You know when you’re walking down the street and you see one of those open manhole covers, usually surrounded by orange cones and yellow tape? These are no-go zones, where you will fall, get hurt, or at the very least put yourself at risk.
Wouldn’t it be great if these barriers just appeared for us, unbidden, around the things that could potentially cause us emotional or physical harm? It may not be easy to admit, but some of the biggest dangers to our emotional well-being are people we either love or have a long history with, jobs we want to succeed in, or belongings we very much want to possess.
Take Marie, for example, who lives down the street from her sister on a suburban street in Florida. The sister (who shall remain nameless) is consistently condescending to Marie, fails to show up for lunch dates, and insults Marie’s friends behind their backs. Many of us have close friends or family members who are like this, and though we love them, when we engage with them in the wrong way, we end up getting frustrated and hurt.
So, do we need to cut these people out of our lives completely? Not necessarily. Our close friends and particularly our family members are difficult if not impossible to detach from completely. They often come barging back into our lives sooner or later.
The key is to set up emotional boundaries. Just like those little lines of tape that keep us safe from open manholes, i.e. physical boundaries, emotional boundaries prevent us from getting so close we get hurt.
1. Set up days and/or times when you can be reached and times when you definitely can’t. John, a real-estate agent in Alabama, has his daughter over to stay at his house two nights each week and every other weekend. His friends may call or text his phone in the evening, but John sticks to his guns and never responds to their calls or texts, barring emergencies, until his daughter goes to bed. This is a healthy boundary, and one that will even draw admiration from his friends.
You may choose one day a week, say Monday, as your “serenity day”, when phone calls from your friends are not answered until the evening, and emails are not replied to until later on as well. Your serenity day may only extend to whoever is within your band of yellow tape, but no one needs to know that but you.
2. Don’t get used. You might have a talent for using the computer, or for filing taxes and managing your personal finances, but that doesn’t mean others should rely on you to do their dirty work for them. Of course, there is room to be flexible here and answer a question or two, but if your close friend makes you feel unappreciated or obligated, or if they threaten you that refusal to help them will be a damage to your relationship, it’s best to back off and say, “Give this a shot on your own. If you’re not done in a couple of weeks, I’ll be happy to answer some more questions for you then.”
3. Communicate what you are not willing to do. Anna, a website designer in Texas, agreed to be a bridesmaid in her friend’s wedding. When her friend asked her to reduce her hours at work so that she could spend more time wedding planning, she refused, because she was up for a promotion. After the friend barred her from the wedding completely, Anna realized that a friend who cared more for her wedding planning than for her well-being wasn’t a true friend after all.
4. Keep your own counsel. We all love to share plans and ideas with friends and family, but seeking approval from your pitfall friend can lead to disappointment and/or insecurity. If you’re planning a holiday or starting a new club or project, keep it under wraps, at least until you’re through the initial stages.
5. Stick to your guns. Terry lives in the resort area of Tampa Bay and this means he has friends always popping in and out for short holidays and even sometimes for a week or more. Terry enjoys his friends’ company but doesn’t like having his entire private life invaded, especially over the summer period. He has a very clear set of house rules which he expects all friends as well as his family to abide by and anyone who doesn’t will be told. For example, Terry expects all house guests to do their own washing and contribute to the food budget, if they choose to eat in his home. It’s not a big deal but when you’re used to your friends taking advantage sticking to your guns with a few set rules can really make a difference to your relationship.
Your friends may want to be involved in every move you make, but everyone has the right to make decisions without the sway of others. Besides, if things come to fruition later on, the do-it-yourself attitude will bring greater personal rewards.
Relationships with long-time friends and family members can be very complicated, so there’s nothing wrong with using guidelines to manage them. Then you can continue to enjoy their company and still keep your feet on the pavement.
About the Author:
Kim Dockley is a freelance writer.