The Need for Boundaries: Examples

RJ was sitting at the kitchen table when I explained to him that I needed to start saying “No” more.  He was rightfully concerned that our life may have to adjust a bit to accommodate my boundary education.  So far, his willingness to embrace my desire to grow has yielded a more authentic and forgiving wife so it’s worth it.  I think.  Except maybe when it comes to dinners.  Here’s the first example:

After being stuck in a meal rut, I attempted several new recipes in a row, a few of which were kind of a disaster.  RJ, who enjoys a close relationship with his taste buds, mentioned that he would prefer 2 or 3 new meals a week, spread out and accompanied by several old standbys.  I started to feel really frustrated, resentful and trapped by his lack of adventure until I realized he was simply stating his perspective and I had never actually told him why I was trying to add to our dinner repertoire.  The conversation went something like this:

Lindsay: Even tone, fighting the urge to sound defensive: “I really enjoy eating dinner together as a family.  I know it’s important to both of us and I appreciate all the things you do to help prepare and clean up after dinner.  I work hard to plan our meals and prepare them and I’m happy to do it.  Sometimes it gets really boring to make the same meals again and again and I need to spice things up a bit.  It helps me feel excited about planning and making dinner if I can be creative and try new things.  I know sometimes this means we end up with a dicey meal but I’m learning.”

His reaction: “Oh, ok.”  I cannot overstate my gratitude at my spouse’s level of understanding.  This conversation opened up a dialogue about what stresses me out about making dinner and he is more than happy to offer menu ideas (which I really appreciate) and he has since made an effort to be even more helpful when it comes to meals.

Here’s one more example.  Rest assured that I will feel completely awkward the next time I tell you no.   And I’m trying to be brave but we’re operating on the edges of my comfort zone.  As you will see, I don’t employ all of the ideas every time, it just depends on the situation…

A friend called to ask me if I would be willing to teach a gardening class to a group of women next month.  She openly acknowledged that I may not be able to and if that was the case, asked if I had any recommendations.
I called her back and left a message telling her we’re about to get a puppy so I’m not adding much more to my April calendar.  I offered her the handouts from the last time I taught the class (respecting her need and request) and told her how good it was to hear her voice (love you friend) and I gave her the names of several contacts who may be able to help.  I have always appreciated her down-to-earth approach to service.

I wanted to say yes.  I almost always want to say yes.  As I thought through my response to her, these were some of the questions I asked myself:

If I say yes to this request, how much time will it realistically take?  (I pretty consistently underestimate here, even if I ask.  I don’t take into account prep time, travel time, social time, the time it takes me to get out the door, you name it.)

What will I be giving up so that I have the time?  I like to think that I have more time than the actual 24 hours that are regularly allotted to me.  Oftentimes I say yes, assuming that a few extra hours will magically appear.  Remember “I can fit this in…”  Sometimes I pray for help with managing my time but I have yet to be granted more, heaven has helped me in other ways.

And then, How would this sacrifice of time impact my priorities?  In those first years of our marriage, I would routinely attend to everyone else’s needs first, assuming that our marriage and personal needs would be taken care of on their own.  RJ patiently pointed out numerous times that I was leaving very little time for him or our home.  I figured the frantic pace I was keeping was all in the name of service so somehow our marriage and family culture would just fly on autopilot right?  (Are you beginning to see why my emotional credit card was maxed out?)  Over time, I began to realize that being intentional about my marriage and family meant managing this mortal life of mine a little better and reserving some available prime time, not just serving up whatever exhausted minutes I had leftover.  We all have unique situations and priorities but we are probably similar in our ‘out-of-balance feeling’ when important priorities get subverted for too long.

Is there anything I can offer that would take less time but would still be helpful?  In the Chester Karrass Effective Negotiating course this would represent my efforts to follow the win-win principle.  It takes some creativity but it can be fun to figure out how I might be able to help in a different way than what I’ve been asked that would still allow me to respect my priorities.

These are basic examples: a situation where I realized and defended a need and a situation where I declined a chance to help.  I am working on a few for next time that are a bit more uncomfortable.

Until then, I send my love,



9 thoughts on “The Need for Boundaries: Examples

  1. These are great! I especially like the questions about what one will be giving up and how it will affect priorities. I’m learning that everything has a trade-off and it makes all the difference if I’m agreeing to the trade-off consciously, rather than being blindsided by the repercussions that I didn’t realize were there.

  2. This topic is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I really appreciate the fact that you seem to have some training on the subject, instead of just flying off the handle with “I can’t take it!” statements that you would have to back up and apologize for. And as I’ve been thinking about it, I realized that I have no problem setting boundaries with a lot of people in my life. But it’s really, really difficult to set boundaries with a few chosen people, like my husband and parents. For them, I never want them to be disappointed. I want to run a marathon trying to do everything they want me to do so that they will not be unhappy with me. Right now I’m preparing to send my husband and kids off to Zion without me so I can finish writing my book. I know my husband is very disappointed that I won’t be going, and part of me wants to find a way to do it all and sacrifice my sleep and my sanity and my own happiness just so that he won’t be disappointed with me. Any insights on that??

  3. Love on another and treat others like you want to be treated that is the start then communicate. Stay calm don’t get angry just share your feelings with your mate and encourage him to share his true feeling with you!!!, Men tend to keep their feelings inside they need encouragemnt to let those feelings out. Remember the order for loving and caring is: God, Husband, Wife than children!!! God’a word explains it all!!!!!

  4. I can relate. I have an almost overwhelming desire to avoid conflict in my very closest relationships. I like to think it’s a hold-over survival instinct. Because I have a tendency to avoid all conflict in those relationships, I am still learning which things are most important to me. And the primary way I learn is by practicing when it feels needful. It’s such a fine line to navigate, especially for me in marriage. Inevitably I have a few moments of “Well, I wish I’d done that after all” but those moments have been the most educational for me. And they’ve only come because I’ve waded through some disappointment. It’s SO hard.
    I think it can also be hard to begin articulating needs in relationships where it’s not the norm. Developing a communication pattern for that can take time and feel really conflicting. Like sometimes just subverting whatever I think would be best is easier than handling the awkwardness of letting someone dear to me down. But in the interest of having a self that is functional :), I’ve found that sometimes the awkwardness is worth it, and it’s generally gotten a little more comfortable as I see the resulting authenticity that I can offer in return. I’m really interested in what you’re figuring out. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Thanks Dinah. I appreciate your perspective. Especially the part about communication. I have been really grateful for the insights I’ve received and the understanding that has been extended to me as I figure out what my needs are open up dialogues with other people. I also really appreciate your priority list. I’m interested in how you go about determining what your love for God entails. That’s the part where I keep getting tripped up, I think. I share your priorities and part of my love for God includes loving and caring for His other children so I figure by loving them, I am loving Him. That’s where my boundaries can get a little blurry. If you’re comfortable sharing them, I’m really interested in what your ways of loving God first are.

  6. Lindsay, I have loved this series of posts on boundaries. You have a real gift for articulating yourself gently and lovingly while setting limits. I read somewhere long ago..”If you’re going to add, you have to know how to subtract too.” Essentially, if you bring something new in your life, something normally needs to move over to create that space. This concept saved me after I had twins. Basically, I realized that I had added two beautiful souls to my life, and they were THE very most important work I could focus on. So, everything (just about) got shoved to the side, put on the back burner, or forgotten while I nourished, held, and cared for them. In some ways, it was simpler having two babies than one because I expected NOTHING extra of myself. Sign-up sheets? Forget it. Showers? Optional most days:). Cooking? Pancakes and hot dogs to the rescue. I became an extreme minimalist. In some ways, now it’s far trickier balancing many, many demands from several different fronts in my current stage.

    Thanks again for sharing your insights. I always look forward to your posts and the comments that follow. Hope you have a wonderful day.

  7. Thanks Anne Marie. I love that. That’s a really good point. Sometimes the huge, obvious things are easier to work with than the smaller ones because they demand priority. Many times the daily struggle to strike some semblance of balance is harder because it’s so slippery. I really liked that quote. Adding and subtracting. It is that basic huh? Thank you.

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