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.


When Warmth becomes Wrath

You know that word game, I think it is called Words Within Words?  Considering my pessimistic state at the moment, I pulled out HARM and WRATH from warmth.

My former friends (Marian, Lydia & Don) and my mother-in-law taught me a very important lesson about the sudden warmth of a flame:

“Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned” ~Pink (song lyrics from “Try”)

Whenever I started to pull away from unhealthy relationships – less attention, less adulation, less ‘doing’ – I ignited a change in their behaviors.  They all became nicer, too nice, rather uncharacteristically so.  Marian got me a gift out of the blue, MiL started sending me e-mails/messages (after ignoring mine for years) and Lydia & Don started complimenting me instead of subtly putting me down.

It felt so weird, like syrup coating my teeth.  My response to all this sudden warmth was to proceed with caution (and schedule a dentist appointment).  What happened after:

Marian ~ started talking about me and my projects at work to managers (telling them my projects were delayed)

MiL ~ started telling DH about her messages to me and telling him how much she was trying thereby influencing DH to treat me like I was the source of the ‘problem’ of our ‘distant’ relationship

Lydia & Don ~ only contacted us when they needed a place to stay – after not ‘obliging’ twice contact has virtually ceased

It was a period of a lot of stress in my work and personal life.  The lack of genuineness and one big mess to deal with taught me that sudden acts of kindness (as opposed to random) succeeded by prolonged disrespect, disregard and an absence of mutual reciprocity are something to FEAR.


“A spark neglected makes a mighty fire.” ~Robert Herrick

My fear (anxiety) was ‘kindled’ anew after DH sent an e-mail about NO more gifts to his brother (BiL) and his wife (SiL) – Thank you for all your help.  The boundary was accepted verbally.  What seemed like a great first step in establishing boundaries (DH and I together) soon became a familiar scenario.

After DH sent the e-mail at the end of September, we have dealt with a bunch of odd behaviors throughout October.  The first hint was very small – almost could have been brushed off – BiL brings up gifts for their father subtly.

Then, for the past few weeks there has been an abundant amount of communication from SiL.  DH said:

“There’s no communication for how long and now all this stuff.” ~DH

To sum up the communication of 2014:

Before setting boundary (January – September): SiL sent us two e-mails – the first, their trip itinerary and the second, a link to view 1100 photos of aforementioned trip.

After setting boundary (October): SiL has sent us four e-mails.  All e-mails are of the same type – soliciting Thank You’s.  Indeed, a Thank You was necessary for two of them.

Most communication happens between DH and BiL (e-mails and phone).  DH finds it particularly odd that SiL is communicating with us and not including BiL on the communication (when she normally excludes me from the communication).

All of these behaviors, on their own, are quite HARMless.  And I have that rational part of my brain that says – “this may be nothing to worry about.”

I don’t know if WRATH will make an appearance in the form of smear campaigns, triangulation, etc. like it did before.  BUT I would be naive not to factor in the prolonged disrespect, disregard and lack of mutual reciprocity of our past interactions (circa like 6 weeks ago).  I rely on my instincts not only because of the above patterns but also because I have never experienced authentic affection, warmth or kindness from DH’s FOO.

That’s what it is really about.  The sudden warmth isn’t real warmth, is it?  Sending us e-mails that socially coerce us to say Thank You without extending dialogue, absent of regard for others is not WARMTH.  A fire for warmth behaves differently than a fire which destroys.

The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns yourself more than them. ~Chinese Proverb