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  • Writer's pictureHolly-Marie St. Pierre

Boundaries With a Difficult But Important Person

Young woman looks frustrated

What is the number one thing that keeps my clients up at night? How to manage their important relationships that aren't going so well. Here are a few examples:

  • The daughter that functions as a mental health or family therapist for her parent(s) who is/are too scared or resistant to find a therapist;

  • The mother that is treated disrespectfully by her adolescent or adult child. (Child uses swear words, yelling, name calling and/or cut off when a conflict arises.)

  • The employee who isn't compensated when their boss routinely asks them for "just one more thing" and it eats into their personal time;

  • The wife that experiences belittling, minimizing and gas-lighting when she attempts to communicate a need to her husband/partner;

  • The daughter-in-law or domestic partner that is forever cleaning up after her in-laws that live in the same household;

  • The daughter who experienced abuse by their sibling and her parent insists she continue to have a relationship with the abusive sibling;

  • The adult daughter that feels unseen/unheard by her parent and forever hopes their next interaction will bring them closer emotionally;

Are any of these familiar to you? I hope not, but sadly these and similar situations are very common.

Walking away might seem the obvious answer to the stress and insomnia. Maybe that would be the right and healthy thing for some. However, sometimes a person wants or needs to preserve the relationship. Or sometimes the situation doesn't appear clear cut and one wonders if they're oversensitive or petty. How does one decide if they should say anything or stuff it? And how do you create boundaries?

a person in a yoga pose by the ocean

What is the impact to your wellbeing?

My first suggestion is to consider the impact of the relationship on your emotional wellbeing.

  • What emotions do the problematic interactions with this person bring up for you? If you are having a hard time identifying the emotions, here is a helpful list from the American Psychological Association:

  • After you've chosen the feelings, consider how they affect you. Specifically, how long do the disruptive emotions last after a difficult encounter? Does it negatively affect your other important relationships? Does the unpleasant interaction negatively affect your daily functioning?

  • After reflection, do you think it's worth discussing with the person? Or should you let it go? If you decide to let it go, think about problems you might experience if you choose to be passive.

  • If you choose to bring it up, it is best to consider the boundaries you want to establish before you arrange a talk.

lawn border or boundary

Some considerations for setting boundaries.

When communicating your needs and asking for some changes in how communication unfolds between you, remember what you can control and what you can't. You can control your:

  • words

  • actions

  • behavior

  • effort

  • choices

  • ideas

Conversely, you can't control these for someone else. You aren't in control of how they choose to respond. You can only ask respectfully for what you need.

A young woman journaling by the ocean

What are your intentions?

Before the talk, it is also a good idea to decide what your intention is. Do you hope to connect more deeply and continue the frequency of communication because you care about this person? Or maybe this person is someone you have to be in contact with and you would merely like to manage the relationship--there's not necessarily an emotional connection there. Whatever type of relationship you have, it is paramount to know you have the right and responsibility to address the parts that make you uncomfortable to ensure your good health.

Working through conflict resolution, creating relationship boundaries or being assertive can be tough. Sometimes it feels complicated, frightening and overwhelming and you might need a supportive, safe friend to be a sounding board. Also, a mental health therapist is a effective resource as the counselor can be objective about your situation. Especially if they work with relationship trauma or wounding.

If you would like to know more about how therapy can help, please contact me for a complimentary consultation. I enjoy helping people work through problems in their important relationships and currently am accepting new clients.

The best way to reach me is by email: or send me a note through my website: I will respond to your message within 48 hours.

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