to set at one point and determine if that need still exists.
For me, the most significant motivator and healthy check is God. He has a perspective I do not have. He helps me know what is best in each situation and changes me over time but only when I trust and follow him well. Perhaps my humility in faith is one of the healthiest and also most challenging boundaries of all.