(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Boundaries in Love
By Katie Berry
“Submitting to mistreatment is destructive to you and to those who treat you in such a devaluing way. They not only diminish your personhood, they diminish their own.”
– The Emotionally Destructive Relationship By Leslie Vernick
Although it is one of the hardest things you can do, stepping out of a dysfunctional, or destructive, relationship pattern is one of the best ways to not only respect yourself, but also the other person involved.
Whether this dysfunction of sorts is controlling tactics, abusive tendencies, continually showing disregard for your overall well-being, or a mixture of all three, dysfunction is simply that—dysfunction. And this cycle will only continue as long as you let it. No, you can’t control the other person, but as Vernick points out, you can take responsibility for your part of the cycle, lovingly set boundaries in place, and then invite your loved one to partake in this change alongside you.
Boundaries are a biblical idea that has been expressed from the beginning of creation. As Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend explain in Boundaries, “Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership,” (31).
This ownership is referring to the ownership of self—the personhood as Vernick mentions. As Christians, our goal is to follow the commandments sent before us by God, as well as the teachings Jesus provided while on earth, one of which being “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39).
In order for us to love our neighbor well, we must love ourselves first. Some people assume boundaries are a selfish action to force others to act a certain way around you; however, this is the farthest thing from the truth.
A healthy boundary is something put into place, whether that be something emotionally or physically speaking, that is utilized to “help keep the good in and the bad out,” (Cloud & Townsend, 33).
This is an action that is thought out with the intention to better the relationship you are in by making sure everyone is being loved like Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. By creating boundaries, and the subsequent consequences for the breaking of them, you are showing love and respect to yourself by ensuring your own emotional and physical health, as well as to the other person by not allowing them to stumble in their own sinful behaviors.
Not only do others benefit from boundaries this way, but Bill Gaultiere offers the following commentary: “Good boundaries help you to care for others because you have a stable foundation to operate from and are not distracted or depleted by personal insecurities or blind spots.”
Placing reasonable boundaries within your relationships for the sake of your overall well-being is not selfish. Even the Bible talks of the need for boundaries.
Jesus Himself held certain boundaries in His own life. Gaultiere connects many times in Jesus’ ministry where He purposefully put in place boundaries so He could maintain healthy relationships with others.
For example, in Matthew 16:23, his friend and disciple, Peter, rebuked and tried to convince Him to step away from what God was calling Him to do. Jesus had already made a boundary and responded to his friend in a way that explained to him he was becoming a stumbling block to His purpose.
For that matter, God also has boundaries. God, being fully perfect and fully selfless, instated a boundary in the first relationship between Him and man. When Adam and Eve were created, God gave them one boundary—do not eat from the tree in the middle of Eden. And, once this boundary was broken, the relationship suffered; there were consequences to disrespecting the rule God had put in place.
Placing boundaries is never easy, especially when you have to hold others accountable for their wrongdoings, but the outcome is a mutual love and respect for yourself and the other individual involved. By having relational boundaries, God’s love can be communicated to others—a love that is best conveyed when both parties are partaking in a healthy form of fellowship.