Setting Boundaries with a Hostile Spouse

Uncategorized Jun 10, 2020

Amy and Blake had been married for eight years, and they loved each other. However, when he was angry or upset, Blake became moody and would withdraw from Amy and the kids, except for occasional outbursts of anger. When his manufacturing business was struggling, he would sit silently through dinner. Once, during this period, the children were arguing at the dinner table. Out of the blue, Blake said, “Amy, can’t you keep control of the kids? I can’t even have a quiet meal in my own home!” And with that, he stormed out of the kitchen into his home office, turned on the computer, and stayed there until the kids went to bed.

Amy was hurt and confused. But she had a pattern of “handling” Blake’s moods. She would try to cheer him up by being positive, encouraging, and compliant. “He has a hard job,” Amy would think. “Nurturance is what he needs.” And for the next few hours, and sometimes days, she would center the...

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Why We Pick the Wrong People and How to Change That

Uncategorized Jun 10, 2020

Note: This was written in the context of why we pick generally unsafe people to have in our lives and is not meant to place blame on victims of abuse. Abuse is never your fault. 


When we choose the wrong relationships, romantic or otherwise, many people just see it as a problem in the “other person.” They never get to where the real issue is and where the power to change lies.

Having said that, let’s talk about it more. First, you can see your hurt in the past two relationships has brought you some pain. It is important you get with some good people to help you process all of that hurt, so you can deal with it fully and put it in the past. Cry it out, express the hurt and anger, forgive and then, let it go. But that is not all. The next step involves the great lesson of hurt — learning.

Look at the past relationships and find the themes in the relationship that say something about you. What were the qualities you were drawn to? Were they good...

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What to Do When You've Been Burned Too Many Times

Uncategorized Jun 09, 2020

I worked with someone who once told me they were “done” with people. Their sentiment was understood. After being hurt multiple times in different capacities, I could see why they came to that conclusion. I just didn’t agree with it.

But before you believe you’re “done” with people and all relationships, allow me to elaborate on something here.

People who avoid relationships have problems not with functional self-sufficiency but with relational self-sufficiency. The problem with the relationally self-sufficient person is that he operates in his own relational world. He runs his emotional affairs like a one-man business. His emotional philosophy is the following:

  • I take care of my problems.
  • I don’t burden others with my problems.
  • I can handle my problems myself, thank you.
  • I’m fine, really.
  • No, really, I’m fine.

What’s wrong here? We were not created to be relationally self-sufficient. We need each other. Our needs teach us...

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The Difference Between Toxic and Imperfect People

Uncategorized Jun 08, 2020

Twenty five years ago, John Townsend and I wrote a book called Boundaries. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

In talking with some people who have read the book, we’ve realized that a few have selfishly misused the point, which is to make relationships better. Instead, these people have tried to use boundaries to control other people or to make a big deal out of very small issues. So understand what we mean when we say you are to avoid toxic people: Imperfect behavior is not the same as toxic behavior. It’s important to learn the difference between problems that we should expect in relationships because people are imperfect, and problems that are toxic and need to be worked through or else avoided.

Not all things or people are toxic. There is no reason to start a war over someone’s immaturity or perfections that rub us the wrong way. That is the time for us to grow in patience and longsuffering, the ability to wait on people as they grow and mature.

Wisdom tells us...

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How to Disagree and Come to An Amicable Resolution

Uncategorized Jun 08, 2020

Any good confrontation takes into account that two people are involved. This sounds obvious, but it really isn’t, and it is an essential part of an effective boundary conversation.

One reason you have a problem in the first place is that you and the person you want to confront are not of one mind; you aren’t the same person. You don’t see things the same way nor feel the same way, and you have different ideas on what to do about it. This is not a bad thing, in and of itself.

The differences between you can help both of you grow and enjoy life.
The problem arises when you don’t clearly distinguish your feelings and opinions from the other person’s, especially when having the talk. The process of problem solving and reconciliation can quickly get bogged down. You see this when people say things like “You need to change this” rather than “I need for you to change this.” There is an “I” who has a desire and a request, and...

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This is How to Respond to a Passive-Aggressive Narcissist

Uncategorized Jun 06, 2020

For many of us, family get-togethers can be a real pain in the you-know-what. How wonderful it would be to have a perfect, happy family with no issues. But human beings live messy lives, and we do so many things the wrong way before we have sufficient wisdom to know the best approach. 

Not long ago a friend of mine asked me for advice on how to deal with a passive aggressive, frankly narcissistic text she received from her father about her upcoming visit. It was obviously coming from a place of hurt, and yet there was a lot of care in there, and also aggression and manipulation. It was clear that there were some deeper issues. This was a family in need of boundaries.

I didn't tell my friend exactly what to do, but I did give her a basic framework to think about the problem. I suggested she should wait a bit before she responded, because we always want to make sure that we are responding rather than reacting.

1. Gratitude.  The busy and messy state of so many of our lives...

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How to Set Boundaries Within a Dysfunctional Family

Uncategorized Jun 06, 2020

Look at your own life situation and see where boundary problems exist with your parents and siblings. The basic question is this: Where have you lost control of your property? Identify those areas and see their connection with the family you grew up in, and you are on your way.

Identify the Conflict

Discover what dynamic is being played out. For example, what “law of boundaries” are you violating? Do you triangulate? Do you take responsibility for a sibling or parent instead of being responsible to them? Do you fail to enforce consequences and end up paying for their behavior? Are you passive and reactive toward them and the conflict?

You cannot stop acting out a dynamic until you understand what you are doing. “Take the log out” of your own eye. Then you will be able to see clearly to deal with your family members. See yourself as the problem and find your boundary violations.

Identify the Need That Drives the Conflict

You do not act in...

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Unsafe People Will Not Give You Freedom, So Here’s What You Do

Uncategorized Jun 04, 2020

I remember one woman came into therapy with extreme anger toward her family and all of their "expectations." I agreed with her that her family's expectations were wrong and that I understood her anger. She was very comforted that I agreed with her on that point. But when I suggested that they were not going to change and that she had to free herself from them by changing her attitudes toward them, she would get angry with me, saying, "You're just like them. You don't understand, either." She felt if I did not agree with her victim stance, I didn't care.

I assured her that she had indeed been victimized growing up, but now she had to stop victimizing herself by freeing herself from her expectations of them.

She couldn't understand that and said, "I don't have any expectations of them; they are the ones with the 'shoulds.'"

"On the contrary," I said, "you're just like them. They say that you should be a certain way. And you say that they should be a certain way, or you will feel...

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A Toxic Behavior to Watch For

Uncategorized Jun 04, 2020

Please note that this is not meant to invalidate pain you've experienced. This is written in the context of resolving conflict that can happen between two people. 

Safe relationships are centered and grounded in forgiveness. When you have a friend with the ability to forgive you for hurting them or letting them down, something deep occurs in the transaction between you two. The healing process begins to liberate both people of the harm that was done. Guilt, shame, hurt and fear start to dissolve, so receiving forgiveness when we know we’ve truly blown it is a humbling and growth-producing experiencing. It’s the only thing better than forgiving someone else.

On the other hand, an unsafe person who is unable to forgive can be very destructive. Unsafe people are often good at identifying your weaknesses. They can quote the minute and hour you hurt them, and recall the scene in intimate detail and living color. Like a good attorney, they have the entire case mapped...

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Unsafe People Exist at Church, Too

Uncategorized May 31, 2020

I got an emergency call, and the office relayed to me that I had a suicidal client. I called Theresa on the phone. She was distraught.

“Tell me what happened,” I said.

“It’s not going to work,” Theresa replied, sobbing.

“What isn’t going to work?”

“Telling other people about my problems,” she said. “I went to my fellowship group tonight and told them about the depression and the problems with Joey, and they really came down on me for being depressed and for all the other stuff that has been going on.”

“What did they say?”

“Well, they said that I shouldn’t feel that way and that if I was still having all those problems then I probably wasn’t walking with the Lord. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’ve tried all this ‘safe relationship’ stuff, sharing and all that, and now it doesn’t work.”

“What would you say if I told you that you still...

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