Is it unloving or selfish to set a boundary? Find out in my new book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are. It’s available now!

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You Can Love Them but You Can’t Change Them

November 17, 2022

Do you have a relationship in your life where you know something is wrong, but you can’t figure out what to do?

You’ve prayed about this behavior or situation. You’ve talked about this. You’ve tried to navigate it. You may have even tried to stop it. You’ve made changes. You’ve listened to wise advice and done everything you know to do.

But in the end, nothing has worked.

And maybe you’ve started to realize if the other person doesn’t want things to change, you cannot change them.

So what can you do?

Apply boundaries.

I know … This feels impossible. Relationships come with many of their own complex layers. Maybe you’ve even tried to set boundaries before and it didn’t go well.

Do any of your challenging situations look like one of these scenarios?

You know you need to set a boundary, but this person is someone who:

  1. Personalizes everything and is prone to being very offended. You can’t figure out how to address something they repeatedly do that is not acceptable to you. You know you need a boundary, but you don’t know how to communicate this need without causing more drama than you feel you can handle right now.
  2. Is in authority over you at your job, and it doesn’t feel like boundaries would work.
  3. Lives in your home, and though you need some distance, setting a boundary doesn’t feel very realistic.

Whether your challenging relationship situation is like one of these or not, here’s what I’ve realized: Most of the time when we feel like boundaries don’t work, it’s because we have tried to use them to force another person to change. Boundaries can’t be an attempt to control another person.

Instead of putting a boundary on another person, we should establish a boundary for ourselves in that situation. The purpose of a boundary is to help you stay self-controlled and safe. You can ask yourself, If this other person is unwilling to make, or incapable of making, needed changes, what is within my ability to change? You get to establish what is and is not acceptable for you … and what you do and do not have to give.

Obviously, this isn’t easy. But without drawing healthy boundaries, the only other option is allowing the unhealthy relational patterns to continue and secretly wondering if you are the crazy one.

And, friend … you may be brokenhearted. You may be sad. You may be afraid and possibly angry. You may be focused on trying to fix what isn’t within your ability to fix. And you may even be fixated on trying to figure everything out.

But you are not crazy. It is not selfish to establish healthier and more sustainable patterns within your relationships.

Boundaries aren’t going to fix the other person. But they are going to help you stay fixed on what is good, what is acceptable, and what you need to stay healthy and whole. You can love the other person, but you can’t change them. So be honest with yourself as you consider this: Where there is relational chaos, there is usually a lack of boundaries. Love should be what draws two people together, not what tears one of them apart.

Hebrews 4:16 tells us we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Oh, friend, God cares about us and He cares about our relationships. None of this is easy, but you don’t have to figure all of this out on your own. As you continue to process and pray through all of this, you may also find it helpful to talk with a trusted Christian counselor or wise friend.

Take a deep breath. And take a few minutes today to really think through the truth that the only change you have control over is making a sustainable change for yourself. We may be powerless to change someone else, but this doesn’t mean we’re powerless to experience change in our own lives. Boundaries give us this gift.

God, it’s a humbling truth to realize I can’t change another person — I can only change myself. As I consider where boundaries may be necessary, give me discernment, wisdom and courage. Help me come to You first as I’m navigating different relationship hardships. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

If this resonated with you today but you still have questions, I did a live Q&A last week for the release of my book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes! Click here to watch the free replay if you missed it or want to watch it again.

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