Early in my marriage, I set up some boundaries with my husband that I had been advised were healthy. It turns out — after years of living with them — that they have only succeeded in pushing us further away from each other. Recently, we have sat through hours of counseling to work through them, find healing, and give forgiveness.
So the topic of boundaries has been heavy on my mind. In fact, I don’t think that I can even write about anything else until this is out.
I believe the purpose of boundaries in relationships is healthy. But they hurt. Sometimes terribly.
I have experienced the feeling of hitting someone else’s boundary. And I have set up boundaries for other people to run into. Neither one is easy. And I want to share a story from each perspective today. Not as a “teaching moment”. But as a sister — sitting next to you on the couch — sharing stories about how hard life can be.
A few weeks ago, an older woman texted me asking to get together for coffee. I knew the purpose behind it was to pursue a mentoring relationship. Or at least an ongoing bi-monthly coffee chat. And at this season in my life, I have no more room for relationship. At least relationships that take a lot of effort and thought.
Goodness — I know how horrible that sounds! It sounds selfish and self-absorbed and like I don’t care about other people. Which is entirely not true. I just know that I can’t say “yes” to every request to sit down for coffee. So I have set up a boundary around how many coffee meetings I will have per week and who they are with.
As kindly as I could, I responded to the text and declined. It was so terrible and so hard to do that. But I KNEW it was the right decision within the boundaries I have set for myself in this season.
Sometimes boundaries are thorny bushes. And they hurt both the one who set them and the one who runs into them.
What are my boundaries? Good question.
I have a small number of relationships that I’m choosing to invest in. A few friends from church that are life-giving and encouraging. A woman in the neighborhood who I consider a mentor/friend. And two younger women who I am mentoring and encouraging in their seasons of life. Add that on top of my marriage, my children, exercise, and a business that I’m running. I’m full. It’s not a season for me where I’m seeking new friends. And that’s hard.
But, I’ve also been on the receiving end of another person’s boundary. I texted to try to plan a get-together and was let down. Not because she didn’t want to hang out, but because her life is busy and in order to create space you need to set boundaries. At first, I was really hurt. And that’s ok to feel that way! It’s never fun to get rejected or to feel like other things and people are more important than me.
But it’s also ok.
Their boundary had NOTHING to do with me.
She has set them for herself. To give herself margin and space and breathing room. Just like I have.
Think about your house. You set physical boundaries with fences or bushes or perennial borders. And you don’t put them right up against your house. You set them out a few feet or acres. It’s the same with life boundaries. Give yourself some space.
I have a boundary at work where I only schedule meetings first thing in the morning and only on Mondays and Wednesdays. So, when someone emails and wants to connect and network with me, I look through my available mornings and shoot them some options. Usually, the first one I have available is at least three weeks away.
I COULD meet on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, but I choose not to make them options. For space. For time in the workshop. And the flexibility to take a slow morning if I need to breathe.
But I can’t finish this post without a warning about boundaries.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, I set one up in our marriage that was devastating. One that maybe protected me, but hurt my husband deeply. Boundaries have real power and there are healthy ones and unhealthy ones. I’m not here to tell you which is which because I’m not even sure myself. But, they are not to be set up lightly.
Take time, pray about them, and set them up carefully and delicately. And then stick to them as long as they are working for you.
And might I suggest planting a boundary of peonies instead of building a stone wall.
I hear they are lovely in late spring. And when someone walks up to your bounding bush of flowers, you might have to turn them away, but at least you can send a lovely something with them as they go.