Using Words Not Anger To Have Good Boundaries

Morning friends,

I’m in a hotel room in California this week, working hard to put my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship in audiobooks. I’d appreciate your prayers. Reading an entire book into a tape recorder is not as easy as it sounds, and there are lots of mistakes and do-overs, even when you’re the one who wrote the book. But it’s been good for me to reread the book. There are some things that I said in that book that I need to refresh and bring up front again. I haven’t talked about this much lately, but there are two chapters in this book on the heart issues that are at the root of all destructive relationships. The proud heart, the angry heart, the envious heart, the lazy heart, the selfish heart, the evil heart, and the fearful heart. Working on outward behavior without addressing the inward heart motives, only helps someone become more covert in their abusive tactics. Jesus tells us again and again; it’s from the heart that we do what we do.

Today’s Question:  My husband’s brother and wife have severely wronged my family. I am filled with so much resentment toward them. I can’t stand to be in their presence. But sometimes I have to be. I know I need to let go of my hatred and resentment, but I don’t want them just to think everything is okay between us. How can I be present at required family gatherings without being a hypocrite?

Answer: I think the most significant emotional wounds come from those we thought were friends. King David struggled with this kind of pain in Psalm 55 when he cried out, “It is not an enemy who taunts me – I could bear that. It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me – I could have hidden from them. Instead, it is you – my equal, my companion and close friend.”  

Let me break up your question into two parts. The first part is to look at what this sin against you is doing to you. The apostle Paul encourages us: “Do not be overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Evil was done TO you. But don’t allow your feelings of anger over what happened to fester. If you do, it will infect you with its poison, and you will become full of bitterness, resentment, and hatred. You may feel entirely justified feeling what you feel, but when you get stuck here, you’ve allowed Satan a foothold into your life and heart (Ephesians 4:27). 

Overcome is not passive. It’s a fighting word. It is active, something we must do so that we will never be eternally injured by evil despite being wounded by it. Satan may have gotten hold of your brother-in-law and his wife, but don’t let him get a hold of you. 

I’d encourage you to journal and pray to God (as David often did in the Psalms) when your angry, bitter feelings overwhelm you. I’d also encourage you to choose to forgive, rather than waiting on your feelings to feel like it. Choose to forgive even if those who sinned against you never ask for forgiveness. Why? Because forgiveness releases the toxins of hatred, bitterness, and resentment from your soul and body. Forgiveness alone doesn’t necessarily restore a relationship, especially when there has been no repentance on the part of the one who harmed you, but it does release you.

Your second question is also essential. You do not want to be misleading your family members into thinking the relationship with your brother and sister in law has been restored just because you no longer feel resentful or angry toward them. I believe this is an essential issue. I find in working with people in destructive relationships one or the other finds it hard to let go of his or her anger because nothing has changed. We believe that hanging on to our anger communicates to the other person, “Things are not any better.” And for a season that may be important, but not for years and years. That only harms you.

May I suggest another way? Your words can serve that purpose better than your continued resentment. You could have a conversation or send a letter to your relatives saying something like this:

We have been severely hurt and financially impacted by what you have done to our family. We do not understand your reasons for the actions you took against us, but whatever the reasons are, they do not justify the pain you have caused. Our personal and family relationship has been broken, and we do not know how to repair it. Although we will make every attempt to be polite and civil during family meetings, please do not engage us in personal conversation. We are working hard to forgive you, but we do not trust you, nor do we desire to share personal information about our family with you. 

We will continue to pray for you and your family. 

In the Bible, Joseph was severely betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery. He was falsely accused of rape and sent to prison. Joseph had every reason to be bitter and resentful long term, but he did not allow what other people did to him turn him into something evil. He overcame evil with good (See Genesis 37-45).

Joseph had no contact with his family for years after they sold him into slavery. When they came to Egypt seeking food during a famine in their own country, they had no idea that the person they were talking with was their brother, Joseph, though he immediately knew who they were. Joseph was gracious, even generous to his brothers, but he did not trust them. He remembered their treachery and did not make himself personally or emotionally vulnerable to them. It was only after a series of tests that Joseph finally revealed himself to them. He loved his enemies by helping them (as Jesus commands us to do), but he did not personally fellowship with them until he knew their hearts were different.

In the same way, there is no Biblical verse or command that requires we have a trusting fellowship with everyone, including relatives. Therefore, set up some boundaries that make clear the status of your relationship so that you no longer need to hold on to your resentment to communicate where you are at.

Remember, your resentment always hurts you far more than them. Let it go. Click To Tweet

Friends, Is it difficult for you to use words to communicate your boundaries with someone? How have you worked on that?


  1. Anon on June 24, 2020 at 1:54 pm

    Difficult to do when it’s the person you’re married to and he promises to change, yet the “change” is him remaining silent and not participating in conversation with you and only ever talking or doing pleasant things, so long as you don’t share how sad you are, or what you are feeling and how unsafe and scared you are. Because then, all hell breaks loose. Fake it, keep it surface, raise your hands in church and praise the Lord. No need to deal with past abuse, it’s all forgiven. No matter that it continues if he doesn’t like what I do or say. He and I have read your book, he even watched all your videos, he took notes, labelling the one lot of notes as “Mrs Jekyll and Mr Hyde”. He hasn’t said anything, acknowledged his abuse, admitted to anything, taken any responsibility for what he’s done or said to me. All he’s said is that I am the only person who he has treated this way, and that he has never treated anyone else like this, so I am the problem. Btw, we are both born-again Christians, apparently. I’ve allowed him to completely ruin me, I can’t believe I let it get this bad. 38 years of marriage and worse than ever before. Nowhere to go, no income, and no one believes me. He’s such a good guy. There’s a saying in Afrikaans, “stille waters, diepe grond, onder ruim die duiwel rond”. Translated: Still waters run deep, and underneath the devil wonders around incognito. I’m so tired of it all. I am so angry and think how dare he get away with it, just because he prayed? Why are there no consequences? Just forget it all, and pretend it never happened? I must do all the work, he remains the same. He never answers me if I speak with him about what he did and does. He remains silent. He is secretive, hides things, hoards things, and never tells me anything. I’m just too tired.

    • Autumn on June 26, 2020 at 7:28 pm

      You are tired because he is “crazy making,” which is an abusive control technique. How long do you want to share your precious life with an abusive person?

      If he wanted to change, or get better, he could do that immediately and without your help. His message seems to be that he likes punishing you with his silence. In a healthy relationship, a person listens, apologies and stops all hurtful behavior. Your fatigue is an indicator that your stress response has been over stimulated. How can you remove yourself from the stressor?

      • Aly on June 26, 2020 at 7:50 pm

        So well written! I really like this question;
        “How long do you want to share your precious life with an abusive person?”
        A key indicator of an unhealthy person is the punishing attribute. A punishing person is still gravitating toward Early adolescent behaviors, yet they are of adult years in age! Exhausting!!! Frustrating! Crazy making.
        I’m not sure those with that level of character issues are ‘immediately’ able to ADULT -resolve?
        They can choose to be willing to get help with their interactions and grow in their responses.

      • Anon on June 26, 2020 at 9:07 pm

        Thanks for replying. I can’t remove myself. We’re new immigrants in the US, I didn’t want to leave my home country as I was scared things wouldn’t change. He promised things would be different, we would start over, a new start, a new life, a new country. The past behind us and so much to look forward to now that all the kids are out the house. I had a niggle, but so wanted to believe it, because I do believe that the Holy Spirit will help if one is willing to change. However, as soon as I say or do something he doesn’t like, he starts all over again, back to his default setting. This time though, he won’t get physical as he knows the US is extremely hard on domestic violence and he’s afraid he’ll be kicked out of the country. So now it’s only emotional abuse and the constant silent treatment. I am battling with cognitive dissonance as I’ve had to fake it for 3 months of us being here, our son and his family have no clue, neither do our other children nor our grandchildren. gain, it’s difficult, I can’t leave because of lockdown and there are no flights in or out of my home country. He has used up more than half my money in the three months we’ve been here, so I haven’t a lot left, but I’ve told him I want my money back, all he says is that he can’t give it back to me because he’s not prepared to exchange his money for dollars yet as the exchange rate is too bad. I have no friends here, nowhere to go and no one to turn to at the moment. Even last night I tried talking with him, he ignores me flat or sprinkles his answers with “but if you you did/didn’t say or do that, then I ….” He refuses point blank to talk about our problems and the things he’s said and done to me since being here. I said to him that I think he just doesn’t care at all about me, he of course, didn’t respond at all. He truly lives in denial and thinks that by praying all will come right. That he doesn’t need to do anything else but pray for me. He told me that every time he prays for me, I “get worse” so it’s a spiritual battle. If I didn’t know better, I’d think I’m going crazy. I have to wait it out until I can leave as there is nowhere to go and noone to help me here in the US. I am so confused and so messed up, I just don’t know anymore.

        • R on June 26, 2020 at 9:37 pm

          Are you working with an immigrant assistance organization? If you can find one to contact, they can often point you to resources in your community. Praying that you can find someone to help you.

        • Autumn on June 27, 2020 at 12:11 pm

          Anon, you have us and we are listening! I am glad you found Leslie’s site! I think you need to find a counselor who will listen to you and help you set up a plan. Your local domestic violence shelter can point you in the right direction for most practical matters. You have been betrayed by a false promises and are not really trapped. It just feels that way. Don’t let your destructive spouse make decisions about your life. Why is he spending your money? You are an adult, and your life matters. Do what makes you feel good. You will need that energy.

          • Anon on July 1, 2020 at 8:07 pm

            Thank you to all of you for your encouragement, understanding and support. Yesterday my hubby and I watched Leslie’s video on “What do I need to see if my huband’s really changing” as he assured me that he is and had sent me a message saying that he is working on himself. I have set up boundaries and we are civil to each other, however since April 8th, I have refused for him to share my bed. As a result he sleeps in the lounge and I have the bedroom. No one knows. I so want to and wanted to believe and trust that the Lord is working in his life, because he prays and studies the Word every day, and he will hear about a job he’s been praying about tomorrow. He already went for the second interview and they really liked him. He is currently out riding his bicycle, and I heard his South African cell phone go off, so checked it. I’m upset, angry, confused and so sick of crying, I just don’t know how or what to do anymore. He’ll be home soon, but on his cellphone I found he’d gone incognito but neglected to closed the 10 incognito tabs he’d opened on Google. He’s been watching porn again and searching massage cams, I want to confront him when he gets home, yet I don’t want to either. I want to also transfer the money left in his account into my South African account, it won’t be all he owes me, but it will help. However, I’ve done nothing yet. If I confront him, he’ll tell get angry, defensive or admit it and blame me because we haven’t had sex in so long. He’s also been Googling sexless marriages, etc., I am not being rational, clear headed or understanding anything anymore. I think I’m really losing it and have to pretend now when he gets home. I want to call my son and tell him what his dad is doing. Does anyone know if doing so is wise?

          • Leslie Vernick on July 21, 2020 at 4:03 pm

            It sounds like he’s still not serious about real change. He’s doing what looks right but not yet truly committed to change no matter what he says. His porn use is not your problem, it’s his. HE won’t die if he doesn’t have sex or look at porn.

        • JoAnn on June 29, 2020 at 10:20 am

          Anon, what he is doing is what we call “gaslighting.” It is intentional crazy-making. Most communities in this country have help for domestic abuse. You can probably look it up online. I would recommend that you put most of what’s left of your money out of his reach, into a separate account that only you have access to, if you can. Then he will have to use his own money. He is just making an excuse to rob you of your money and keep you under his control. Who knows when the rates will get better?
          Are you connected to a church? Look for a women’s Bible study where you can begin to make friends. Many churches now have online groups for fellowship. Counselors do, too.
          Spend time in the Word of God every day. There is so much help there.

          • Susan on July 1, 2020 at 4:18 pm

            Gaslighting is dangerous business. The more victims of gaslighting are studied the greater the understanding of how seriously detrimental it is. It leads to the severe cognitive dissonance you have identified. You recognize the destruction but the trauma bond after 38 years of tolerance is strong. He has learned what he can get away with, takes full advantage and, really, why change? He still has you no matter what he does. This is a lesson to all of us that enabling sinful behavior leads to heartache. I know. I’ve done it. He is not going to be responsible because he does not have to accountable, unless you change the dynamic. Step back, detach and begin looking at what you can do as the others have suggested. Also document what you are experiencing, what he is saying and doing with dates. God loves you and He instructs us love ourselves. Yes, we have permission from our creator to love ourselves!

    • susan sanderson on July 21, 2020 at 2:13 pm

      Anon, please rethink your statement that, “We are both born again Christians.”

      • Anonymous on July 22, 2020 at 4:51 am

        What congregation you go to?

    • Anonymous on July 22, 2020 at 4:56 am

      Please what congregation you go to?

  2. Lori on June 24, 2020 at 10:45 pm

    I train to abide in daily study of the Word and prayer and wait for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and wisdom so I will be prepared if something needs to be said or done. I understand I do not have to respond or react in the moment but will act accordingly out of respect. I ask myself if this person has a history of listening in order to understand and ask God if this is a teachable moment for this person. If so, I think twice before I speak once and trust God will do the rest.

    • Lori on June 25, 2020 at 5:02 pm

      On the flip side, maintaining boundaries is hard because you are taking back power and control of your life and taking care of your mental, spiritual, physical and emotional health. In some cases, it won’t matter what you say, how many times you say it and how it is said, it will not be received and respected. Some will not like to hear they are not allowed to treat you however they want and will fight you every step of the way because they don’t want their pride being checked at the door and challenged. I think boundaries remind us all of our humanity, responsibilities and our limitations and that’s a difficult thing to accept sometimes. I believe it boils down to pride versus humility, our own and others’.

      • Rachel Kirtley on July 1, 2020 at 6:25 pm

        Well said

  3. Barbara B on June 25, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Yes, using words to describe boundaries is very hard. For one thing, if the relationship is already at such a low point that you have to verbalize a boundary, the person already doesn’t want to play by the rules or hear what you have to say. Proverbs 29:9 – “When a wise man speaks to a fool, the fool either scoffs or rages, and there is no peace.”

    I like using the XYZ formula because it’s brief and doesn’t give much opportunity for the person to argue back. “When you hurt our family it broke the trust we used to have for you. For now we want to take a break from relating to you other than saying hi at family gatherings.”

    I think the hardest part of situations like this is trying to understand why they would treat you so hurtfully. The betrayal is so painful. When something doesn’t make sense it’s so hard for me to drop it. I keep trying and trying to figure it out, sometimes to the point of feeling physically ill.

  4. Debby Seguin on June 25, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Really excellent. We often use inappropriate responses to offenders bc we don’t know what else to do! But over time, I have found that speaking truth in a neutral manner for the purpose of establishing safe boundaries when family protocol is necessary, is far more affective. The key is in not NEEDING them to agree with my pain, but they MUST adhere to my boundaries )no chatting, etc) or I won’t participate. If they don’t care if I participate or not, then I probably don’t need to be there at all. Or my kids.

  5. Pam on June 28, 2020 at 7:42 am

    This is at the heart of what I am trying to overcome. It was so helpful. Thank you so much. I plan on reading this over and over again. Truly spoke directly to my heart.

  6. sophialorenabenjamin on July 15, 2020 at 7:37 am

    some powerful exchanges in here….will need prayerful consideration…thank you to all who contributed by sharing their comments and exchanges….well done leslie….we need to all get move deep into the Word of God and pray through things…..

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