Four Reasons For Any Relationship Problem: Lesson #2

Last week we talked about the first of four reasons for all relationship problems: Failure to speak your truth. This week I want to talk about the second reason for relationship problems: Failure to set an appropriate boundary.

It stands to reason that if you aren’t speaking your truth, you probably aren’t setting appropriate boundaries.

Lesson #2: Setting Appropriate Boundaries

A boundary is something you have control over. If you have an open door policy and you need to adjust it so that you are not overwhelmed, that boundary is in your control. You can say, “The door is open between 2:00 and 4:00 every day.” Or you can say the door is open by appointment. The point is, if others are taking advantage of you in any way, you can’t blame them. You have to look in the mirror and see where you are not expressing or enforcing a boundary. This principle is as important if not more so in your personal life.

I had a participant in a workshop tell me that his emotional energy drain was due to his over-bearing and overprotective mother complaining about her ex-husband (his father) and staying on the phone for hours with the same conversation several times a week.

Jack dreaded his mother’s call because he knew what he was up against: endless rehashing about the distant past, complaining and judging until she spiraled into a heated rampage. Jack’s resentment was building up toward his mother.

My suggestion was to speak his truth kindly and to set a boundary. The first step after you prepare yourself, is to own your part of the dysfunction and deception: “Mom, I have been keeping something from you, not out of spite, but because I was afraid of your reaction.”

Now you have their attention and you have started to own the part you played in the relationship problem.  You must then let the other person know the emotional impact and why you are seeking change. You must then let them know you are going to be responsible for the change by setting and enforcing a boundary.

“I have not let you know how hurtful it is when you talk about my father. It makes me fear building my own relationship because I would never want to go through a divorce as you did. In the future, I’m asking that we don’t talk about dad that way. This is your issue, and doesn’t really belong to me. I hope you understand, but if I see that we have slipped up I’m going to give a gentle reminder and then I’ll be forced to end the conversation until next time if I find myself getting stressed.”

Yes, it is easier said than done. Yes the other person may get angry, pout, or blame you for the bad feelings that come up. Your resistance will come up just as Jacks did when he said to me,  “I can’t just tell my mother what not to do.”

“Yes you can,” I said to him.

“You are ripping off your mother if you don’t speak your truth.”

Failing to set a boundary is doing serious damage to your relationships. You owe it to yourself and to those you care about to set and enforce appropriate boundaries.

Points to Ponder
1. With whom do you need to set a boundary?
2. What part have you played in the relationship drama?
3. When have you set but failed to enforce a boundary?
4. What are the results of failing to set and enforce boundaries?

The next lesson is the third reason for all relationship drama.


Marlene Chism is a consultant, national speaker and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011). Marlene’s passion is developing wise leaders and helping people to discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world.

Marlene’s message is spreading across the country at association meetings, corporate retreats, universities and other venues. If interested in exploring speaking or training opportunities please call 1.888.434.9085