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Boundaries Face to FaceHow to Have That Difficult Conversation You've Been Avoiding
By Henry Cloud John Townsend
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Henry Cloud and John Townsend
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Talk Can Change Your Life
As we speak around the country at conferences on relationships, we will often hear some version of the following story.
A man will come up and say, "Thanks for your materials on setting limits and boundaries. They have changed my life and my marriage."
We will say, "Thank you, too. So what book did you read?"
"I didn't read a book," the man will say. "My wife did!"
He will go on to explain: "I was a crummy communicator with my wife. I controlled her, I had some bad habits, and I had no spiritual life to speak of. Then she read Boundaries, and she started applying the principles. That's when things started changing for both of us. It took some time and effort, but I'm really different now. We are closer, and we have more respect for each other and more freedom in the relationship. I'm doing a lot better with those bad habits, and I'm waking up to my relationship with God."
You would normally expect someone to talk about a book he has actually read. However, this man's unexpected response illustrates a reality: The person who has the problem in a relationship often isn't taking responsibility for his problem. This was bad news for the man's wife. She wanted to see change, but he either didn't see a problem, thought it wasn't a big issue, or thought his wife was overreacting. This can leave the wife who cares for her husband feeling helpless, discouraged, and less able to feel love in her heart for him.
You Can Change the Relationship Alone
But there is good news. Though the person with the problem may not be taking responsibility for, or "owning," the problem, the person affected by the problem can change things. You may be the motivated one, the one who is concerned, sees the problem, and feels discomfort from it, whether it be a bad attitude or a bad behavior. In fact, you may be feeling more pain and discomfort than the other person. In our example, the wife, before confronting her husband, most likely had to deal with isolation, lack of freedom, his bad habits, and the emptiness of not having a spiritual partner.
Things can change when the person experiencing the effects of the problem takes the initiative to resolve it. This wife took the first step. She became aware that her husband's ways weren't good for either of them and that nothing would change unless she did something herself.
That first step is often a conversation, a talk, a face-to-face confrontation with the other person. It is a conversation in which the two people discuss the problem and what can be done about it. It is a talk of truth. That single conversation may be all that's needed. But more likely, it will be the beginning of a series of conversations and events, as it was with the marriage in our example.
We want to affirm and validate your decision to have "the conversation you have been avoiding." How to have that conversation is the core need this book addresses. You need a caring yet honest and effective way to confront someone in your life. The Bible teaches-and research supports the idea-that you can develop the skills and tools to be able to confront well.
What Is a Boundary?
Before we go further, however, we need to define a term that will come up a lot in this book: boundary.
Simply put, a boundary is your personal "property line." It defines who you are, where you end, and where others begin. It refers to the truth, to reality, to what is. When you confront someone about a problem, you are setting a boundary. You can set a boundary with your words when you are honest and when you establish a consequence for another's hurtful actions.
Boundaries help define who we are in our relationships. When we know what we want and do not want, what we are for and against, what we love and hate, what is "me" and what is "not me," we are setting boundaries. People with good boundaries are clear about their opinions, beliefs, and attitudes-in the way that Jesus taught: "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one" (Matt. 5:37). People without clear boundaries are unsure of their opinions, feelings, and beliefs. They find themselves easily controlled by the demands of others because they feel unsure of themselves when they need to take a stand.
Boundaries also help protect us from injury and harm. By setting boundaries we can take responsibility for the lives and gifts God has given us: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov. 4:23). Boundaries protect our values, feelings, time, energy, and attitudes. When a person says to another, "I want you to stop criticizing me in public," he is setting a protective boundary.
God himself has boundaries. He designed them and lives them out. He is clear on who he is, what he is for, and what he is against. He is for relationship, truth, love, and honesty, and he is against oppression, injustice, sin, and evil: "For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity" (Isa. 61:8). (For more information on boundaries, please refer to our books Boundaries, Boundaries in Marriage, Boundaries with Kids, and Boundaries in Dating.)
In this book we deal with one specific aspect of boundaries: We tell you how to set them by having a helpful and effective "talk" with another person. We will sometimes refer to that confrontation as a boundary conversation, that is, a talk with someone in which you confront a problem you want to resolve with the person.
Having "the Talk"
The last time someone said to you, "I need to talk to you," how did that strike you? Did you think, Maybe she needs to tell me how much she appreciates me. More likely you thought, I'm in trouble. When we consider having "the talk" with someone, it may create much anxiety and throw up many red flags. It may signal conflict, criticism, and even the end of the relationship.
Many of us live in two worlds when it comes to relationships. In one world we have friendly conversations in which we avoid all disagreements; in the other we have major conflict-type conversations that tear everybody and everything up. In the first world we have connection without truth, and in the second we have truth without connection.
God did not design us to live in these two worlds, having these two types of relationships. He wants us to live in the one world, where he lives and where truth and love coexist as allies, not adversaries. Our connections are best when they are truthful, and our truth is best when we are connected. The Bible calls this truth in love: "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:15). Conversations work best when people both care for each other and tell the truth to each other. Good things happen. People get along, resolve issues, and still maintain the connection they need.
When people have had enough bad experiences in relationships, they begin avoiding conflict and confrontation altogether. They withdraw from truthful conversations. They fear the following things:
Losing the relationship: They fear that the person will withdraw either emotionally or physically from them.
Being the object of anger: They don't want to receive someone's rage or blame about being confronted.
Being hurtful: They are concerned about wounding the person and hurting their feelings.
Being perceived as bad: They want to be seen as a nice person, and they fear they will be seen as unloving and unkind.
These fears often prevent people from sitting down and having the necessary talks that would solve problems. If you identify with any of these fears, it would be worth your while to learn where they come from and how to resolve them. We don't have space to go into that topic now, but our book Boundaries is a good source for this information.
Right now we want to talk more about the major benefits of confronting others with whom you have a problem. Becoming aware of the benefits and advantages of a loving and balanced conversation will help you to get past the fear and have that talk. That is the goal of the next chapter.
Excerpted from Boundaries Face to Face by Henry Cloud John Townsend Copyright © 2003 by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Excerpted by permission.
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