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How to Avoid the Two Most Common Boundary Mistakes


We all know that boundaries are important. However, when we begin to intentionally set boundaries in our relationships, we may discover problems. Here are two of the biggest mistakes people make when setting boundaries and tips for avoiding them!


Don’t Bluff

One temptation when setting boundaries is to bluff. We believe that once we set a boundary and stop an action, the other person will see how hard we’ve been working and automatically step in and pick up the slack. The problem with this is when we are not OK with what might happen when the slack doesn’t get picked up.

One aspect of boundaries is allowing people to experience the consequences of their actions. If you rescue a person from consequences, they have effectively called your bluff.

For example, you may decide that doing the dishes is not a job you have time to do, and so you set a new boundary: you will not do any more dishes. It is now going to be Sam’s job (Sam can be your teen, your husband, your roommate, etc.). You and Sam agree on this new boundary. And a week later, the counter is covered with dirty dishes, the dishwasher is full of dirty dishes, and you can’t find a clean mug for your coffee. If you spend an hour or two doing all the dishes, then your bluff was called. Sam learns that if s/he puts off the dishes long enough, you will do them.

How to avoid this mistake?

tweetMake sure all the possible outcomes of this boundary are acceptable to you.

If it’s a chore, make sure you don’t mind when or how this chore gets done. If it’s a project, make sure you don’t mind if it fails, or looks bad, or your child gets a bad grade.

Don’t Try to Control Outcomes

Many times we set boundaries because we want a certain outcome. This is especially common with parenting. We want our child to show respect to adults, and set a boundary that if the child calls an adult a bad name, the playdate/outing is over. We think that now that we’ve set the boundary, the child will show respect to adults.

Sadly, setting a boundary does not guarantee the outcome you desire, as any parent can tell you!

tweetWhen we set boundaries, we are handing responsibility and ownership over to another person. 

How to avoid this mistake?

Outline your expectations when you set the boundary. IE, you can explain to your child that adults deserve respect and you expect him/her to show that respect by not calling names. But ultimately you cannot control another person, you can only set expectations and enforce boundaries and rules. Be willing to allow the other person to make mistakes and violate the boundary as you two learn how to live with it.

Setting boundaries is about giving responsibility to another person and expecting that person to act independently. When you set boundaries correctly, you are empowering the other person. I encourage you to start any boundary conversation with an open statement of what you desire, what is not happening, and a request for help. Setting boundaries can be very collaborative. So get out there and have some boundary setting conversations!

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