Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Can you just remind me that I’m not a bad or mean person when I stand up for my previously declared boundaries against a person who seems determined to undermine them?
This close family member just moved himself into our home temporarily, after he asked and we laid out a few basic rules in advance. One example: You must figure out your own independent transportation.
Just a few days later, it feels like rules are disregarded — for example, asking sincerely to borrow a car for the entire day for a trip to the mountains. There are about 10 other similar examples, all of which seem like small asks harming no one, but are not convenient, and frankly I already feel like I’m being gracious enough just allowing him a room (actually, his own bed, bath and living room) in our home.
I just start to feel quite “snippy” when I’m writing the fourth email saying “no” to the same request in stronger and stronger language. But it’s this person’s issue for pushing the boundaries, right? Or am I doing something wrong here?
Yes, it’s this person’s issue for pushing the boundaries.
And yours, to a far lesser degree, for being less comfortable with enforcing boundaries than you are with setting them when both require conviction.
So instead of a fourth email, or even a second one, I suggest a follow-up conversation with him about those initial boundaries. Say you were clear on the terms here; you don’t appreciate his putting you in the position to say “no” to the same things over and over again. Therefore, once you have responded to a request from him, you will not keep responding to the same request.
Thereafter, when you get an email asking for something you already said “no” to, you ignore it as promised.
Now for the unsolicited portion of our program.
It sounds as if you laid out some rules that weren’t “basic” so much as very specific, like figuring out his own transportation. I may be reading this wrong, but it sounds as if you knew this person was going to ask for things you didn’t want to give — in such detail that you knew exactly what things to rule out before he moved in.
If that’s the case, then please take this also as a reminder that you’re not a bad or mean person if you say no to someone who wants to move in who you know will over-ask, over-use, over-stay, or even just over-push you on things when you know you struggle to hold your ground.
Yes, you do need to get more comfortable with the enforcement phase of boundary-setting, but that’s just one way to keep people from taking advantage. Another, perfectly legitimate way is to recognize what situations expose your vulnerabilities, and to prevent yourself from getting into those situations in the first place. Think of these as boundaries you set for yourself — which can be easier for no other reason than they feel less “mean” to enforce.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.