“When people set boundaries with you, it’s their attempt to continue the relationship with you. It is not an attempt to hurt you.” Elizabeth Earnshaw
I often talk about the importance of setting boundaries and spell out strategies for an intentional conversation which help in these difficult discussions. I consider boundaries to be the foundation of self-care. So much so, that both of my books devote entire chapters designed to help caregivers set boundaries.
But this quote made me realize that family and friends need to understand that when we set boundaries, we are not trying to control them. In fact, we are trying to have a healthy relationship based on mutual respect. Feel free to share this article with someone who feels hurt or attacked when you set a limit with them.
Believe it or not, boundaries can bring you close because they require open communication. Caregiving changes all the relationships in a caregiver’s life. The way you have engaged with the caregiver and their care partner must change because they no longer have the same freedom and their responsibilities have increased dramatically. This is hard to do but it can feel impossible when the changes occur between spouses, siblings or friends.
When a caregiver sets a boundary, it is to help you understand how they need to be in a relationship with you during their caregiving journey. In order to feel safe, protect personal space and comfort levels, they may need to set a boundary for themselves or around the person they are caring for. Setting these limits is critical to their mental, emotional and physical health. It is not about you, it is about them.
In the same way that birth order and gender can make it hard for some people to set boundaries, these same family dynamics can make it hard for people to accept new limits. Getting told by an older sibling that the holidays need to be different this year because of mom’s dementia can result in a knee-jerk reaction based on childhood. It takes emotional intelligence to take a step back, let go of those reactions and communicate in a calm, clear manner how this new way of engaging makes you feel.
Engaging in this discussion needs to follow the same rules of setting a boundary. Don’t attack with “You always, You never” statements. Start with an I statement that is a non-threatening comment or question. Express a concern and end your statement with an open-ended question or alternative, never with something that only allows for a yes or no response.
Keep in mind the rules of fair fighting when having a boundary discussion.
- When you are angry is not the time to have the discussion.
- Don’t bring past hurts and transgressions into the discussion, stay on topic.
- Be honest and direct.
- Don’t use language that judges their request or blames them.
- It takes two to tango. What are you bringing to the situation?
The goal is to allow each person to be heard and communicate in a way which opens the door to negotiating a new tradition or a new way of being in relationship to one another and the caregiver’s care partner. A successful relationship filled with love, trust and respect can withstand setting boundaries.
Deb is the author of “Your Caregiver Relationship Contract and “A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers.” Your Caregiver Relationship Contract is available in both English and Spanish. It explains how to have an intentional conversation and the how unspoken expectations can cause problems during caregiving. A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers explains how important it is to learn how your person wants to live their life out and how you, the caregiver are the most important person in this relationship, giving you tips and tricks for this journey.
Click here to learn more about Your Caregiver Relationship Contract or here for the Spanish version: Su Contrato de relación como cuidador de un ser querido. Click here to learn more about A Relationship Contract for Dementia Caregivers.
Deb is available as a caregiver consultant. She will answer the question: “Where do I start?” and find the resources to alleviate your stress. If you would like to invest a half hour to learn how she can help you, please contact her at: Free 30 minute consulting call