Posts Tagged ‘Boundaries’


Colossians 3:12-14 –“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

I (Dr. Cloud) was leading a seminar, and I asked the audience of married couples to stop for a moment and think of their spouse. I told them to think of all of the wonderful things that they love about their spouse and to concentrate on how awesome that person is and how much they love him or her. “Think of the wonderful qualities that you admire and that attracted you to that person. Let those feelings fill you,” I told them.

Then, after they were feeling all giddy and in love again, I asked each person to turn to their spouse who was idealizing them at that moment and to repeat after me, “Honey, I am a sinner. I will fail you, and I will hurt you.”

You could feel the sense of discombobulation in the room. In one moment, they were shaken from the ideal to the real. Some began to laugh as they got it. Some felt even closer to each other. Some looked up confused as if they did not know what to do with my invitation.

But that is reality. The person you love the most and have committed your life to is an imperfect being. This person is guaranteed to hurt you and fail you in many ways, some serious and some not. You can expect the failures to come. As the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” We can expect failure from even the best people in our lives.

So the question becomes, “What then?” What do you do when your spouse fails you in some way or is less than you wish for him to be? What happens when she has a weakness or a failure? How about an inability to do something? What about an unresolved childhood hurt that he brings to the relationship?

Other than denial, there are only a couple of options. You can beat him up for his imperfections, or you can love him out of them. The Bible says, “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Nothing in a relationship has to permanently destroy that relationship if forgiveness is in the picture. No failure is larger than grace. No hurt exists that love cannot heal. But, for all of these miracles to take place, there must be compassion and tenderheartedness.

What does that mean? I like how the Bible describes God’s compassion: “to bend or stoop in kindness to an inferior” (Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionary). For God to have compassion on our brokenness or sin is certainly to stoop to an inferior. But we need the same attitude toward an equal spouse for two reasons:

First, you forgive what is inferior to the ideal standard. You humble yourself to identify with your loved one, who is experiencing life in a way that is less than you or even he would want. You give up all demands for your spouse to be something he isn’t at that moment.

Second, if your spouse is hurting or failing, you are not morally superior, but you are in the stronger position at that moment to be able to help. God never uses the stronger position to hurt, but always to help. As Paul puts it in Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

What a picture that is! “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” What if you “wore” these qualities every time your spouse failed or was hurting? I think we would see a lot more healed marriages.

But that is not the human way. The human way is to harden our hearts when we are hurt or offended.

I was talking to a friend the other day who had offended his wife in a relatively minor way. But to her it was not minor at all. As a result, she did not speak to him for several days. Finally he asked her when she might forgive him. “Will it be before next month? Before Christmas? Just let me know so I can get ready.” She finally broke and started laughing, and things were fine again. She saw how unnecessary her “hardness of heart” was to the offense.

Hardness of heart, much more than failure, is the true relationship killer. Jesus said in Matthew 19:8 that failure is not the cause of divorce, but hardness of heart is. This is why the Bible places such a high value on tenderheartedness.

Today’s content is drawn from Boundaries In Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2014 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Visit BoundariesBooks.com for more information.


Proverbs 9:8 –“Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”

What is your normal reaction when conflict occurs in a new relationship? Are you comfortable addressing the issue? Or, do you stuff the issue out of fear or a desire to preserve the peace? Honesty is the best policy for two important reasons:

  1. Being honest helps resolve the hurt or the conflict.
  2. When you are honest, how the other person responds tells you whether a satisfactory relationship is possible.

If you are hurt in some way, bring it up. Don’t harbor bitter feelings. Or, if there is something that the other person has done that you do not like, or goes against your values, or is wrong, it must be discussed. If you don’t, then you are building a relationship based on a false sense of security and closeness. And it is possible that your feelings will be confused by hurt and fear. A lot is lost in not finding out who the other person is and where the relationship could really go, if one or both people are not facing hurt and conflict directly. In reality, a conflict-free relationship is probably a shallow relationship.

Second, you need to find out if the person you are with is capable of dealing with conflict and hurt directly. The Bible and all relationship research is very clear on this issue: people who can handle confrontation and feedback are the ones who can make relationships work. You must find out, sooner rather than later, if the person you are with is someone you can talk to. If you get serious with someone who cannot take feedback about hurt or conflict, then you are headed for a lifetime of aloneness, resentment, and perhaps even abuse.

Proverbs puts it well about a person who cannot take confrontation: “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). “A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise” (Proverbs 15:12).

Whether you’re dating someone, starting a new friendship, or building a business alliance, you need to know if you are in a relationship with someone who is going to be defensive when you bring up hurt or conflict, or if you are with someone who is going to be able to listen, learn, and respond. If you do not deal with conflict early on, and the relationship gets serious, then you have bought yourself a world of trouble.

Honesty over hurt and conflict creates intimacy, and it also divides people into the wise and the foolish. But being honest is totally up to you. You cannot control what the other person does. However, you can decide what kind of person you are going to be. As a result, you will also be deciding what kind of person you are going to be with.

Today’s content is drawn from Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2014 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Visit BoundariesBooks.com for more information.


Matthew 7:16-20 –“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

George sat in my (Dr. Cloud’s) office, despondent. His wife, Janet, whom he loved deeply, had just moved out because he had lost another job. A very talented person, George seemed to have everything he needed for success. But he had lost several good jobs because of his irresponsibility and inability to follow through. Bosses loved the talent but hated the performance. And after several family disruptions because of his failures, Janet had had enough.

“I love her so much,” George said to me. “Doesn’t she see that?”

“I believe that you love her,” I said. “But in reality, I don’t think that she does see your love. All she sees is the effect your behavior has had on her and the children, and she asks herself, ‘How can he love us and treat us this way?’ You cannot just say you love someone and not deliver. Love without the fruits of love is really not love in the end. She feels very unloved because of what you have put her through.”

If George was to have a chance of winning Janet back, it would not come through one more empty promise. He needed to develop boundaries to gain the self-control that would make him a responsible person. Janet was only going to believe in action, not just talk about love.

George had never been required to deliver the fruits of love when growing up. His parents were fine, hardworking people. But having gone through the Depression and a lifetime of hard work, they did not want George to have to struggle as they had. As a result, they indulged him and required very little work from him. When they did give him chores and responsibilities and he did not deliver, they would not discipline him, thinking that they wanted him to have “positive self-esteem” rather than the “guilt” with which they grew up. Consequently, he did not see any negative effect on his loved ones when he did not perform.

But marriage was different. He was now in a relationship in which the one he loved also had requirements for him, and things were falling apart. For George to become a truly loving person, one whose love actually made a difference in the lives of others, he was going to have to become a responsible person. In the end, love is as love does.

Moreover, loving people respect the boundaries of others. Have you ever been in a relationship with a person who could not hear the word no? How did you feel? Typically one feels controlled, manipulated, and resentful instead of respected and loved. A controlling person steps over the line and tries to possess the other. This does not feel very loving, no matter how much the offender says he cares.

Loving people are able to control their impulses. Many alcoholics, for example, have great love for their families. Their drinking greatly troubles them, and they feel horrendous guilt. But still they drink, and although, like George, they love, the effects of their lack of ability to say no to alcohol ends up destroying the relationships they care about. Many other impulse problems— such as sexual acting out, overspending, food or drug abuse, and rage attacks—end up destroying love as well. A lack of boundaries keeps these behaviors going.

A loving person recognizes that the world does not revolve around him or her. They consider the consequences of their behavior on people around them before they act. In psychological terms, they are not “egocentric”—thinking that they are all that matters and that people around them exist only to meet their demands and needs.

George’s irresponsibility was costing him his marriage and had cost him financial losses, chaos, a lack of stability, and unrealized dreams. But what is this thing we call responsibility? Many things come to mind, such as duty or obligations, reliability and dependability, or just “getting the job done.”

Responsibility is actually broader than this. We think of responsibility in terms of ownership. To take ownership of your life is ultimately to take control. Ownership is to truly possess your life and to know that you are accountable for your life— to God and others. When you take ownership, you realize that all aspects of your life are truly yours and only yours, and that no one is going to live your life for you.

People who are accountable see life as something that has been entrusted to them, and they know that they and they only will be responsible for what they do with it. To take ownership of these is to be a truly responsible person, the kind of person with whom everyone wants to have a relationship. A responsible person says, “My feelings are my problem,” or “My attitude is my problem.” In addition, the truly responsible adult realizes, “I made me do it, and I am responsible.” With that, there is hope for self-control to develop.

Today’s content is drawn from Beyond Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2014 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Visit BoundariesBooks.com for more information.


Ephesians 4:26-27 – “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”

Children need more than a parent who will talk about boundaries. They need a parent who will be boundaries. This means that in whatever situation arises, you respond to your child with empathy, firmness, freedom, and consequences. This is how God handles his children, and he is our model. But, sometimes parents contribute to the problem by trying to justify their kid’s behavior, rather than addressing the issue.

Setting boundaries with kids isn’t about “making” your child do anything. It is much more about structuring your child’s existence so that he experiences the consequences of his behavior, thus leading him to be more responsible and caring. Use the following three key steps to help begin the process with your kids:

Step 1: Acknowledge that your child is not perfect.
All kids are immature sinners; this is our human condition. Some parents have difficulty with this first step. They deny their child’s behavior. They rationalize genuine problems. For example, smarting off becomes a cute sense of humor. Laziness becomes fatigue. Intrusiveness becomes high-spiritedness.

Parents rationalize their child’s problems for many reasons. Some do it to avoid guilty feelings. Some don’t want their own perfectionism challenged. Some feel as if their child is being victimized. Others don’t want to be embarrassed. Still others don’t want to go through the effort of disciplining. Parents need to look at the possibility that they might be sacrificing their child’s well-being to protect their own sense of comfort and well-being. God never denied our craziness, and he went through the ultimate discomfort to solve the problem. Be a parent.

Step 2: Identify problems that aren’t really problems.
After acknowledging that your child isn’t perfect, the next step is to identify that some of your child’s behavior problems aren’t really the problem. The action or attitude driving you crazy isn’t the real issue. It is the symptom of another issue, which in many cases is a boundary problem. Your child’s behavior may be driven by something broken or undeveloped within her character. The symptom alerts you to the inner problem.
Don’t just react to the symptom, or you will be guaranteeing more problems later. Parents often have a knee-jerk reaction in a crisis, then back off from their job when the crisis resolves. A boundaryless child will have symptoms until she develops boundaries. Here are some examples of problems that aren’t really the problem:

Outward Problem:

  • Bad Grades
  • Control other kids
  • Doesn’t listen to instruction
  • Defiant attitude

Boundary Problem:

  • Lack of concern about consequences
  • Lasck of respect for other’s boundaries
  • Lack of fear of consequences
  • Lack of boundaries or entitlement

Step 3: Realize that time does not heal problems
The third step you will need to come to terms with is that time does not heal all. Many parents avoid addressing boundary problems because someone told them, “Just wait it out. They’ll get older.” Yes, your kids will get older. But, how many 42-year-olds do you know who are getting older but still have no boundaries? Time is only a context for healing. It is not the healing process itself. Infections need more than time; they need antibiotics.

In fact, avoiding dealing with problems in your child simply gives the Devil more opportunity to stunt his growth (see Ephesians 4:26-27). Time is a necessary but not sufficient condition for boundary growth and repair. You also need lots of love, grace, and truth for your child. Get involved in the repair process. With nothing but time, things do not improve, but break down further.

The words “parenting” and “problems” sometimes seem to be redundancies. You may simply be preventing problems in your child. Or you may have a troublesome situation that is breaking your heart. Yet, God has anticipated it, is fully aware of it, and wants to help you to help your child develop boundaries. He has provided hope for your and your child’s future that is real and helpful.

Don’t give up on your child, even as they enter adulthood. You are the only mom or dad they will ever have; no one in the world has the position of influence in their heart that you do.

Today’s content is drawn from Boundaries with kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2014 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Visit BoundariesBooks.com for more information.


Genesis 2:24 – “A man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

“You wouldn’t believe how she is with him,” Dan said. “She totally focuses on his every wish. When he criticizes her, she tries harder. And she practically ignores me. I’m tired of being the ‘second man’ in her life.”

Dan wasn’t talking about Jane’s lover. He was talking about her father. Dan was tired of feeling like Jane cared more about her father’s wishes than his.

This is a common sign of a lack of boundaries with family: the spouse feels like he gets leftovers. He feels as if his mate’s real allegiance is to her parents. This spouse hasn’t completed the “leaving before cleaving” process; she has a boundary problem. God has designed the process whereby a “man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (see Genesis 2:24). The Hebrew word for “leave” comes from a root word that means to “loosen,” or to relinquish or forsake. For marriage to work, the spouse needs to loosen her ties with her family of origin and forge new ones with the new family she is creating through marriage.

This does not mean that husbands and wives shouldn’t have a relationship with their extended families. But they do need to set clear boundaries with their families of origin. Many marriages fail because one partner fails to set clear boundaries with family, and the spouse and children get leftovers. Establishing boundaries with family is a tough task, but one with great reward. It is a process with distinguishable steps:

1. Identify the Need That Drives the Conflict
You do not act in inappropriate ways for no reason. You are often trying to meet some underlying need that your family of origin did not meet. Maybe we are still entangled because of a need to be loved, or approved of, or accepted. You must face this deficit and accept that it can only be met in your new family of God, those who are now your true “mother, father, brothers, and sisters,” those who do God’s will and can love you the way he designed.

2. Practice Boundary Skills
Your boundary skills are fragile and new. You can’t take them immediately into a difficult situation. Practice them in situations where they will be honored and respected. Begin saying no to people in your supportive group who will love and respect your boundaries. When you are recovering from a physical injury, you do not pick up the heaviest weight first. You build up to the heavy stuff. Look at it as you would physical therapy.

3. Say No to the Bad
In addition to practicing new skills in safe situations, avoid hurtful situations. When you are in the beginning stages of recovery, you need to avoid people who have abused and controlled you in the past.

When you think you are ready to reestablish a relationship with someone who has been abusive and controlling in the past, bring a friend or supporter along. Be aware of your pull toward hurtful situations and relationships. The injury you are recovering from is serious, and you can’t reestablish a relationship until you have the proper tools. Be careful to not get sucked into a controlling situation again because your wish for reconciliation is so strong.

Today’s content is drawn from Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2014 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Visit BoundariesBooks.com for more information.


http://www.boundariesbooks.com/boundaries/boundaries-emotional-blackmail/
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“Every time I disagree with my mother, even on little things, I feel this terrible sense that she’s not there anymore,” mused Ingrid over coffee with her friend Alice. “It’s like she’s hurt and withdrawn, and I can’t get her back. It’s really a horrible feeling to think you’ve lost someone you love.”

Let’s be honest. None of us enjoys being told no. It’s difficult to accept another person’s refusal to give support, to be intimate, or to forgive. Yet good relationships are built on the freedom to refuse and confront. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Good relationships are built on appropriate no’s. Even when we’re children, young or old, we need to know our boundaries will be honored. It is crucial that our disagreements, our practicing of saying no, and our experimentation will not result in a withdrawal of love.

How often do we hear the statement that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”? It’s true. His love is constant and never fails. When parents detach from a misbehaving young child instead of staying connected and dealing with the problem, God’s constant love is misrepresented.

When parents pull away in hurt, disappointment, or passive rage, they are sending this message to their youngster: You’re loveable when you behave. You aren’t loveable when you don’t behave. A child translates that message something like this: When I’m good, I am loved. When I’m bad, I am cut off.

God created people with a need for attachment and relationship. In essence, parents who pull away from their child, whether young or old, practice spiritual and emotional blackmail. The child can either pretend to not disagree and keep the relationship, or he can continue to separate and lose his most important relationship in the world. Thus, he will most likely keep quiet.

Children whose parents withdraw when they start setting limits learn to accentuate and develop their compliant, loving, sensitive parts. At the same time, they learn to fear, distrust, and hate their aggressive, truth-telling, and separate parts. If someone they love pulls away when they become angry, cantankerous, or experimental, children learn to hide these parts of themselves.

Parents who tell their children, “It hurts us when you’re angry” make the child responsible for the emotional health of the parent. In effect, the child has just been made the parent of the parent— sometimes at two or three years old. It’s far, far better to say, “I know you’re angry, but you still can’t have that toy.” And then to take your hurt feelings to a spouse, friend, or the Lord.

By nature, children are omnipotent. They live in a world where the sun shines because they were good, and it rains because they were naughty. Children will give up this omnipotence gradually over time, as they learn that needs and events besides theirs are important. But during the early years, this omnipotence plays right into boundary injury. When children feel parents withdrawing, they readily believe that they are responsible for Mom and Dad’s feelings. That’s what omnipotent means: “I am powerful enough to make Mom and Dad pull away. I’d better watch it.”

A parent’s emotional withdrawal can be subtle: A hurt tone of voice. Long silences for no reason. Or it can be overt: Crying spells. Illness. Yelling. Children of parents like these grow up to be adults who are terrified that setting boundaries will cause severe isolation and abandonment.

Please don’t misunderstand this. Parents setting boundaries with their children is crucial. Children need to know behavioral lines that should not be crossed. They need to suffer biblical, age-appropriate consequences for acting out. (In fact, when parents do not set and maintain good boundaries with their children, the children suffer another type of boundary injury.

What we’re talking about here isn’t allowing the child free rein. Parents need to stay attached and connected to their children even when they disagree with them. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get angry. It means they shouldn’t withdraw.


1 Thessalonians 5:11 – “ “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.””

When my wife, Barbi, and I (Dr. Townsend) were first married, we used to have conflicts about conflict. Looking back, it’s kind of funny as I later went on to write a Christian relationship book called Boundaries in Marriage. Imagine watching us have boundary conversations about how bad our marriage boundaries were. Barbi’s approach to conflict was to avoid it. My approach tended to be more blunt. We’d talk about a problem and it wouldn’t go well. One of us would misunderstand, we would pull away from each other, and the problem wouldn’t get solved.

One day, I asked Barbi, “When we argue, I never stop loving you. Is there anything I can do to make this better for you?” She thought a minute and said, “Maybe if you let me know you love me before you confront me, that might help.”

I thought that was a good idea, so I agreed. The next time I wanted to have a talk with her about a concern, I walked in the room and said something like, “Honey, I just want to let you know I really care about you and I hope you feel safe with me.” Then when I brought up the problem, things went better for her and for us.

This method of having successful conversations went on for a while. As time passed, however, something changed. I needed to bring up an issue, so I began with, “Honey, I just want you to know…” Barbi said, “Stop! It’s okay. I know you love me; just get to the problem.”

We had a good laugh about it. Over time, she had begun feeling safe enough not to need reassurance before each conversation. She realized that I love her even in the midst of confrontation, and she was ready to go straight to solving whatever problem needed to be solved.

When God created marriage, he gave us one of his best gifts. He provided a permanent and safe connection for a man and a woman to experience love, joy, meaning, and purpose together. Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” God designed marriage to be a whole-person connection. This means that, more than in any other human relationship, every part of you ideally is to connect and cleave to every part of your spouse. The love you share should be complete as you intertwine your lives and emotions around each other.

Because marriage is such a wonderful type of relationship, confrontation within the marital relationship is very important. Who is better qualified to understand and speak to someone about a problem than the person who is living life right next to him? You are intimately involved with him. You see the real person, imperfections and all. His ways and actions affect you; you are not dispassionate about him. More than anyone, a spouse should be able to see what her partner’s true problems are.

Marriage is not about making each other happy; it is about growing and helping one’s spouse to grow. For instance, Ephesians 4:16 says good marriages are a large part of how the body of Christ “grows and builds itself up in love.” Happiness can and does come to a good marriage. Happiness, however, is a byproduct of growth and life. It is not the goal.

Confrontation brings empowerment, which is the ability to make choices and changes in your relationship. God created all of us to be change agents for each other. We have a responsibility to influence the people in our lives to be the best possible people they can be. For instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.”

Healthy confrontation helps us grow by making us aware of what we are doing and how our behavior affects others. God uses us to deliver the ingredients of growth to the people in our life. Part of the reason we are with whomever we are with is to provide those ingredients for those people. While most would agree that we can’t make someone change, it is also true that we can do much to encourage change.

As Barbi and I have learned to confront each other lovingly, directly, and effectively, we are often pleased in the change not only in our marriage but also in ourselves. We feel a sense of power that we can make changes and that we have choices. God designed all of us to connect and act, and confrontation helps put the “act” into the connection.

Today’s content is drawn from Boundaries In Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2014 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Visit BoundariesBooks.com for more information.