The Relationships In Your Life That Are Desperately In Need Of Boundaries

"You best teach others about healthy boundaries by enforcing yours."—Bryant McGill

Love & Relationships

Boundaries. Whew. I can't even begin to count how many life dramas that I personally could've avoided if I had simply known how to set the proper boundaries; not once the ish had already hit the fan, but from the very beginning. Everyone's story is different, but I think the reason why I struggled so much with it is because I'm a childhood abuse survivor. Abuse is all about violating and disrespecting someone's boundaries. And so, as you're in the process of trying to heal from that, it can be a lifelong journey, learning how to set boundaries and make good and damn well sure that people honor them.

It took me getting into my 30s and learning how to set some boundaries in the form of self-control within myself (which is a part of what my abstinence path has been about) that I learned how to establish boundaries with others. I read books (Boundaries is one that's a must-have). I paid attention to the wisdom of people like author and speaker Brene Brown ("Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others" is a great quote of hers). I spent time alone so that I could figure out what I needed so that I could build my relationships around that. I've "updated" my boundaries when necessary too.

And what I've learned from all of this is there are certain relationships where boundaries are an absolute must. The ones that I want to expound on today are the following seven.

Boundaries with Your Parents


Parents. Boy oh boy. Although I am not a parent myself, I am at the age where a lot of my "love" nieces and nephews are in their 20s. Just this past weekend, I saw one of them and, while I try to be intentional about treating children of any age like "little individuals", I had to remind myself that I have to come at her a different way and respect whatever it is she has going on…differently. Why? Because she's an adult now. She has her own life. All I can do is offer insight, but she's got the full right and freedom to do whatever it is that she wants to do.

It's kind of baffling, how a lot of actual parents of actual adult children don't seem to adhere to this same mindset. It's like they think that we're "grown enough" to live on our own but not grown enough to make decisions they don't agree with or like or, that it is totally ridiculous of us to tell them "no" sometimes.

I will say this—it's an epidemic, how poorly boundaries were taught in a lot of households that some of us confuse overbearing parents with toxic ones (you can read my take on toxic relatives here). On some levels, I do get how, after birthing someone and raising them for 18 years, allowing them to live their own life can be a hard pill to swallow. Still, it must be done. And so, if you are trying to figure out how to establish boundaries with your parents, check out the article "Do Not Obey Your Parents" that features a great role play example of how to say "no", no matter how much pressure or emotional manipulation your parents try and put onto you. Then check out "10 Signs You Might Have Unhealthy Boundaries With Your Mom". You might be surprised by how much you'll be able to relate to that one.

Healthy parents know that their job was to help you to become a mature and responsible adult. Once you are at that point, a part of what comes with adulthood is doing what's best for you, regardless of if they like, understand or agree. You are their child yes, but you are no longer a child.

Do not feel guilty in the least for conveying that—in your words as well as your actions. (If you are a parent of adult children, all of what I said still applies; just in the reverse.)

Boundaries with Your Spouse


Out of all of the boundaries that I'm going to set out to tackle today, I think that the most difficult to maneuver through is setting some appropriate ones with your spouse. After all, they are so close to you that, at least most folks, share a bed, bills and a last name. But marriage is not to be a dictatorship in either direction because no man wants to have sex with his mother and no woman wants to have sex with her dad. That's why it has to be a daily conscious decision to not act like your spouse's parent. Instead, treat your union like the most sacred of partnerships.

Being that boundaries are limits, as far as limits go, the first thing I would say is that your marriage vows (at least traditional ones) address boundaries of loyalty and fidelity. Aside from that, there needs to be a mutual understanding when it comes to expectations. There needs to be no abuse, of any kind. But it also needs to go deeper than that. Married people should agree to not speak negatively of one another to other people. They need to not withhold sex as a way to get what they want or to "teach a lesson". They need to respect one another's view and needs. They need to avoid going below the belt during arguments. They also need to give one another some space.

I could go on and on, but this is an article and not a book on the topic. Luckily, there is a great book that addresses all of this and more. If you are married or are contemplating getting married, Boundaries in Marriage (by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud) is definitely worth adding to your own personal library.

Boundaries with Your Significant Other


The reason why this gets its own section is because far too many of us make the grave mistake of treating someone we're dating as if they are already our spouse when they absolutely are not (check out "Why You're Always The One Who Prepares A Man For His Wife" sometime). And because they aren't, it is perfectly fine—encouraged even—to get out of anything that no longer serves you well. It doesn't have to be about abuse, them seeing other people without your knowledge or them taking you for granted. It can be as simple as you are dating to see what you want and don't want and, as you discover what that is, you are willing to release who you're with in order to get to the man who complements you best…and most.

I say it as often as I can because it's the truth. Your taxes say that you're single until you are legally married. Not until you've been dating someone for a long time or even until you are engaged. So, no matter how "into someone" you may be, it's OK to have firm limits and to end the relationship, for no deeper reason than you're single and you want to. It's one of the joys of singlehood. Embrace it. Unapologetically so.

Boundaries with Your Friends


Friends—good friends, that is—are one of God's greatest blessings. Hands down. And, to tell you the truth, if you've got healthy friends, this section isn't really necessary to read. I say that because it's been my personal experience and observation that the right kind of friends will honor your boundaries as you do the same. But if you've been on an emotional roller coaster ride in some of your friendships for so long that you don't even know what kind of limits to set, here are a few that you most definitely should. Express your expectations. Never tolerate disloyalty or disrespect. Do not let them monopolize your time, space or resources. Make sure they know that their opinion is not the gospel and they are your friend, not your parent. Pay attention to any behaviors that look like narcissism, always playing the victim role in order to get their way and/or being an emotional vampire. Take an issue with them gossiping about you or breaking confidentiality. Look out for jealous friends (a total oxymoron) and opportunists. Oh, and if they can't forgive but always want their mess and mistakes to be excused? That's another huge red flag.

Again, a good friend already knows all of this, but if you're constantly getting your feelings hurt or even your heart broken by a friend, chances are, it's because either no boundaries are in place or, they keep disrespecting them—and you keep allowing it.

Boundaries with Your “Enemies”


It might seem strange to have a section on enemies, but just hear me out for a sec. If you respect Scripture, even a little bit, and you live on this planet long enough, certain verses start to make more and more sense to you. Take "love your enemies" (Matthew 5:43-48), for example. Love them? If you could love them, y'all wouldn't be enemies, right? Oh, and for the record, enemies aren't just folks that you have knockout-fallouts with. By definition, an enemy may be someone who you choose to distance yourself from because they bring harm into your space, on some sort of level. You don't "hate" them; they just aren't as good for or to you as you know you deserve.

Anyway, it's a good idea to set boundaries with these kinds of people, just so that there can be peace in the midst of it all. Try and keep whatever your issues are with them private (mutually so). Avoid that cryptic-and-somewhat-silly passive aggressive banter that some people do on social media (mutually so). Whatever was shared between the two of you when you weren't enemies, it's important that you both honor that confidentiality. Should you see one another, no one has to sit in the other's lap, but do try and be cordial (and concise).

It takes quite a bit of self-awareness and personal maturity to realize that just because someone may be your enemy, you don't have to constantly be at war. But if you're able to set limits and honor them between one another, you'll be amazed by how at peace the two of you can be. Even if you're not exactly friends (or friends anymore).

Boundaries at Work


As I was in the process of writing this, I skimmed this write-up on Vice's site—"The Backlash to the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Is Finally Here". It made me think about all of the articles I've read about how employees are working ridiculous hours with no breaks or bumps in pay. Yes, I've had the sandwich (in Durham; can't seem to get a hold of one in Nashville) and yes, it's good. Really good. But I feel a little guilty eating more of them if it comes at the expense of folks being overworked, underpaid and totally miserable (several employees have expressed those exact sentiments to me).

Thinking about what so many Popeyes employees have been going through made me also think about some conversations I've had with some of my friends about the stress and drama that they go through at their job.

A lot of it is due to a lack of boundaries. You know—constantly doing other people's work; always doing what doesn't fit their job description; doing work that they don't get paid for; enduring their employer and/or employees talking to them any ole' kind of way; being expected to honor the employee handbook when everyone around them doesn't; being called in on off days…the list goes on and on.

If this is something you can totally relate to and it's got you on the brink of straight-up snappin', when you get home tonight, have a glass of wine and read "6 Things You Don't Owe Your Boss". For now, if you just want the list, it's this—your health, family, sanity, identity, contacts and integrity. Any workplace that challenges this is a place you need to leave—quick, fast and in a super-duper hurry!

Boundaries with Your Church


If you've ever caught an episode of Larry Reid Live, you know that he is…something else. When it comes to the Church and some of the totally toxic things that transpire within it, he holds not one thing back. Some folks find him insightfully amusing while others, well, absolutely do not. But if there is one thing that I think every church-going person should watch, it's his breakdown of the Jezebel Spirit and how it functions in the Church. Then, after watching that, get free some mo' by reading "Jesus Set Boundaries".

Let's end this article with this point as it relates to where you may attend on Sabbath or Sunday. If the leadership pressures you to give outside of tithing (especially to the point that you can't pay your own bills); if they expect you to be there at the drop of a dime, regardless of what you've personally got going on (whether you're married or single); if you feel manipulated into doing things; if they act like what is going on inside of the church walls is more important than what is transpiring within the four walls of your own home; if they think their vision deserves more attention than your own; if they are never open to correction or rebuke (I Corinthians 5:12 speaks of church folks needing to be more concerned with what's going on inside than outside anyway) and/or if you feel taken for granted or mistreated and, when it's brought to the leadership's attention, it is not promptly addressed—these are just some examples of your boundaries being violated…yes, at your very own church. And violated boundaries, including at a place of worship, should not be overlooked.

A wise person once said, "If someone throws a fit because you set boundaries, it's just more evidence that boundaries are needed." That said, don't you, for one moment ever, feel guilty about setting a boundary. Be clear. Be firm. Be kind. But yes, set them—for the sake of your health, mental sanity and overall quality of life. Amen? Hallelujah indeed.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

I'm Good Luv, Enjoy: How Saying 'No' Keeps Your Life Balance In Check

Unhealthy Workplace Stresses You Need To Break Free From

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Ending Your Marriage

This Is How Emotionally Abusive Friends Act

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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