Setting good boundaries with those you love (or put up with) can sometimes be challenging. People often hit snags because they really care about the other person, and/or they really care what the other person thinks of them. It can help to picture a boundary literally be drawn between the two of you… a divider that essentially displays, “this is your stuff, and this my stuff.”

If it is difficult to set a boundary because you care about the other person, this may be another way of saying that you want them to be free of anxiety or other negative emotional experiences. It’s likely an occasion to say, “This is your stuff.” A gift that you may give someone when it is his/her stuff (not your own) is to validate his/her experience, whatever it is. For instance, you might say “You seem pretty angry that I can’t pick you up tonight… I care about you, and I have too much on my plate.” Notice that the statement validates the other person’s position, and validates your own position, while also drawing a clear boundary.

The gift of validation is nice, but we can’t expect it from others. It’s important to provide self-validation, whether you say it out loud or just in your head. If it is difficult to set a boundary because you care what the other person thinks of you, you are really looking for them to do the validating. Even if it is hard, this is your job. Looking for the other person to eradicate your anxiety is an occasion to say, “This is my stuff.” Can you sit with the anxiety associated with the other person’s disagreement? In other words, can you learn to tolerate the anxiety and/or find productive ways of reducing it on your own?

It may be tempting for one of you to go for the “quick fix” and experience the temporary relief of anxiety disappearing. But notice how this fosters a pattern. How will the problem be solved the next time? “Oh, I’ll just pick you up. Don’t worry about it.” These kinds of patterns are destructive to both of you. Setting good boundaries sets the stage for each of you to independently feel solid on your own two feet. It does not mean that either of you is ever free of negative emotions, but it does mean that you can tolerate those emotions more easily, bounce back from them, and trust yourself to stay in line with your own values.