The Boundary Discussion

The first three months of 2014 were a struggle for me.  It was different than how I usually experience depression, I was under-functioning to the point that DH needed to over-function (bless him).  I knew that the origin was from not protecting myself well enough during the FOO holiday visit last year and it didn’t help knowing I was heading back in three months.  I thought about canceling the March visit but something in the back of my head said “it is time.”

I needed to do something drastically and desperately different because I couldn’t have another three months of being ill – emotionally and physically.    I read two boundary books and I began to put together patterns in myself.  Although I have set boundaries in the past, I always withdrew them later.  I would set a boundary once and then allow it to be adjusted the next time.  Rewind, play, repeat.

My pattern with boundaries were at extremes.  I’d shut down and then feel guilty/shame about it.  I wasn’t able to set them in a way where I kept myself healthy and allowed for flexibility.  After reading Katerine’s books and bloggers’ advice I focused on my time boundary with my FOO and my in-laws.

During the March visit, I set and held my time boundary with my FOO and then next up were my in-laws.  The first evening with DH’s father (FiL) I started to feel drained.  I woke up the next morning not feeling 100%.  I told DH that I wasn’t going over to FiL’s apartment that day and that I would meet up with DH that evening for dinner with friends.

This one sentence was met with ‘negotiating’ techniques.  You see, DH negotiates for a living and he is good it.  In the past, I would suggest not participating and I would allow myself to be convinced otherwise or would hold the boundary once and feel guilty after and give in the next time (rewind, play, repeat).  I hadn’t connected the dots with my patterns like that before.  The ‘negotiating’ attempts went like this (paraphrasing):

  1. “Come over today and take the next day off.”
  2. “What am I going to say to my father about why you are not there, I am sick of lying.”
  3. “You sound sarcastic as if this is fun for you.”

All of these tactics worked in the past because these are the three I am most vulnerable to in this order: 1. Reasoning/Rationalization 2. Debasement (I’m the victim) 3. Social coercion (through criticizing) – 3 out of 6 manipulation techniques that Braiker² highlights in her book.

DH and I did not want to go down that path again and luckily in her second book³ (“Where to Draw the Line”, p. 154-155) Anne Katherine talked about speaking with others (who are affected) about boundaries in advance.  I used her guidelines and wrote down questions that DH and I answered separately and then we discussed our answers.  It worked well for our last visit this summer and we plan on using them for our upcoming FOO holiday visit.  The purpose is to have a clear picture of what you and the other person wants/expects.

Boundary Discussion Questions (based on Katherine’s How to Create Successful Holidays Guidelines):

  1. What activities would you like to do? (my answer: see good friends, workout, downtime, shopping) Any specifics? (example: preparation needed, order of events, etc.)
  2. Who would you like to be included/see during this event(s)? (I listed the people I would make time for and DH listed his – where we agreed we went together, where we didn’t we went separately)
  3. What are our time limits/constraints with the people we will be seeing? (this can also be used for food, money, etc.) (my answer: I will participate in two meals with FiL and BiL)
  4. What are each person’s responsibilities (when interacting with our FOO)? (combined: use “I”, not “we” statements, let me answer questions directed towards me the way I want to answer them – if you find it inappropriate give me the feedback later, no triangulation, no lying)
  5. What has not gone well in the past, what did you dislike about the past events/holidays? (my answer: I need planned downtime to recover from my FOO and DH’s FOO and I will help FiL only on tasks that he physically cannot do himself)

The conversation was eye-opening and surprisingly we stuck to most of our answers during the summer visit – there was some negotiation. 😉  Katherine also suggests to review our answers after the event.

What worked well:

  • DH handled triangulation well
  • DH handled his father’s attempt to manipulate him into doing something he didn’t want to do
  • I didn’t fall into my severe under-functioning state after the visit

What didn’t work well:

  • DH tried to control my ‘changed’ response to questions from FiL that were directed to me
  • I over-functioned in anger and shame for DH, I need to give him room to feel his own emotions and process it himself


¹Katherine, Anne, M.A. (1991). “Boundaries – Where You End and I Begin”. New York: Simon & Schuster.

²Braiker, Harriet B., Ph.D. (2004). “Who’s Pulling Your Strings? – How to Break the Cycle of Manipulation and Regain Control of Your Life”. New York: McGraw-Hill.

³Katherine, Anne, M.A. (2000). “Where to Draw the Line – How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day”. New York: Simon & Schuster.


23 thoughts on “The Boundary Discussion

  1. Boundaries are damn hard. You made progress here and you can expand it the next time. I believe that boundaries being difficult for us is two fold: one, we were never allowed to HAVE them…our mothers denied us them because that would make us independent from them…not that they wanted us around but it was totally an issue of control on their part. (we were not seen as deserving this) Two, we are too unsure of ourselves to realize that we NEED and DESERVE boundaries. This is the difficult part.

    As adults this is very much one of the hardest parts to get our heads around. And it is part of the package of previous narcissistic control by our parents, etc. And when we are married it seems we have to ‘educate’ our spouses as to WHY we need boundaries…the word NO is powerful, but our spouses don’t listen many times to our reasons.

    This issue is so layered! But it looks like you have made great progress here and I certainly learned something from this blog piece: You uncovered layers of this issue that I had not even realized existed.

    I, too, have lived for decades with anxiety, becoming physically ill when I had to ‘visit’ my mother or siblings. Nothing changed because I was still acting in the usual way, or I perceived myself in the usual way: as a person with no power and no boundaries. Setting them, even one boundary at a time, makes sense and gives a sense of accomplishment. YOU are in control of your time, self, etc.

    I think you have done very well here. Boundaries are a powerful asset to our mental health.

    Love, Jane


    • Yes! They are hard. I haven’t written formally about boundaries, always reading other blogs on the subject and I didn’t really understand what was happening with me to make the appropriate change for myself – especially when it came to the in-laws because it affects DH.

      That is so true, boundaries in our dismissive households are about control and come to think of it, it is too in enmeshed families (in-laws). In my dismissive FOO household, there were extreme in boundaries – distance, neglectfulness, no affection, etc. but then my stuff (clothes, toys, music, etc.) and friends were controlled to such an extreme degree – where there were no boundaries.

      That is interesting how we get sick from the visits – our body’s ‘natural’ way of setting boundaries. Recently, I started getting ill during the visit and I would have to take some down time because of it. When I saw this pattern, I knew it was time.

      So true, my big challenge in setting boundaries with in-laws is DH. That was actually where I needed to start and now I need to build from there. He has been really great on this and he even read one of Katherine’s book! I can imagine for him, coming from an enmeshed FOO (boundary = I don’t love you), that dealing with boundaries is a huge emotional hurdle.

      Thank you for your comment and support.


      • I was going to write a separate comment, but had some thoughts to piggy back on here. Your statement that boundaries = I don’t love you is spot on and something I’ve very recently realized is how my family and ILs see them . That makes it very difficult to set them when the other person sees it as a lack of love. It is something both my DH and I are working on with our families, but it is an uphill battle at times.
        I also get ill after these events. It’s like the life gets sucked out of me and I can’t do anything. It can be so hard and I’m sorry you had such a long recovery. I’m glad your husband has been picking up the slack (that is something my DH and I are negotiating through. He often feels put upon when I am overwhelmed and exhausted, as it is difficult for him to understand why I’m so completely fatigued.)

        I think it is wonderful you’ve made so much progress and have been able to make a plan. I think that is a really good idea. DH and I have been discussing the boundaries before we go to events, but I think having us separately and then together decide on some concrete “plans of action” are a good idea.

        Good luck on your visit. I’ll be cheering you on!!


        • Indeed, it is an uphill battle with enmeshed FOOs. Something I realized with therapist is which comes first – the chicken or the egg? When I have tried to discuss boundaries with DH prior to a visit I was manipulated (and didn’t even realize it). A long time ago we used to stay with my ILs in their house and I noticed how I couldn’t breathe and I was sleep deprived to the point of exhaustion. I asked DH for a hotel several times to which he said ‘it’s a waste of money’ (rational/reasoning). I got to the point where: “It’s like the life gets sucked out of me” – I got incredibly angry at him that we finally got a hotel. After that, we have been staying in one. The same thing happened here. I got sick four times (with fever) that I was in bed and missed classes. If I hadn’t held this one boundary for this one day in the March visit I don’t know if we would have been able to have an ‘effective’ boundary discussion?

          Thank you. Your insight and support help so much when I enter the ‘battle’.


  2. Pingback: Another Mended Musings link… | The Project: Me by Judy

  3. This sort of thing worked beautifully for me with my husband’s family but does zip for me with my own. I guess I reached a point where I was sick of having my boundaries ignored and stomped on and realized I was getting nothing out of the relationships except pissed off and anxious. I might retry one day if my mother dies before my father (which I know sounds awful, but it’s honest) because I think my dad could be capable of at least trying to respect boundaries.

    It sounds like you and your husband have a good thing going with this 🙂 it’s always awesome to hear real progress from an ACoN.


    • Thank you. I can understand how it hasn’t worked with your mother. I hadn’t realized that every visit my mother tries to stretch my time boundary. Literally, on the piece of paper I have the number of hours written and the last time I stuck to it. I get what you mean about if one passes before the other. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi TR,
    Thanks so much for sharing this. It’s very helpful to see all the steps outlined, and the questions will be very useful too. Reading it, I realised that I’m sometimes in your DH position when it comes to my husband, and I hadn’t thought about that before. Because he’s generally not affected by my FOO in the way that we, ACoNs, are, I had dismissed his complaints, but even if he does not suffer in the way we do, his complaints are still valid and I need to take them into consideration when we make decisions about visiting FOO. Thanks for helping me see that I need to work on this.
    I hadn’t heard of the boundaries books you listed, I’ll check them out. I have read a couple of other books on boundaries (by Cloud and Townsend) and it’ll be interesting to read one written by a woman.
    Kara xx


    • Hi Kara,
      No problem. I think also for my DH it allowed him time to think on his own what kind of activities he wants to do and he also had opinions about how much time we ‘should’ spend with my FOO. Some positive stuff was revealed from it.

      Funny, I was looking for the Cloud and Townsend book and found this one instead in the bookstore. Her language is straight forward. My DH read her first one and he liked that about the book.



  5. Thanks so much for sharing this TR. I felt tight in the chest just thinking about you having to stay at your in-laws. Never again, ok? You could make it an absolute boundary. Anything that literally drains the life out of you must be nixed. You’re right, you cannot live in dread and depression. I know for a fact that I”ll never go back again and NOT stay in a hotel. I’m also happy to see that your DH is learning to work on his own boundaries too, through taking your needs seriously.


    • Hi CS,
      You’re welcome. Exactly what happened! my chest would get tight and I couldn’t breathe when I stayed there. We have been staying in a hotel since 2009. Yes, never again! Before I hadn’t made the link between asking for the hotel before 2009 to this discussion around spending time. My therapist helped me link the two because I could have pushed and pushed to have a discussion (forever) and I don’t think it would have worked. I had to hold firm with a boundary first and then we could have the discussion. Otherwise, imho, the hotel nor the time boundary would never have happened.

      Cheers to all of us making boundaries. xx


  6. Just wishing you a firm boundary Christmas, with no second guessing yourself, NO guilt about anything (remember, that’s a sucker’s game at this point), and some time to just be by yourself, or with DH, to relax and enjoy the season. Emotional freedom from manipulators is the best gift we can give ourselves. sending love, and safe travels, CS

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love this post! Just like realtors say that selling houses is about Location, Location, Location, I think that dealing with N’s (and probably everyone else in the world) is about Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries! My spouse just emailed me and told me that one of the Flying Monkeys sent him a Christmas letter by email and did I want him to forward it to me? My immediate answer was “No!” I’ve set that NC boundary and I’m keeping it set no matter the time of year, no matter that she’s reaching out to my spouse in care, no matter WHAT! (Of course, I’ve second-guessed myself a couple of times, but it’s firm and that’s the way it has to be for now…) I don’t want her to know anything about my life and I don’t want to know anything about her life for now – the relationship has been fraught with pain and betrayal and there’s no indication that anything has changed… I’ve spent waaaaaaay too many holidays of my life physically and emotionally drained – and this year, I’m just happy that I’m spending time only with people I love and who love me back – hurrah!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Pearl! I love the analogy, it is so true. That is great to hear you are spending time with people you love and love back. Wishing you all the best for the new year. xxTR

      PS I apologize for the lateness in responding. I traveled for two weeks for the holidays and needed to unwind and rest after.


  8. Hi TR, just sending you happy new year’s wishes, and looking forward to whatever you write next. Sounds like a meditative time for you, and that’s good. xo CS

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi CS,
      I am sorry for my late response. I have been dealing with some ‘local’ unhealthy friends. It was happening at the same time as trying to recover from the holiday visit. I am doing better now so should be able to write soon. xxTR



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s