Love Without Boundaries Will Not Last


Are you feeling resentful, guilty, frustrated, or angry with someone you love?

Maybe you’re feeling these emotions, but you’re embarrassed to admit it. What would it say about you if you were starting to feel resentful of your partner or your kids? Wouldn’t that make you a bad partner or parent?

Oh hi there guilt and shame. I recognize you…

Here’s the thing I learned talking to Dr. John Townsend, New York Times Bestselling Author of the book “Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say no”

“Emotions, or feelings, have a function. They tell us something. They are a signal... Anger tells us that our boundaries have been violated. Much like a nation's radar defense system, angry feelings serve as an "early warning system" telling us we're in danger of being injured or controlled.”

― Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud

Rather than burying your emotions and feeling guilty for them (which will inevitably make them build up and get worse), Dr. Townsend recommends using your feelings as a warning system.

When you’re feeling these negative emotions towards people you love, it typically means a “boundary” is being violated.

What the heck is a boundary? Well, here’s what the experts say...

“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. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. Boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. Setting boundaries inevitably involves taking responsibility for your choices. You are the one who makes them. You are the one who must live with their consequences. And you are the one who may be keeping yourself from making the choices you could be happy with. We must own our own thoughts and clarify distorted thinking.”

― Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud

There are 2 ways to violate boundaries.

You can take responsibility for something that’s not yours.

Some people are “overfunctioning” - they take responsibility for things that aren’t theirs to be responsible for.

You’ll see this type of behavior in the mother who does her kids science project because she doesn’t want him to fail. Or the wife who makes her husband lunch every day because if she doesn’t, “He might forget to feed himself.”

People who step in and take responsibility for the behaviors and choices of others often do this because they want to protect them from negative consequences. They don’t want to see them hurt.

But when you take responsibility for someone else’s choices you prevent them from experiencing consequences, learning from the pain, and growing.

And you exhaust yourself in the process! It’s hard enough to be responsible for your own thoughts, words, feelings, actions and desires. It’s no wonder people who make themselves  responsible for everyone else’s choices tend to feel resentful, frustrated, and exhausted.

The other way to people often end up taking responsibility for what’s not theirs when they just can’t say “no”

This is typical of the guy at work who can’t say “no” to a project when his plate is already full. So he ends up working late every night for two months at the expense of his family life.

It’s the woman who says “yes” to the PTA, the church group, the mother-in-law, lunch with friends, and feels like a bad mom if she doesn’t make it to  extracurricular activity each of her kids are involved in. Then she resents her husband for trying to initiate sex at the end of the day.

She says “yes” to everyone but herself.

To protect yourself from overfunctioning, you NEED to set and maintain clear boundaries. You need to learn to tolerate the discomfort of seeing your child fail, or watching your husband go hungry.

You need to learn to take a deep breath and unapologetically say “No. I can’t.”

Photo by  Sydney Sims  on  Unsplash

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Setting these types of boundaries is what will keep you from feeling resentful, guilty, frustrated, or angry with those you love.

You can avoid taking responsibility for something that is yours.

The other way to violate boundaries is to make other people responsible for something that is yours to be responsible for.

This type of person tends to either be a victim or a bully.

Victims refuse to take responsibility for their lives. They blame other people, their circumstances, “the patriarchy,” and God for everything.

Someone else got the promotion because the system is rigged, and they refuse to play office politics.

They didn’t pass the class because the teacher hates them.

They feel miserable in their relationship because their partner hurt them, and now they just don’t know how they can trust them again.

They constantly bring up old arguments and mistakes to punish their partner for their sadness, or dissatisfaction with life.

Victims get validation and purpose by passively making everything bad someone else’s fault, finding fault in others, and taking credit only for the things that go well in life.

Bullies, on the other hand, aggressively force others to take care of their needs.

They intimidate others into doing things for them.

They delegate their choices and emotions to others without regard for what they already have going on in their life. They take the credit for the success, and blame others for the failure.

Bullies burn through relationships and friends. They see people as objects that can be used to get them what they want, and they have no qualms about cutting people out of their life when they’re no longer valuable.

The only way to stop being a victim or a bully is to get crystal clear regarding what’s yours to own, and what’s not, and start taking responsibility for what’s yours.

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”

― Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud

Setting Boundaries Can Be Difficult

Setting boundaries can be hard because it’s often painful... especially when your lack of boundaries has prevented people from experiencing pain that they now have to face without you acting as a buffer.

“When we begin to set boundaries with people we love, a really hard thing happens: they hurt. They may feel a hole where you used to plug up their aloneness, their disorganization, or their financial irresponsibility. Whatever it is, they will feel a loss. If you love them, this will be difficult for you to watch. But, when you are dealing with someone who is hurting, remember that your boundaries are both necessary for you and helpful for them. If you have been enabling them to be irresponsible, your limit setting may nudge them toward responsibility.”

― Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud

Despite being difficult, setting boundaries is necessary to a healthy relationship. You HAVE to be able to have hard conversations, and endure some discomfort in order to operate together as a team.

Boundaries are a "litmus test" for the quality of our relationships. Those people in our lives who can respect our boundaries will love our wills, our opinions, our separateness. Those who can't respect our boundaries are telling us that they don't love our nos. They only love our yeses, our compliance. "I only like it when you do what I want.”

― Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud

Photo by  Ian Tormo  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ian Tormo on Unsplash

You learn a lot about a person by how they respond to your “No.”

It’s our “No’s” that allow us to hold onto our identity, and protect the people and values that are most important to us. Before feeling guilty for saying “No,” consider what someone’s response to your “No” says about them.

Love cannot exist without boundaries.

Want to learn more about Boundaries?

Check out our 7-Day Boundaries Challenge. You’ll learn everything you need to know about what boundaries are, why they’re so important, how to set them, how to maintain them.

About Dr. Townsend

Dr. John Townsend.jpg

Dr. John Townsend is a New York Times bestselling author, business consultant, leadership coach and psychologist. He has written over 30 books, selling 10 million copies, including the Boundaries series and his newest book, Leading From Your Gut.

For more than twenty years Dr. Townsend has engaged with leaders, organizations and individuals around the globe, offering them life-changing solutions to their challenges. He and his organization provide team and executive coaching, corporate consulting, and give conference presentations.  Dr. Townsend personally also coaches families and family businesses.

John has launched, a digital content and experience base for those wanting to lead and grow.  In addition, the Townsend Leadership Program, which develops leaders nationwide, is conducted by a team of Directors who have been personally trained by John.  Dr. Townsend is also founder of the online Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Concordia University Irvine, offering graduate degrees and credentialing in Organizational Leadership, Executive Coaching and Counseling.