6 Steps to Effective Boundary Conversations

6 Steps 4 Boundaries

Today I will be continuing in our series on forgiveness, addressing what is needed to communicate clear and effective boundaries when rebuilding a wounded relationship.

Step 1

Determine if you both are ready for the boundary conversation. Look for clear evidence of a heart change in the other {not perfection, mind you!} before you make yourself vulnerable in a conflicted relationship—especially when you’re dealing with a “boundary-buster” or serious offender.

How to identify if there’s been real heart change*

  • Has there been a clear confession of at least the most fundamental of the offenses or boundary violations?
  • Has the other person demonstrated remorse for his/her part?
  • Has the other person verbally taken ownership for his/her part in the problem?
  • Have you seen his/her repentant choices and new attitude in action?

If you don’t see these crucial pieces in the person you hope to reconcile with, then your boundary conversation will most likely be resisted or even rejected by the other person.

If you feel this list is representative of both of you, then you’re ready to move to the next step …

Step 2

Choose carefully a time and place to talk. This should be where there are no interruptions and lots of privacy. You might even want to enlist the support of a neutral third party, such as a counselor or pastor to be present who can help in this first conversation. However, you must both want this third party to be involved/invited, so asking permission and settling this issue with the other party is crucial before you agree to meet.

Step 3

If you know that the other person is comfortable with prayer, suggest starting the meeting by praying together. If you know the other person is not comfortable with this, then pray on your own before the meeting. Either way, this invites God into the redemptive process, where He is able to work on giving you both the right frame of mind.

Step 4

Affirm your care for the other person and the relationship. If you don’t “care” for them, then you are not ready for this part of reconciliation.

Step 5

Deal with one issue or particular area per conversation. Don’t be in a rush to deal with all the problems all at once. It most likely took you years to develop the problems and it will take lots and lots of boundary conversations to change the relationship for the better. Be willing to accept that uncomfortable reality. Remember that as humans, we can only handle being confronted with and changing one or two issues at a time. Otherwise, we can easily become overwhelmed, discouraged or even feel rejected—not to mention it’s just not realistic.

Step 6

Calmly and gently state something like this …

“When you (fill in the blank), I feel (fill in the blank).”

And …

“This is what I’d like for you to do/say instead (fill in the blank). Do you think that’s something you could do?”

You might also want to follow this up with something like …

“What can I do to help you regarding this change I’m asking for?

Bottom Line
If your first boundary conversation doesn’t go well, then don’t become discouraged … 

 

What are some helpful suggestions you would like to add to our list here today?

 

Which of the suggestions has been crucial to the success of any boundary conversations you’ve had?

 

* Taken and adapted from Beyond Boundaries by John Townsend. I would encourage you to read this book, if you are facing any kind of reconciliation or rebuilding of trust scenario.

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* To read the previous post in our ongoing series on forgiveness click – The Support Needed to Trust Again

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  • Nan

    That is very wise advice to only bring up one or two issues at a time. Because you could overwhelm the person and make them feel totally attacked if you come in with a 7-page list of offenses! 😉 Wonderful post, my friend! Thanks for hosting!

  • You must be a fantastic spiritual and life coach, Beth. Such wisdom here. I find it hard to tackle just one issue at a time when our sin nature wants to call up all the garbage at once. This just shows that thoughtful reconciliation takes focus and effort. Blessings to you, dear one!

  • Katelyn Fagan

    I’m linking up two this week! Thanks for hosting.

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I really like the advice to include a neutral third party, and believe that is not only desirable but necessary in situations where reconciliation is needed for the continuation of the relationship. (And I’m a great believer in formal counseling.)

    One thing that’s really necessary for successful reconciliation is that the person who bears most of the blame has to be proactive in setting boundaries on their own actions…and their own assumptions.

    It comes under the heading of repentant actions and a new attitude – but I think it runs deeper, to a point of almost setting oneself ‘apart’. A new attitude is wonderful, but if it’s part of a plan to re-enter the good graces of the wronged, I’d be suspicious.

    Far better to go to a self-imposed Siberia, waiting for (and not fishing for) an invitation to return to warmth and light. Kind of like taking the lowest seat at a banquet, and being invited to sit higher. You mess with someone’s life, someone’s head, and that person does not OWE you reconciliation. It’s a privilege, no matter what the original relationship was.

    The one thing that should kill any reconciliation process stone dead is a whiff of manipulation. If you feel you’re being manipulated, break it off, and only revisit with a neutral third party. Some people are really good at manipulation, and it’s all too easy to fall into a cycle of revictimzation.

    (I know this sounds a bit harsh, but I came from one of the most toxic original families you’d ever have the misfortune of meeting, where manipulation was a parlor game, and betrayal on the ‘good’ end of the behaviour scale. It was where I learned to hate the word ‘family’. I have a better outlook now, but will never feel comfortable with the term, the institution, or my place in it.)

    http://blessed-are-the-pure-of-heart.blogspot.com/2014/04/marriage-and-pornography-saddest-battle.html

    • JosephPote

      “If you feel you’re being manipulated, break it off…”

      Wise advice, Andrew!

      And no apologies or explanations are owed to anyone.

  • I have really loved this series especially since I have been dealing with a situation where this has all been very helpful.

    Thanks for hosting the party!! Still praying for you each day!!

  • Mary

    Praying for peace and comfort in your journey to healing from the heartache that you and your husband are experiencing. Thank you for the practical boundaries for the beginning of a healing conversation with an offender. Each step is necessary and will move you forward to the next. Great series! Hugs and love my friend!

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  • JosephPote

    Very wise advice, Beth!

    I especially like your emphasis on the need for seeing real heart change in the offender, as well as the very real possibility that one or both parties may simply not be ready for reconciliation.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on situations where reconciliation may not be possible, may not be wise/healthy, or may simply not be worth the risk (unless you already covered that in a post I missed).

    In our Christian church cultures, there is often so much emphasis on reconciliation that it is treated as though reconciliation is an expectation for all Christians in all relationships under all circumstances. While that is certainly not a realistic expectation, it is often treated as a requirement…as though any believer who chooses not to reconcile is being sinful and rebellious toward God.

    Yet, in situations with deep wounds inflicted by the offender, reconciliation may be very unwise, especially with a repeat offender, and most especially when the offender has previously used the reconciliation process to hone their skills of deception and manipulation.

    Your thoughts?

    Please feel free to defer response to a later post or refer me to a prior post where you may have already covered this. I know this is not an easy brief response sort of topic… 🙂

    Thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom.

  • Darby Dugger

    These are wonderful! I am certainly bookmarking this page!!! Thank you!

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  • Hi Beth, glad to have found your site

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  • Very useful tips Beth. I just dialogued with a sister two days ago, hoping to sort out some misunderstandings and praise God! It went well. I applied some of the tips you mentioned here like steps 1, 2, and 4. Thanks for all these very important topics you have been handling.

  • Spouse Dates

    Boundaries is such a helpful topic. These are wonderfully practical steps. I especially like your advice to deal with one issue at a time. Wise advice, Beth, and helpful.

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