I was an in abusive marriage for 15 years. It was hard. It broke me. It nearly killed me, quite literally. The last day of our marriage was spent with a loaded gun pressed against me as my assailant – my husband – abused my body one last time, before ending his life. That relationship gave me a lot of insight into toxic people and toxic relationships. Most of it, I didn’t understand until after that traumatic day. There’s so much we don’t see or comprehend when we’re all in love and googly-eyed. We excuse a lot of behaviors and chalk them up to “yeah, buts”: He was angry, “yeah, but he’s under a lot of stress.” Or he said something hateful, “yeah, but he didn’t really mean it.”
And remember that toxic relationships aren’t limited to the romantic. They’re everywhere: at work, school, in families, marriages, and friendships. The key is knowing how to recognize them and what to do about them.
Boundaries are super important here. They can be hard to learn and hard to implement. But they’re necessary. Sometimes people bristle at the thought of boundaries. They picture them as confrontational and angry. But they’re not.
I always say that boundaries are about love. If someone is mistreating you or taking advantage of you, boundaries are a protection. But they really are about love: Love for yourself so you won’t continue to tolerate being treated poorly; love for the other person. How so, you might ask? Well, if the other person is behaving badly and nobody says anything – if everyone just lets them continue to behave in that way – you’re enabling them. That’s never good. If nobody ever indicates to them this isn’t healthy behavior, they continue it, damaging people and bonds along the way.
Even Jesus had boundaries. He practiced self care. He removed himself from situations that he knew weren’t good for him. He expected people to do their part. There are examples of this in the Bible if you research. Jesus wasn’t a doormat, right?
So how do we use boundaries? Again, they’re not an angry confrontation. And you have to decide how, when, and with whom you’ll implement them. If a friend is constantly late for your lunch dates, find out why. Do they have three toddlers at home they need to get ready for a sitter? Do they have an illness that is unpredictable? Or do they just simply use the time you set as a loose suggestion and show up at their leisure? You can see which situations might call for grace.
If the first two are the issue, you might suggest bringing lunch to your friend and some treats to keep her children busy. If the last one is the case, then something needs to be said. Even a simple, “Hey, Liz, I’ve noticed you’ve had trouble keeping our lunch dates. You must be in a really busy season so when you have more time, let me know and we’ll meet up.” It’s kind. It gives her the chance to explain without sticking a finger in her face…but it also lets her know you’ve noticed she’s not respecting your time and you’re done being kept waiting every week.
If it’s a work situation, that’s different as well. Evaluate. Can you speak to your boss about the coworker who’s taking too many breaks and leaving you with extra work? Or talk to the coworker first and find out if there’s a health reason for the breaks or they’re just leaving you high and dry. Don’t let someone else’s behavior be the source of your stress.
Before approaching someone, whether it’s your spouse, your sister, best friend, neighbor, stepchild, coworker, person from church, or anyone else…pray.
Pray about the situation. Pray for that person. Pray for the right words to say. Can you give them grace? Or has giving them grace now turned into you being stressed and feeling taken advantage of, and you need to speak up now? You are not called to be a doormat either. We need to be strong and demand respectful treatment from others, and we need to be respectful. Don’t feel bad about having a chat with someone who’s hurting you or being rude regularly, or whatever the behavior may be.
For folks who don’t deal in boundaries and aren’t familiar with them or just plain dislike them, they may back away from you once you utilize them and have that talk. Be prepared for that, but know also that it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use your boundaries because they might not like it. Their disregard for your feelings doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have them. Sometimes relationships go silent when someone balks at you making rules about how you’ll be treated. Pray about that too and remember that you can’t allow someone to continue to abuse you and your relationship. Let them know you love them (if it’s that kind of relationship) or that you want your working relationship to be comfortable, but that you had to speak up.
Be strong and always be in prayer about the situations, before, during, and after.
For more information or to read more of Melanie’s amazing blogs, please visit her website at http://melaniespickett.com/