By Christie Hunter: View Christie's Profile
After completing the relationship map (see previous week), we need to begin by assessing our relationships to see where we are investing emotional resources and how this aligns with the bigger picture in our lives. To do this, we need to understand what the goals are for ourselves and for our family. As we start, remember that when I make reference to “family,” it is the three intersecting circles in the middle of your relationship map – you, your spouse, and your children still living at home.
Assessing the Relationships in our Life
From here, consider the goals you and your spouse have established for your family. Again, this may require sitting down together and defining or redefining the priorities for your marriage and family. As a family, what is the legacy you want to leave for your children? What are the values and characteristics you want to espouse in your relationship? Are you presently living your life with these areas as a focus? Once you have assessed these goals and priorities for yourself and your family, you are ready to look at how the other relationships in your life are aligning to these.
When you look at your relationship map, consider individuals, volunteer positions, job responsibilities, or groups you are involved. Now ask yourself, are these relationships aligning with the goals and priorities you have defined? If one of your goals is to ensure your children have positive roles models in your life, are there relationships where your children see positive characteristics modeled to them? How are the relationships in your life aligning to the plans you have for your family?
Additionally, are there any relationships that are in conflict with your goals or dreams? Is there a relationship that is demanding more and more from you at the expense of quality time with your family. For example, do you have a relative that is always “borrowing” money and taking away from your ability to save and work towards financial security (a goal)? If so, consider that these relationships may require you to set limits, to place a boundary to ensure that your goals and priorities are still the focus of your resources.
Another area to be reviewed is relationships where you have committed time, emotional energy, finances, or other aspects of yourself. In the beginning, when someone comes to us and needs from us, we may feel that we are doing the right thing by investing our emotional resources into that person. So we say "yes" to that person and give to them from us. Yet what may have been right or good at the start, doesn't mean it will continue that way. People can take and take from us, eventually taking advantage of us to the point where we feel walked on, or our other relationships suffer. You need to look at that relationship and ask yourself, over time, have all the resources you've invested in that person still continue to benefit? Is that person growing? Are you growing? For example, by being an emotional support for your friend in crisis, you provide encouragement, a sounding board, and a sense of stability. But over time, your friend needs to learn how to stand on her own, to move forward into her own life. If you continue to offer her support day in and day out long after the crisis has ended, you may take on a role of enabler, the original investment no longer having the same benefit. Evaluate if your resources in your relationships are still an investment.
Finally, ask yourself, are other relationships in my life suffering or losing our because of one relationship in my life. Is there a friend, position, or other aspect of your life that is taking from other relationships in your life? A relative who inserts themselves into the middle of your marriage, for example, can have a very devastating effect on the relationship with your spouse. If other relationhips in your life are hurting because of a relationship that has gotten out of control, its time to analyze and prioritize, and set a boundary. Look at setting a limit on what you are offering to relationships that cause others to suffer or lose out because of this one.
Sometimes an unhealthy relationship is allowed to exist because you receive a "benefit" from it yourself. Consider the case of a mother in-law who provides baby-sitting support to you. You need someone to watch your baby, and so this really helps you. However, by providing you this "help," she feels that she has rights to how the baby should be raised. As a result, she is always making demands on how to raise and care for your baby. She inserts herself into your family far beyond what is healthy. This causes great tension and strife in your marriage, as she continually makes demands on your family decisions. She has assumed a role in your family that has crossed a line, and it is hurting you. It is no longer a family of you, your spouse, and your children (as it should be)- it is now a family with an extra person who does not belong! You want to cut her off, but then who will watch the baby? Do you see how this kind of snare works? You feel completely trapped- you know its not healthy, but you do not now how to fix it. We enable unhealthy relationships because we are "receiving" something back from them, and this is called co-dependency. However, in the end, whatever it is we are getting back is not worth it because it can cause our lives to crumble. We must make a change.
Making the Decision
As you assess your relationships, if there is one that you feel is not aligned with your goals, is taking from other areas of your life, or where your initial investment is no longer a benefit it is time to make the decision to set a boundary. The most significant aspect of setting a boundary is that it only takes one person. You do not need the other person to agree or to even like the limit you need to put in place. It only takes one person, you can decide at any time to implement a boundary. It begins with a simple decision.
Setting boundaries requires an honest evaluation of your present relationships, how these align with your goals, and making a decision for change. It may not be easy, change usually is not, but the potential for better living, healthier relationships all around you, and more purpose and direction in your life is immense. Next we will look at how we maintain boundaries and the response we may often experience within ourselves and from others as we begin to protect our futures and establish healthy relationships.