Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Need for Confrontation and Boundaries in Relationships

Taken from

By Joe Dallas

Boundaries are terms that define what's allowable, and not allowable, in any relationship. ...

Compare this to driving, and you'll see my point. When we get on the road, we assume certain boundaries are understood and agreed on by all the other drivers. Stop signs, traffic signals, divider lines, and speed limits are all supposed to be respected; and if they're not, there'll be chaos, maybe even fatalities. It's impossible to drive safely and consistently without boundaries.

It's likewise impossible to sustain safe, healthy intimacy without boundaries. When we relate, whether to close friends, spouses, or family members, we assume certain rules will be understood and agreed on, like mutual respect, fairness, and consideration. If they're not, there'll be chaos and, in the worst cases, relational fatalities.

All of this makes establishing or renegotiating boundaries crucial to you. As you correct the way you're relating--that is, as you become more honest, patient, and consistent--you might also become aware of problems in your marriage, friendships, or business relations that also need correcting. And that may be the time to confront a long-term problem.

What To Confront

When Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him" (Matthew 18:15), He allowed some leeway. In every relationship, after all, the person you're dealing with sins against you, and many of the sins we commit in marriage or friendship can (and should) be endured without comment. Our spouse may be late; our friend misses an appointment; someone we love might get irritable and a little abrupt. These are all sins, sure, but they hardly warrant an intervention. Remember, part of our responsibility in any relationship is to show patience and forgiveness, as Paul wrote: "Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love" (Ephesians 4:1-2).

Generally, then, we're called to a noncritical, gentle approach, especially toward our friends and family. But at times, someone's behavior may either be so seriously wrong or so consistently wrong that it needs pointing out. This is especially true if the behavior is seriously damaging the relationship--maybe even causing it to fall apart. In cases like that, you're not doing the other person any favors by allowing him or her to continue in that sin. In fact, you eventually become a partner in it, because while you are always responsible for what you do, you're also at times responsible for what you allow.

But since the Bible doesn't provide a list showing which sins to definitely confront and which ones to give a pass to, let me take a little liberty here. I've listed below twelve behaviors I've seen displayed by friends, wives, or family members of men I've worked with. When these behaviors have gone unchecked, the damage done has been immeasurable. So if any of the following are regularly coming up between you and someone you're close to, then I'd seriously suggest that a confrontation is called for:

  1. Consistent and repeated name-calling or obscenities
  2. Humiliation in front of others, during which you're yelled at or criticized, or in which personal information about you is discussed
  3. Persistent dishonesty
  4. Persistent rejections of your affection and interest
  5. Teasing that demeans you, after you've asked the other person to stop it
  6. Gossip or other behaviors that divide relationships
  7. Repeating and rehashing your past sins, even after you've confessed and repented of them
  8. Intrusion into parts of your life the other person hasn't been invited into
  9. Refusal to honor terms that have already been agreed on
  10. Financial defrauding
  11. Sexually inappropriate behavior of any sort
  12. Physical violence in any form

If these apply, the next step is to prayerfully and responsibly address them.

How to confront

First, before confronting, examine yourself. Remember Jesus's warning: "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:3-5).

He didn't say you shouldn't address that plank in another's eye. He only directed you to start with yourself, since you can't see clearly to correct another person if your own vision is clouded.

So be sure you've look at, confessed, and dealt with your shortcomings. In all fairness, the person you confront may know about your sexual struggles and may rightfully wonder why, at this time in your life, you're concentrating on his or her sins, rather than your own.

Second, before confronting, get some additional wisdom. Discuss this with your pastor or accountability partner or group. Tell them what the problem is in the relationship, how it's affecting you, and how you want to deal with it. Get some feedback from them before proceeding by asking some relevant questions:

  1. I really feel I need to confront a problem with (person's name). This is what this person has been doing, and this is how it's been affecting me.
  2. Does this person's behavior, in your opinion, warrant a confrontation? Or am I making too much of it?
  3. Here are the points I want to make in this confrontation. Do they sound clear to you?
  4. How does my attitude seem?
  5. Are there any other points I should make or issues I should raise?

Third, when confronting someone, be yourself. You don't have to charge in like Rambo when you confront someone, so don't concern yourself with how aggressive you look or how strong you need to be. When confronting, the goal is clarity, not volume. Be sure you know what you're going to say, and don't concern yourself with how forcefully you say it.

Then, when it's time to have the "big conversation," let me suggest a simple five-point confrontation plan I've used over the years.

State your intention

"You matter so much--that's why we're talking."

Make sure the person knows you want your relationship to improve, and that she or he is so important to you that you hate for anything to come between the two of you.

Explain that you've been working on yourself and the sin in your own life and will continue to do so. But there's also an ongoing problem you've got to address.

State the problem

"This is what you've been doing that I wish you wouldn't" or, "This is what you haven't been doing that I wish you would."

Be as precise as possible. Don't talk about generalities (as in, "You're rude to me" or, "You're demeaning me"), but stick to specifics. Try to give at least three examples of the behavior that's causing the problem, and make the examples as recent as possible.

State the result

"Our relationship is changing."

Let this person know the effect her or his behavior is having on you and what it's done to your relationship. Example: "I'm losing respect for you, and we're drifting apart" or, "My heart's hardening toward you even though I don't want it to."

State your request

"This is what I need you to do in the future."

Again, be very specific. Tell the person you're not asking for him or her to feel bad. You're asking instead for changed behavior in the future.

This, by the way, is a good time to level the playing field a bit. When you're confronting someone, the other person almost always feels a bit defensive. No matter how polite you try to be, they'll usually feel as if you're calling them on the carpet, since you're the one with the complaint. Try to show good faith, by showing that you're not just trying to control the relationship, but that you're wanting it to improve.

A way to show goodwill, then, is to explain: "By the way, I know I'm far from being the perfect husband/friend/partner, so maybe there are some things I've been doing that have bothered you as well. Since we're being so horribly honest, why not tell me about them?"

This shows you're not interested in being morally superior and that the other person's feelings and needs really do matter to you.

State the consequences of ignoring your request

"This is where I think we're headed if things don't change."

This should never be presented as a threat but as an honest concern about the future of the relationship.

Hopefully, the person you're having this discussion with will be open to your ideas and will want to work with you toward better boundaries and policies. Often, though, that's not the case. A person may resist you either by denying what you're saying, minimizing its importance, or showing complete indifference to it.

In cases like that, you may need to point out the following:

  1. I can't make you change your behavior, but I hope you at least understand the damage that's being caused if you don't.
  2. Even though right now you can't seem to see how important this is, I hope you'll think it over, and maybe we can talk about this again.
  3. I'd like us to see a pastor or counselor together, because we're not getting anywhere with this. It looks like we need some outside help.
  4. If things don't improve, I don't know what steps I'll need to take. I'll have to get some counsel for myself, pray on it, and think it over. I promise to try to do what's right, but I will have to do something, because this isn't acceptable.

Then if the person you're dealing with is still unwilling to talk with a third party, get some wise counsel for yourself. Learn how to deal with or, if necessary, work around a difficult relationship. It's not ideal, but it can be done.


If you've been allowing your boundaries to be crossed by the people closest to you, you've been participating with them in their sin by enabling and encouraging it. Further, you've been blocking the intimacy that should be flowing between you and the people with whom you are in primary relationships. To correct this, you'll need to address your own passivity and confront someone else's behavior.


If there's an ongoing problem between you and someone you're close to, it will disrupt your ability to be intimate, harden your heart toward that person, discourage honest communication, and encourage personal passivity. ...


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