I still don’t know how to set boundaries.
Boundaries are hard. So, let’s figure out a few things first.
What is your goal or purpose? Why are you setting boundaries? What do you want to accomplish? Let’s look at a typical issue with MLCers and LBSs: the affair.
- You do not want to hear him talk to you about the alienator.
- You do not want him to confide in you about the alienator.
- You do not want to be exposed to anything about the alienator.
- You do not want your children exposed to anything to do with the alienator.
Notice what I did not include in that list. I did not say you want him to end his affair. Of course, you want that, but it’s not something that is within your control; remember, boundaries are about things you can control. You may not be able to control whether he talks about the alienator, but you can control your response; you can leave the room or even tell him to leave the room or house; you can apply consequences.
Guidelines for Setting Boundaries
There are a few parts to boundary setting. There is what needs to be done personally in preparation for setting boundaries and there is the communicative action that takes place when you’re with your MLCer. This list will review both of those aspects.
In the previous installment of this series, I said that not all boundaries need to be communicated—such as personal space or emotional boundaries—boundaries that may be considered subjective. These can be communicated if they become a problem, but for more objective boundaries communicating them is a necessity, otherwise, it may seem that you are just making up rules at random and applying a consequence when the other person did not know there was a problem. It is fair to let a person know ahead of time that you have a problem and will apply a consequence if they continue to cross your boundary.
You need to be working toward detachment. Attached your MLCer’s reactions and anger will pull you in and you will cycle emotionally and be unable to set boundaries from a place of strength. You can certainly tell your MLCer your boundaries, but telling them when emotional will not work because you will not be coming from a place of personal authority and telling them without the ability to follow through will show your MLCer a place of weakness where Monster can get to you. Detachment gives you personal power and authority because you are in control of your emotions even when your MLCer is not in control of theirs.
- Identify your limits
You must first admit to yourself what it is you are having a problem with and why. Some things will be obvious, but others may be personal to you, so it is important that you understand why a boundary is important to you.
- Create a non-threatening atmosphere
If meeting in person, should you meet at home, or somewhere else? Where will you both be most comfortable and least likely to become hostile?
- Prepare for possible Monster and resistance
Consider how your MLCer might react or respond in the moment when you communicate the boundary. How will you respond? What might they say—brainstorm a few scripts with your possible responses?
Taking Action: The Conversation
(or this may be a written/electronic communication)
- Communicate the boundary and the consequences
Be direct, clear and concise, do not hint. This defines what is acceptable and unacceptable.
- Start Small
Boundaries need to be more gentle in the beginning and become stricter as the MLCer progresses. This is because you need to learn to set boundaries and if you try a tough one and fail, your MLCer may take advantage of the weakness. Only set a boundary and a consequence that you think you can maintain, failure invites Monster to attack you.
It is also important to start slowly to allow your MLCer to adjust to this new you and the new rules. MLCers are often running away from rules and to have more rules suddenly thrown at them may alienate them even further. Yes, you need to give them space and let them run, but early MLC can be a great time for Paving the Way because they may not have run very far yet and so there may be more contact in the beginning than there is later.
You may communicate an incremental increase in a boundary of incremental increases in consequences.
- Avoid emotion
This distills to detachment. Even if the other person becomes emotional and/or manipulative—angry, depressed, sad, flirty, threatening… you will remain in control of your part of the situation and avoid being part of their drama.
- Focus on the problem—the boundary
Your MLCer (or others) may react as though you are doing something personally against them. This is about the problem and not the person behind the problem. Detachment will help you maintain your focus and not allow them to deflect you.
- Use I-statements
This maintains focus on the issue and can help to minimize defensiveness, though please understand and accept that MLCers may become defensive anyway.
- Offer a reason
Why is this a problem or how do you feel when someone crosses one of your boundaries? What problems does this issue cause? Remember this is about you or your children and not about them. Ex. If you are setting a boundary that the alienator cannot be around the children, the reason is that it is not healthy for the children, you are not doing it to keep your MLCer and the alienator apart—no matter how much you want them apart!
Resistance and anger are normal—now in the setting as well as later as you maintain your boundaries. Validate how they feel about the situation and listen to their concerns—supposing they are in a rational state. Maybe your consequences are too strict and they have a better suggestion, maybe they have better ideas about the boundary or maybe they have an explanation for crossing that makes sense—think house access. You may be able to work something out—you may not like it, but it may still be what is most acceptable for the situation.
- Be Confident
If this communication is in person, be aware of your body language to endure that you are presenting yourself with strength and confidence ex. direct eye contact, shoulders back and head up—no hunching… Your body language needs to match your words.
- Know when to walk away
It is acceptable to stop and step away from this situation for a while if it becomes hostile, abusive or destructive.
Guidelines for Effective Consequences
Boundaries are about behaviors and not person’s character. Always respect the individual person regardless of whether that person shows respect to you or not. Be respectful because it is the right thing to do and not because it is a reciprocal action.
- Pre-planned and communicated
Let the other person know the boundary—whatyou will and won’t allow so that they will know when or if they are crossing a boundary. In MLC the rules have changed, so what someone knew before may be lost and you may need to communicate boundaries that you feel your MLCer should already know.
Consequences: Let the other person know what you will do if they cross the boundary. You may have levels—small consequences which build if they continue to break the boundary. Stating these ahead of time shows that you are not acting impulsively since you are pre-planning your actions and that you have thought through what you will do.
Boundaries must be something over which you have some control or ability to enforce; this requires that you have the power and resources and that you be willing to take the action. You cannot control whether the other person adheres to the boundary, what you control is your response—the consequences you apply. Communicate consequences ahead of time so that both parties know what will happen when someone crosses a boundary. Make sure that the consequences you set up are something you are not only mentally and emotionally capable of applying, but also that you can legally apply them and that they are physically possible.
If you promise to change the locks on your house if your MLCer moves out or continues to enter unannounced while not living there, make sure that you have this legal right. If your MLCer is an owner of the home and has not officially given up residency, you may be legally required to allow them entry—the loophole is in whether they will call you on this; my husband did not and so I was able to change the locks.
Ex. Threats as consequences: If you do/don’t… I will throw myself off a bridge OR I will kill you. Those are not consequences and of course, they are illegal too. They are threats and hopefully you have no intention of following through. These come from a place of emotionality and fear rather than strength and self-assurance.
If you do not act quickly, it’s as though you didn’t act at all and allowed the other person to cross your boundaries. This gives away your power and MLCers will take advantage of this, testing your other boundaries.
Consequences are not meant to be punitive, shameful, demeaning, humiliating… They should benefit rather than harm your relationship. Respect your spouse’s role as your spouse—if you want to reconcile your marriage and respect them as a person, your former spouse and the parent of your children.
- Accepting of Choice
Like two-year-old and teenagers, MLCers are going to break your boundaries—over and over again. If you set a No Contact boundary, you are responsible for not answering the phone if they call, because many will still call. You cannot stop them from attempting to contact you, that is their right and their choice. The consequence in that situation is that you will not answer/respond unless it is an emergency. You can allow yourself to become angry and frustrated or simply accept that this is just how it works.
- Appropriate and Flexible
Both boundaries and consequences may change as a person changes, increasing in levels of severity if a person refuses to change their behavior and becoming less severe as a person repents, shows remorse and makes amends.
It is also important that the consequence is related to the inappropriate action. Kicking your MLCer out of the house for a minor infraction may be both too severe and unrelated to the boundary. There is a delicate balance wherein a consequence needs to be serious enough that the person feels it matters and yet it is not so harsh that it becomes the focus rather than the inappropriate behavior.
This is the third article in the Boundaries series; a fourth and final article will wrap up the series in the next few weeks.