Where Do I Draw the Line?

“I told him how much he had hurt me and he was really sorry. I believed him and forgave him. I told him I needed some space, but he keeps texting me and even showed up at my work. I can’t seem to get through to him. I don’t know what to do.”

When you’ve communicated to your partner, friend, co-worker, or family member, that what they’ve said or done is not okay with you or has hurt you in some way (See How to Start a Good Fight), and they’ve apologized (See 8 Steps to a Good Apology), or not…  When you’ve decided whether forgiveness would be helpful for your own sense of freedom (See Forgiveness- A Dirty Word?) or not… You might feel that you need something to change in the relationship. You might decide to set some boundaries.

As I said in the previous post, forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything has to go back to the way it was. Whether you forgive or not, there are times when boundaries need to be set in order to make it less likely that the situation will re-occur. Boundaries communicate to others the kind of behaviour you are okay with and not okay with, in a firm, assertive way.

Some things to consider when deciding what boundaries to set:

What do you have a right to ask for?

If a family member is consistently disrespectful towards your partner, due to their own ‘prejudices,’ you have every right not to invite them to events you are hosting. You may even request that they not be invited to gatherings that others host, but you may not have the right to insist that they not be invited to these events. In this case, it will be up to you whether to attend or not.

Do the boundaries you set impact others who are not involved?

For example, if an ex-partner has been inappropriate with you over social media and you decide to limit visits with the children, this may impact the children in a negative way.  Consider a boundary that would actually stop the problem and not impact others inadvertently.

Does the boundary actually address the problem?

If a neighbour consistently ‘borrows’ your weed-wacker and forgets to return it, not inviting them to your New Years party will not likely resolve this issue. They will just be confused and left guessing about what the problem is. First, ensure that you request a prompt return of your weed wacker. Second, let the neighbour know when it has not been returned promptly.  If you’ve already requested a prompt return, multiple times, to no avail, then you might consider adding or changing a lock on the shed where the weed wacker is kept to prevent further ‘borrowing.’ Or you might decline the next time they ask.

Is it a boundary or a punishment?

The goal of a boundary is to set a limit which results in the type of behavior or treatment you are asking for.  It might also serve to prevent a behavior or treatment from happening. If punishment is your primary intention, this may or may not achieve the outcome you are hoping for (see Too Many Sticks and Carrots). For example, if you want your sister to stop commenting on your weight, commenting on her lack of fashion sense may not stop her behaviour.

Is the boundary clear?


If you felt disrespected by another person’s behavior, asking them to respect you in the future may be unclear. Respect means different things to different people. You need to define your terms clearly. Never assume that ‘everyone knows’ or that ‘it’s common sense.’ Don’t hesitate to give specific examples. For example, if your teenager fails to fill the gas tank after borrowing the car 10 times, you might need to explain exactly how often you would like them to fill the tank. (See “We’re Talking Big Changes” for more communication strategies).

Did you communicate your boundary out loud?

This might sound like a ridiculous question. But it is something to consider. If there are safety issues, depending on the situation, you may need to set a boundary without communicating ahead of time. If you are not highly invested in the relationship (such as a rude distant relative who insults your partner at extended family gatherings) you might choose to just stop inviting them without actually talking to them. If you are invested in the relationship and want it to continue, be sure you tell the person who is impacted by the boundary, what the boundary is, specifically, and what will happen if the boundary is not respected. Don’t assume they will ‘get it’ if you just follow through. This strategy is too risky.

It is not easy to set boundaries. Knowing where you draw the line will increase your own sense of self respect. When you expect your boundaries to be respected you have potential for deeper, fuller relationships. Not everyone responds well to having a boundary set. This does not mean that you’ve done the wrong thing. Stick to it and you will find yourself surrounded by more respectful relationships.

See upcoming post about dealing with chronic boundary violators in your life.

See also When Boundaries Aren’t Respected

Check out 7 Ways to Love a Volcano

See also When YOU are the Volcano – 7 Ways to Care for Yourself

Check out How to Start a Good Fight





15 thoughts on “Where Do I Draw the Line?

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