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April 10, 2006

SETTING LIMITS

Women often ask me what they’re supposed to do when their partners do something they don’t like. If they say something, their partner accuses them of nagging; if they don’t say anything then the women get angry and resentful.

So, what do you do? The short answer is don’t do either. Don’t nag and don’t silence. Instead set healthy limits. When you nag, you are ineffective, and when you silence your subsequent resentment will rot away at the relationship. When setting healthy limits you must be moderate, have resolve and be determined to follow through.

Moderation means you don’t get too big and bully, nor do you stay too small and silence. You stay respectful, clear, calm and firm- - all at the same time. Resolve means being clear this is a behavior you "will not" accept rather than a behavior you "don’t want" to accept. Not wanting to accept a behavior leads to nagging, pleading and whining. Not being willing to accept a behavior leads to limits, follow through and self-care.


Setting healthy limits in a moderate way starts with you being clear about the limit you are setting - - know what you are asking for. Once you know what your request is, decide what you can and cannot control (hint: you cannot control anything your partner does - - you can only control what you do). Next, state your request in a strong, calm, firm voice and be clear about what you’re going to do on your end if your partner doesn’t meet your request. Finally, be sure you follow through and do what you said you were going to do.

Whenever possible let the people in your life know about this limit. If it’s name calling, then tell your partner, children, friends etc. that you are working on setting limits and living a more respectful life. As a result, you would like your family to agree to take name calling off the table. Because you cannot control them, what you are going to do if someone calls you a name, is ask him/her to change their tone, apologize and agree to not call names. If he/she doesn’t, you will immediately end the conversation. You would be willing to discuss the issue at a later time when he/she can do so respectfully.

I cannot over emphasize the importance of following through; a limit is just an empty threat without this.

Challenge: Pick a behavior that you find yourself repeatedly complaining to your partner about. Get clear on what your request might be and take time to decide what you have control over. What limit can you set around this behavior that you are willing to follow through with. Set the limit and follow through. Start small and begin to practice this skill.

(Note: If you are in a physically abusive relationship you need to seek help from a domestic violence shelter; setting limits may put you at increased risk).

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