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Do you want to know how to set boundaries with family members the right way? Being honest with those you love can be challenging, especially if you are a people-pleaser.

Perhaps you want everyone to like you and sign off on your choices and behaviors. (You’re not okay if they are not okay with you.) Can you say co-dependant, anyone?

In the past, I have found it easier to give in to stronger personalities because fighting the pushback was too exhausting. But peace at all costs didn’t work for me either because I continued to do nothing, which perpetuated more hurt and unhealthy behaviors.

Eventually, I both exploded and imploded. I had held my feelings in for so many years that it affected my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Since then, I have learned some tools for dealing with sticky subjects, not just with family but with people in general. When I feel chaos encroaching on my life, I put perimeters in place to bring back peace.

Boundaries are a way to create a perimeter around yourself (and those under your care) for safety and protection; they are not a method to punish, control, or manipulate others but rather a healthy way to maintain loving relationships.

Check out this post on how to set boundaries with family members the right way. It will help you love others with honesty and grace without losing yourself.

RELATED: The Greatest Secret to Having Healthy Family Relationships

How to Set Boundaries with Family Members the Right Way

When I first started learning how to set boundaries with family members, I did it all wrong. My motive was to make others change, not me.

And then I wallowed in self-pity, feeling powerless when relationships not only didn’t change but continued to decline until there was nothing left but chaos.

Eventually, I gave up and left my family because I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t have the proper tools to communicate with confidence. (My worth was not based on God’s word.)

RELATED: The Danger of Being a People Pleaser: 7 Ways to Set Boundaries

Sadly, It turned into a seven-year estrangement. I lived in a victim mentality that included powerlessness, anger, and unforgiveness.

I didn’t realize I only had the power to change myself—no one else.

Instead, I needed to firmly communicate my feelings and what I needed as an adult, not pout, run away, retaliate, and self-protect like a child.

When I made these changes, all my relationships changed, not just the ones with my family.

(When you change yourself, it forces others to change how they interact with you.)

Check out how to set boundaries with family members (and friends) the right way and create a better environment for everyone:

1. Identify the problem:

Before you can communicate your boundaries to your family, you must first identify the problem. Pray and ask God to show you what needs changing.  Look for chaos in any area of your relationships. Chaos is the first sign a boundary needs to be set to regain order and peace.

What is chaos? It is a repetitive pattern of unhealthy behaviors left unchecked. People often feel hurt, confused, and shocked and lack a sense of safety after being in their presence.

2. Communicate assertively:

When you’re ready to set boundaries, do so calmly and assertively. Make sure the timing is good. You don’t want to talk when people are hungry, tired, or in a hurry.

The goal is to speak the truth, not control, manipulate, or punish.

Firmly state what you will and won’t do, can or can’t do, or changes you will make in the future. What they do after that is up to them.

And don’t say, “This is the boundary I am setting!” It will make the other person angry. Just set it. (Inform, don’t explain.)

 3. Be specific:

Clearly define the boundary you’re setting. For instance, if you do not appreciate negative comments about your spouse or want a situation to change, clearly state your feelings.

Method 1: Use “When you…I feel” statements. This will put people at ease, as you will say how you feel instead of attacking them.

Example: “When you say negative things about my spouse, I feel hurt and angry. Please don’t do that anymore. Thank you.”

Method 2: Sandwich the request between two affirmations. Start by telling your family members how much you appreciate them. Then make your request. And then close with another affirmation.

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Example: “We love coming to your house for a visit. The kids have such a great time with you. As a family, we want to work on what we say to each other (such as cussing, negativity, etc.) and watch on screens.

In the future, would you move the kids to a different location if there is something they shouldn’t be watching or hearing? We love you and appreciate this so much. I know you are just as concerned about our kids as we are. Thank you for all you do for us.”

4.   Enforce consequences:

If a boundary continues to be crossed, start employing consequences. Don’t threaten ahead of time; do it when it happens.  Make it a natural consequence that fits the “crime.” Be careful not to give a level 5 consequence to a level 2 crime.

Example: “Mom, we already talked about not saying disparaging things about my spouse. I think I will get off the phone now. We can talk another time.” And then hang up the phone.

If you are getting pushback, quietly disengage. Respect the “no” they have given you. In the future, don’t spend as much time together or allow full access like before. This is not about punishing others but instead putting boundaries of protection around yourself and those in your care.

5. Be consistent:

Don’t set a boundary unless you intend to enforce it every time; otherwise, you won’t be taken seriously. Consistency is key to maintaining boundaries.

A healthy person will respect your boundaries with little pushback, while other family members will not be receptive to your wishes.

Unhealthy people have never met a boundary they liked. They will complain, manipulate, or even retaliate in shocking ways. Be ready if this happens.

RELATED: How to Deal with Difficult Family Members as Christians

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How to Set Boundaries with Toxic Family Members

Do you want to know how to set boundaries with toxic family members? Or what do you do when your family disrespects your boundaries?

It can be frustrating and disappointing when others run over you and continue to behave like you never requested a change. You may feel worthless, invalidated, or ignored when this happens. (If you have low self-worth, it may reinforce what you already believe about yourself.)

It’s especially devastating when family members escalate the situation and employ control tactics or use revenge to respond to your bid.

So, what exactly is toxic behavior?

What is toxic behavior?

Toxic behavior is characterized by these attributes: domination, confusion, control, fear, and intimidation, all of which culminate in chaos. It is like a vortex, as it will suck you in and then spit you out when you stand against it.

How to deal with toxic behavior:

If these behaviors are in your relationship, it is time to continue tightening the boundaries with an attitude of love. Allow less and less access until they can respect your wishes.  In the meantime, prepare yourself for possible retaliation.

When you enforce a consequence, you may lose money, help, love, acceptance, or emotional support, so be prepared beforehand.

Chances are, whatever you fear they will take away from you will probably happen anyway. Often, unhealthy people don’t know how to love; it depends on how you meet their expectations.

How do you meet your family’s expectations?

Let me give you permission right now to relinquish your family’s expectations. It’s not your job to meet all their expectations.

Expectations don’t define love; you define love by deciding how, when, and with whom you want to love in your family. This is God’s way—free choice, not fear of retribution.

This is actually very freeing when you approach your family with this attitude.

What do I do if my family disowns me?

More than anything, this is an opportunity for you to forgive those who have withdrawn their love from you and trust God with whatever you fear He will not provide for you.

Although this may be unpleasant and difficult, it is part of setting healthy boundaries with those around you.

I would highly suggest family counseling at this point. There are probably some generational strongholds in your family that must be addressed. If they won’t go with you, go alone.

RELATED: When Family Members Stop Speaking to You: 3 Things You Lose

How to Set Boundaries with Family During Holidays

Setting boundaries with family during the holidays can be particularly important, as family gatherings and traditions often bring added stress and potential for conflicts. Here are some helpful tips for setting boundaries during the holiday season:

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1.  Communicate early:

Start communicating well in advance of the holidays. Let everyone have input on the schedule, the menu, gifts, and the location. Be especially accommodating to those who care for young children and older people.

2.  Offer alternatives:

 If you can not gather on the day of the holiday. do not pout or complain. Offer suggestions for other days and times that may work. Ask what you can bring or do to lighten the load of the host or hostess.

3.  Set limits on time and commitments:

Be mindful of how much time and energy you will dedicate to holiday events and commitments. It’s okay to say no to certain invitations or limit participation to avoid feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

        This is how to set boundaries with toxic family members.

4.  Stay flexible:

While it’s essential to establish boundaries, it’s also helpful to remain flexible and open to compromise. Multiple families are trying to work together to make it a positive experience.

It’s not all about you. It is what is best for the whole family. Remember, it’s only one day; it doesn’t have to be perfect.

5.  Be patient:

Be patient with yourself and your family members as you navigate this process. Remember that, ultimately, boundaries are about fostering healthier and more loving family relationships.

6.  Be a good guest:

When you show up to the holiday event, be gracious. Bring what you have been asked to bring. Ask what you can do to help before and after the meal. Be a servant just like Jesus was in his day.

By all means, don’t show up ill, intoxicated, or drugged up. This is inappropriate and will cause anger in the rest of the family. Stay home if you’re not willing to show up as an adult.

RELATED: Accepting Family Estrangement: 7 Tips When Feeling Alone at the Holidays

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How Much Access Are You Giving Your Family Members?

How to set boundaries with difficult family members: One of the best ways to set a boundary is to limit others’ access to your heart. What does this mean?

Lysa TerKeurst introduced this concept when she said, “To the level I give someone access is the same level they need to bring responsibility.” (Her counselor, Jim Cress, may be the original author of this  thought.)

In any case, this means that if you give someone level 10 access by telling them everything about you, but they are bringing level 2 responsibility with their words and actions, the gap between the levels will show the chaos.

A healthy person will be given equal responsibility for access. Give level 2 information to someone who is only capable of level 2 behavior.

Interpretation: quit telling unsafe people (family or not) your business. You have given them too much power in your life.

They are not responsible for the information you gave and are using it against you.

This is how to set boundaries without feeling guilty. This concept has been life-changing for me. I hope it helps you too!

RELATED: How to Move On From Family Estrangement: 5 Ways to Heal Your Heart

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What Does the Bible Say About Boundaries?

Boundaries are biblical. In fact, God set boundaries at the beginning of time.

The creation story tells us He brought order out of the formless in Genesis 1.

If you look at some of the repeated statements in the creation narrative, you will notice how God separated one thing from the other: light from darkness, heavens from the earth, land from sea, day from night.

And then He said it was “good.”

God put Adam and Eve in a safe and orderly world to protect them from harm.

Without boundaries, there would be chaos, even to the point of death. Water would overtake the land, darkness would overtake the light, the atmosphere would mingle with space, and there would be no separation between the heavens and earth.

In the New Testament, Jesus set boundaries many times.

He walked away from crowds (Luke 4:30), He separated Himself to be alone with God (Luke 5:15-16), He said “no” to the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 23), and He rebuked the disciples for keeping the children from Him (Matt. 19).

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In one story, He didn’t give in to His mother and brothers, who were using their position to see Him (Mark 3:31- 35).

These are only a few examples where Jesus pleased God, not man.

Does your home environment reflect the same boundaries God displayed for us in creation? Do you respect each other equally? Are there healthy boundaries—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually?

If your life is chaotic, start looking at what is causing the chaos. Ensure the appropriate priorities are in order: God, marriage, children and family, and then your job.

Seeking the Bible and prayer is how to set boundaries with difficult family members.

John 5:44 says, “How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?” (MSG)

RELATED: How to Discipline Kids: 29 Easy Ways to Get Kids to Obey

What Are Normal Family Boundaries?

I am not sure there is such a thing as a “normal family,” But I think most healthy families have some common denominators when practicing boundaries. Here are 10 tips on how to set healthy boundaries with family:

  1. Create open communication with truth and grace
  2. Affirm value and uniqueness of every member
  3. Have unconditional love and be radically committed to the family
  4. Apologize and take ownership of your actions
  5. No abuse, shame, control, or intimidation is allowed
  6. Play together and celebrate traditions/accomplishments
  7. Find solutions to conflict without blaming
  8. Have a strong spiritual foundation that includes Jesus
  9. Have respect for self and others
  10. State clear roles and responsibilities in the family unit

Overall, healthy family boundaries foster an environment of mutual respect, support, and growth, where each member feels valued, understood, and loved.

If the fruits of the Spirit operate freely with love being the cornerstone, then you know you are doing it right.

The goal is to be this kind of family member. And it can only be done with the help of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

What are your suggestions on how to set boundaries with family members? Comment below!

For more information, I suggest reading When to Walk Away by Gary Thomas, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes by Lysa TerKeurst, and Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.

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Included is biblical advice to help couples develop new behaviors and strengthen their marriage with healthy boundaries. With over 30 years of marriage experience, there are practical tips to overcome old behavior patterns and rekindle a marriage relationship rooted in God’s love.

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Got Family Problems? There is Help and Hope!

Are you struggling with family issues that have resulted in a family rift or a family estrangement? Are you feeling a sense of shame, anger, or rejection?  Check out my book Estranged: Finding Hope When Your Family Falls Apart on Amazon or at your favorite digital store.

In it, I share my own experience of a seven-year estrangement from my Christian family and how we eventually reconciled. Furthermore, I provide practical advice to help you navigate your family issues. Don’t let the pain of estrangement hold you back. Allow God to assist you in healing, no matter what has happened within your family. Remember, there is always hope to be found, even when things seem to be falling apart.

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Creating Family Memories Book

Get Creating Family Memories. This book will help you manage your family so you have more time to be intentional with your kids. It includes a schedule, too. You can get it at your favorite digital bookstore.

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Continue the conversation on Facebook and join the Christian Family Living group. This is a place for Christian women to freely talk about parenting, marriage, faith, family, and culture. Being a Christian is hard! Let’s do it together. Most of all, a sense of humor is required. Got memes? Bring it on!

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Julie is a wife, mom, teacher, author, and blogger. She writes about Christian family living, marriage, parenting with a touch of humor.

22 Comments

  1. This is an amazing post Julie!! We need to learn how to establish healthy godly boundaries to live in this world today, not to punish others but to help us keep our mental and emotional health steady.

    • Donna, you are so right about establishing good boundaries. This doesn’t mean punishment, but just protecting yourself. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thank you for sharing this important, but not enough talked about, topic! You shared some great tips. And I like Lysa too.

    • Sheenia, I am so glad you are using boundaries with your family. This is a way to maintain loving relationships!

  3. This is a really insightful article. Loved the tips you shared on creating healthy boundaries. Truly without boundaries, there will be chaos and disorderliness even in our relationships

    • Yes, and God is not a God of chaos. I think these tips help people to communicate and stay close.

  4. Thank you so much for this incredibly valuable post – family boundaries are probably one of the most difficult things on earth to figure out (IMPO) and the tips you’ve provided here help to make it easier!

    • Jodi, this post has taken me a long time to create. I have researched and thought through alot. And failed many times at it. So there’s that! Thanks for your comment.

  5. As a therapist – I cant tell you how often I stress the importance of boundaries with friends, loved ones – everyone. It’s so important and this is a great explanation of why & how to implement them!

    • Morgan, I am so glad that you think this is a good post on boundaries. I know it is hard to navigate around difficult topics.

  6. So many great tips here, Julie! Someone close to me has had a real struggle with toxic in-laws who are also addicts. It’s been a real challenge with off and on estrangement. She will love your content, and I’ll be sharing it with herπŸ’ž

  7. Wow, those are such great tips on setting boundaries. I’ve found using the terms “setting personal limits” instead of boundaries helpful. It is a bit more of a mind shift, yet the same thing, where I’m setting limits for what is good and healthy for me instead of telling people what they can and can’t do.

    • I love this! The word “boundary” may be off putting to some. Either word defines what how we shield ourselves from unhealthy behvavior yet do it with love.

  8. Julie, this is so wise and full of truth! I’m sharing it with a friend who needs it today and saving it for future use! This is one of the best articles I’ve read on boundaries! I appreciate your writing so much!

    • Kristen,yes, it is so hard to know how to navigate difficult situations. Prayer is definitely important too!

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