Having Difficult Conversations about Boundary Violations

Uncategorized Sep 16, 2019

Amanda had issues with her in-laws and wasn't sure how to address the boundary violations that had occurred since she and her husband had gotten married.

"They like to tell us how things should be," she said. "I think his mom comes from a good place sometimes, but she comes across as overly critical."

I explained to her that a good place to start is being emotionally present and connected while confronting her mother-in-law, and this is something that will require quite a bit of grace.

When you're present with someone, it means you're in touch and in tune with your own feelings as well as those of the other person. This is so important because when we are there, meaning, emotionally present, we make ourselves available to the other person. Amanda's mother-in-law won't be shut off from her while she's telling her a difficult reality about the relationship. Confrontation is not easy to absorb for anyone, but presence and connection help make that tolerable.

Also, when you are present and connected to the other person, you are doing something really important for the relationship — providing what you are requesting. You want the other person to be "there" with you. This is why you are confronting them in the first place; the issue has caused a rift in emotional presence. You are with the person who is not with you.

Let's take a look at how I told Amanda to follow-through with that difficult conversation.

Be Warm

Remember that although confrontations can be uncomfortable, this does not mean you need to be angry, detached, or distant from the other person. As much as you are able, be warm and available to her. What you say is highly colored by how you are with the person. If you are warm, he is much more likely to receive what you have to say. If you are not present, she can't be sure of your intent, motives, or your heart, and you run the risk of failure.

Be in a Conversation, Not a Lecture

Being present also means allowing the other person to respond. You have a side to present, and so probably does she. Be there with her feelings as well as your own. Listen to her heart even when you don't agree with her stance.

Connect Even with Differences

Staying present means being "there" not only when you agree with each other, but also when you disagree, when there is tension, and when you are confronting. We tend to connect when people are on our side and drawback when they are not. However, as much as possible, be safe enough to be present with the person even when he resists or gets angry.

Discomfort Versus Injury

We need to be willing to suffer discomfort – to a point. The limit here is the limit of injury. If you get in a bad situation with a person who can truly injure you because of where you are emotionally, or because of how powerful and influential she currently is with you, you will need to guard your heart to avoid having wounds. Sometimes you may need to not let the person in too deeply, or even end the conversation until a better time to protect yourself. At the same time, if the talk is more discomforting than injurious, you may want to press on towards a reconciliation.

Observe Yourself

Be aware of how present or absent you are in the talk. Monitor what makes you shut down and what makes you open up. When you are aware of yourself, you have more choices and options available. I remember one conflict conversation I was having with a friend. I thought I was pretty present until he said, "Look at your arms." I looked down, and I had wrapped my arms around myself protectively. Some presence!

Need a safe place to relate to others about this topic? Join one of Dr. Henry Cloud's Boundaries Peer Groups. 

Boundaries in Marriage
Boundaries with Codependency
Boundaries in Dating
 
Boundaries with Parents
Boundaries with Adult Children
Boundaries After Divorce
Boundaries with Narcissists
Boundaries with Kids and Teens
Boundaries in Church

 

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