Consequences

It is very important to set consequences that we are willing to enforce. If you are setting boundaries in a relationship, and you are not yet at a point where you are ready to leave the relationship – then don’t say that you will leave. You can say that you will start considering all of your options including leaving – but do not state that you will do something that you are not ready yet to do. To set boundaries and not enforce them just gives the other person an excuse to continue in the same old behaviour.

If you verbally abuse me by calling me names like stupid or jerk, I will confront you about your behaviour and share my feelings.

If you continue that behaviour I will leave the room/house/ask you to leave.

If you keep repeating this behaviour I will start considering all of my options, including leaving this relationship. ~

If you break your plans with me by not showing up or by calling me at the last minute to tell me that you had something else come up, I will confront your behaviour and share my feelings.

If you repeat that behaviour, I will consider it to mean that you do not value or deserve my friendship – and I will have no contact with you for a month.

Since behaviour patterns are quite ingrained in all of us, it is important to allow the other person some wiggle room to make a change in behaviour – unless the behaviour is really intolerable. To go from one extreme to the other is a reaction to a reaction – and is co-dependent. There are choices in between which are sometimes hard for us to see if we are reacting. To go from tolerating verbally abusive behaviour to leaving a relationship in one step is swinging between extremes. It is helpful to set boundaries that allow for some gradual change.

When I ask you what is wrong and you say “Never mind,” and then slam cabinet doors and rattle pots and pans and generally seem to be silently raging about something,

I feel angry, frustrated, irritated, and hopeless, as if you are unwilling to communicate with me, as if I am supposed to read your mind.

I want you to communicate with me and help me to understand if I have done something that upsets you.

If something is bothering you and you will not tell me what it is, I will confront you about your behaviour and share my feelings.

If you continue that behaviour, I will confront your behaviour, share my feelings, and insist that we go to counselling together.

If you keep repeating this behaviour I will start considering all of my options, including leaving this relationship.

The consequences we set down for behaviour we find unacceptable should be realistic – in that, the change that we are asking for is something that is within the others power (rather they are willing to take that responsibility is another thing altogether) – and enforceable, something that we are willing to do.

Tip
It is also important to set consequences that impact the other person more than us. Often when people are first learning how to set boundaries, they do not think it through far enough. They set boundaries that impact themselves as much or more than the other person. For example, a single parent with a teenager who needs to get consequences for coming home late, or bad grades, or whatever, may be tempted to say something like “If you miss your curfew again, you will be grounded for a month.” The reality of grounding a teenager for a month is that it often means the parent is also grounded for a month. If taking away driving privileges means then you will have to drive them to school – maybe you want to choose some other consequence.

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