SOURCE: Dr. Henry Cloud
In the alcoholic home, if a spouse chooses not to limit her drinking, this is their responsibility. However, other family members can set limits on how they will be affected by it. If an alcoholic continues to drink, the other spouse can only limit themselves, not the other person. They can say, “I will limit my exposure to your behavior. If you continue to drink, the children and I will move out until you get sober.” You can’t stop your spouse from drinking, but you can stop yourself from being affected by it.
I realize this is one example, and there are many different situations and outcomes that affect this situation, but I want you to know that you still have control of the decisions and choices that you make for yourself. And making those decisions involves myriad details.
If we can’t set limits on ourselves, however, we need to enlist the aid of others. This is still taking responsibility. If we call the police and ask them to help limit our exposure, we are taking responsibility. If we call a friend every time we feel out of control in some area and ask them to counsel with us, we are taking responsibility for our own lack of limits. This tactic has worked for people with compulsive behaviors for years. They find themselves without limits, so they take responsibility for getting help in setting them.
Our limits are our fence around our property line. They define for us what we will allow and what we will not allow into our yard. The fence around our yard has an important function: it keeps the good things in, and the bad things out. Every one of us has different limits in different areas, and we must take responsibility for those individually. Here are some acceptable limits to set:
I will no longer allow myself to be with you when you are drunk. If you choose to drink, I will leave until you stop.
I will no longer let you undermine me. I will leave until you can treat me with respect and courtesy.
I will no longer be yelled at. I will not correspond with you until we can have an amicable conversation.
I will not let your narcissistic behavior affect me. I will create distance between us and choose not to respond to you until you show empathy.
I will no longer let you control me. I will say no when I want, even if you don’t like it. And I have support from my friends and family to back me up.
These examples illustrate ways of establishing one’s limits on what one will allow and what one will not. Establishing limits is essential in every relationship and is the basis for mutual respect and love. This does not mean that we will not forgive, or not continue to love and work on conflict. It does mean that we will require responsible behavior on the other’s part, for only then can the conflict be worked through.