She thinks real friendships don’t have boundaries. The GMP Relationship Rx. Team begs to differ.
Dear GMP: Known my SO for 2.5 years as a friend. Got into an exclusive relationship 5 months ago.
He has lived next door to the same person for 18 years. She is a divorced woman. Same age. They have a very close relationship in that they have gone on walks, to movies, to dinner, watched each other’s kids grow up etc. They text or message almost daily, several times a day. They have never been intimate.
Before he and I got involved intimately, I told him that I was not comfortable with their level of interaction and she would need to back off. He assured me that she would once we were in a relationship. She has not. It continues. One day while I was at his house for 12 hours, she either knocked on the door or messaged 7 times. 7 times in 6 hours. I got upset. She has messaged me and tried to start trouble between us. I showed him her messages and told him she is not being much of a friend if she is trying to start trouble. It continued.
He suggested we go to a Counselor. We did that. Counselor said we needed to set boundaries, he needed to tell her what they were and he needed to enforce them. We did that a couple weeks ago. She has since replied that true friendships do not have boundaries and she was not going to be a part of it. So she still does as she pleases and refuses to stay within the boundaries.
Dr. Shannon Kolakowski replies:
When someone refuses to honor the boundaries you set, the next step is often to discontinue the relationship. Sometimes it’s a temporary break, sometimes it’s permanent. He can tell her that until she respects the boundaries he set, then there can be no friendship and no communication.
To end the relationship means to not engage with the other person. This means if she texts, no answer– or block her number. If she knocks on the door, don’t answer. Her behavior will eventually stop. If it doesn’t, he can look into moving to a different neighborhood. Not responding to someone is the clearest way to set a boundary– it shows you are not including them in your life while the inappropriate behavior continues.
If your significant other isn’t comfortable doing this, that’s his choice. But in that case, this means he will lose you. That’s your boundary to set with him.
Honor Dads, A GMP reader, offers his take:
Boundaries are based on the knowledge that human beings are created to act responsibly within their free will. When we don’t, we become controlled (or controlling), guilty, powerless, and in some cases, addicted. You said she “does as she pleases and refuses to stay within the boundaries.” Healthy boundaries aren’t a “time-out” that she can wiggle out of like a petulant 4 year old. They are about owning your own space, and your actions when that space is violated. They’re also about effectively communicating how that other person’s behavior affects us without placing blame. Here’s a good formula – make some quiet time to write it out:
1) “When you…” (describe their specific behavior)
2) “I feel…” (briefly and honestly describe how it makes you feel or makes you react)
3) “What I want is…” (describe the do-able desired behavior from that person)
4) “I’m ultimately only responsible for me, so the next time this happens, I will…” (briefly spell out YOUR next steps in response to THEIR action).
A healthy boundary is also not a threat – though she probably won’t like it. She doesn’t have to. You are reclaiming the power of your decisions, and that makes some folks uncomfortable. To start, practice healthy boundary setting in your new committed relationship. Then when you’re up to re-visiting your issues with her, talk it through with your SO as team. Good support systems make for better boundaries and he’s obviously an important part of the solution. Learn more by searching for Dr. Henry Cloud, who has written a number of great books on the subject.
GMP readers are welcome to offer their two cents. Email [email protected] if you’re interested.
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Photo: Conway L/Flickr