Friends and Friendship: Setting Limits with Friends

Many people find themselves caught up in others’ problems, then feel confused about how and when to help.

Take your good friend who just left her husband. Do you offer her a place to stay, money, advice, help with baby-sitting, a blind date or two?

Or take the friend who can never make it to the end of the month on a budget. Every month you bail him/her out.

How much is enough?

And how much is too much?

What fosters self-esteem and self-reliance for the other person plus mutual respect for both of you while avoiding the pitfalls of dependency?

If you have long-term feelings of resentment, anger, manipulation, being treated as unimportant, etc., you probably need to set some limits in your friendship

All relationships need limits whether they are friendships, sibling relations, mate/lovers, business relations, etc. On some level, all limit setting means saying “no.” However, it is usually a qualified nay that says what, where, when, and under what circumstances you will give or not give to another person.

If you have long-term feelings of resentment, anger, manipulation, being treated as unimportant, etc., you probably need to set some limits in your relationship.

There are five steps to limit setting:

1. Choosing to set limits. You will tolerate a difficult relationship situation just as long as you choose to tolerate it. You are the one choosing to set boundaries in place.

2. Identify the source of your feelings. It often takes some real soul-searching on your part to figure out the source of your anger or resentment.

3. Decide where to set the limits. Think about the entire situation. Consider your time, emotions, and means. Then consider whether you are helping the other person or merely allowing them avoid or postpone his/her own problem solving. Aim to do something to help the other person without taking on the whole problem.

4. Express the limits clearly. For example, you say to your friend, “I will loan you up to $200.00 no more than once every three months. And I expect each loan to be repaid within three months and certainly before you can borrow more.”

You say to another friend, “You can stay here for three weeks but you must help me with expenses and cooking and definitely find your own place before the three weeks is up.”

You say to your newly divorced friend who calls often to rehash her hurt and anger, “I have to go in five minutes.”

5. Stick to your limits. You are not responsible for making the other person obey the limits. You are only responsible for following the limits yourself and for reinforcing them.

Your divorced friend says at the end of five minutes, “But I’m not through. I really need to tell you one more thing.”

You say, “I know we’re in the middle of something but I must go. Perhaps we could take this up again Thursday after work.”

Your friend has repaid $125.00 of his/her $200.00 loan and asks for $200.00 more. You say no. He/she gets emotional then says, “Well just loan me the $125.00 again. I need this money to cover a bad check. If you cared for our friendship, you would do it.”

Again, you say no, not because you don’t care for him/her but because you do. You are forcing your friend to detach him/herself from dependence on you because you care.

Limit setting is difficult because people mistake it for rejection. However, limits mean that you care enough not to get entangled in your friend, lover, sibling’s problems; you care enough not to take care of him/her…

Limit setting is often stressful and painful. It will probably give you an intimidating sense of aloneness.

You are separating yourself from old familiar roles and behavior patterns. Any loss brings feelings of anxiety, stress, and even emptiness.

And limit setting inevitably brings guilt. Bear in mind, it doesn’t mean you have deserted or quit loving your friend, lover, or sibling. It does mean you are expressing that love in a different and more helpful (to both of you) manner.

Setting limits is a challenging task at work; it often seems an insurmountable task when love is involved. However, like all people skills, setting limits is a process that gets easier with practice.

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