Today’s Question: Since you’ve been talking about boundaries, I have a question related to waiting/holding my boundaries in an emotional destructive relationship.
After about a year and a half of counseling, studying, praying, learning and with the accountability of several strong prayer partners . . . . I began confronting some things about my relationship with my Mom – trying to talk (calmly, stating only my feelings) to her – meeting resistance, defensiveness, withdrawal, etc. etc.
The last call (voicemail) I received from her stated that she was going to “let me and my extended family go on with our healthy, happier life, while she continues with those who will love her unconditionally” and then ended with “by the way, you might want to look up Ex. 20:12 . . . .”
I know this is manipulative, pulling behavior. She has also resisted counseling, saying that her husband (my father passed 23 yrs. ago) is all the counselor she needs and I was “disrespectful suggesting it like we thought she should be committed!?!”
My question is: What do I do when I have to be with her now, like at family functions, group gatherings, sporting events, or run into them places around town, etc. And what is my role in waiting in love' ‘with encouragement'. What does that mean and what does it look like?
Answer: Although this question is about boundaries (with a mother) –with all the activity and responses to feeling guilty or manipulated when we set boundaries, we need to understand a little bit more about this important concept.
First, firm boundaries aren’t usually necessary with healthy people in loving relationships. A simple request is enough to stop continued inappropriate or unwelcome behavior. For example, if you drop by my house without calling first and I welcome you in but tell you that next time I’d prefer you call me before you drop by, most people would honor my request and call me before just stopping over. They wouldn’t make a big deal out of it or wouldn’t act as if my request was crazy or try to make me feel as if I was unfriendly or ungodly just because I asked them to call first.
Or, if I asked my spouse not to open mail addressed to me, I would hope he would accommodate my request – without turning it into an argument.
However, these simple requests (or any other) can become a huge deal with unhealthy, manipulative people. Instead of adjusting their behavior to accommodate my requests or preferences or needs, they try to make it look like their behavior is acceptable but it’s me who is being unreasonable, unloving, or ungodly.
This is where things start to get confusing and crazy making for those of us who take someone else’s feedback to heart. We start to question ourselves. Am I being unreasonable or selfish in asking for this? Am I trying to control this person by asking her to call me before stopping by my house or asking my spouse to respect my desire to open my own mail?
This is where we need to be really clear about what God says about relationships and how to maintain and repair them so that they will continue to thrive
In response to this reader’s question, her mother misused the scripture implying that honoring your mother and father (Exodus 20:12) means that you must always do whatever your parent wants you to. She also implied that unconditional love meant unconditional relationship. In other words, if you loved her, you’d never distance yourself from her because of her behaviors. There should be no consequences or damage to the relationship if she disrespected your boundaries, ignored your requests or refused to honor your “no”.
Spouses may have the same unrealistic notion of Biblical headship and submission when they use scripture to say that “If you were submissive or a godly woman, then you would do whatever I want because I’m the head of this house.”
A two year old uses this same reasoning when he or she yells, “If you loved me you’d buy me that toy or let me eat candy instead of carrots.” A healthy parent knows that love isn’t the same thing as always saying yes or giving in to what the other person wants. In the same way, if we want to grow into healthy people, we must realize that honoring, loving, or submitting to someone doesn’t mean we always do what he or she wants.
Those of you who are still trapped in guilt whenever you say no, ask yourself this question: Does God say you must always do what another person wants in order for you to honor her, love her or submit to him? Does the Bible teach that you have no right to say no without violating Biblical principles
When a person requires that kind of allegiance, they are asking us to call them god. That is idolatry. When you refuse to “bow” down to them as god there usually are some fireworks. They will protest. They will threaten, they will punish or withdraw, and they will guilt trip you. That’s where you must stay firm and state your boundary as well as the future consequence if they refuse to respect your “no”.
That brings us to your question. When all talking has failed and you have to detach or distance yourself from the relationship as a consequence of their refusal to respect your boundaries, what does it look like to “wait in love”?
Depending on the boundary you needed to set and the consequence for refusing to respect it, it will mean different things. For some individuals it means no contact at all. So prayer is your means to love that person while you wait for her to come to repentance. For others they might have minimal contact, more ministry than relationship. For example, it might mean you drive your mother to her doctor’s appointments, but you don’t allow her to watch your children unsupervised if she refuses to honor your request of no access to internet or not to feed them a steady diet of junk food while they’re in her care.
It might mean you have polite, superficial contact at family gatherings – weddings, funerals, holidays, but no personal contact. Without knowing the exact issues between you and the reasons for your boundaries, I can’t be more specific
But while you wait for her to wake up and come to repentance, to realize through the consequences that you’ve implemented that you aren’t going to go back to business as usual, you are praying for her, asking God to show her his truth. In order to have a mutually trusting and healthy relationship, she will need to respect your boundaries.
In my newsletter next week I will show you how to not get snagged by the manipulators guilt trips and other tactics used to get us to say yes when we know we need to say no