In this podcast (episode #503) and blog, I talk to best-selling author, public figure and mother Lysa Terkeurst about healing after betrayal, how boundaries help us avoid extremes, finding resilience after a crisis, what healthy conflict looks like, and so much more!
On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, Lysa found out that her husband of 30 years was having an affair and had a whole life outside of their marriage. Even after years of counseling and therapy, Lysa’s husband continued to live a life outside of their marriage, while Lysa was also experiencing a number of serious health issues, including breast cancer.
During this time, Lysa came to the realization that she had to prioritize her mental health to find healing. As she notes, “Mental health really means a commitment to reality at all costs.” She realized she no longer felt safe in her relationship, which had gone from difficult to destructive. Lysa realized that the best thing she could do for her family was to leave her husband. Even though this was heartbreaking, she realized that she had to end the marriage to save herself and be there for her children and grandchildren.
In Lysa’s latest book, Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are, she talks about her story, and how we can love others without losing the best of who we are. She talks about what healthy boundaries are and how they help us determine the appropriate amount of personal and emotional access someone has to us based on how responsible they'll be with that access.
As Lisa notes, healthy boundaries are important in a relationship because they determine both how much access (financial, spiritual, emotional, physical and so on) someone has to us and the responsibility to use that access well. If we just give and give in a relationship, and the other person takes and takes, it can quickly become toxic and draining, and can take away from the best parts of who we are as a person. This like giving someone level 10 access to our life, while they only have level 2 responsibility and are not able to respect what we have to offer.
Healthy boundaries, however, prevent this from happening. They do not try to change a person by exerting external pressure; they do not try bring a level 2 responsibility up to a level 10. Rather, they focus on us, reducing the access this person has to our life and our physical and emotional resources so they do not have a negative impact on our wellbeing and quality of life, both mentally and physically. Trauma in a relationship isn’t just something that happens to us but also in us, and can have a lasting impact on our health. Boundaries are not about shutting people out; they are about avoiding extremes so that we can live a healthy and whole life full of deep, meaningful connections.
Of course, setting healthy boundaries is easier said than done. If you are dealing with a relationship issue, it is good to have a conversation with the person who is affecting you, and ask them kindly and gracefully to take responsibility for the access they have to your life. Healthy people respect healthy boundaries. Even if someone may be surprised by the conversation, if they are in a good place mentally, they will make an effort to listen to what you are saying and respect the access they have to your life.
It is important to remember that unhealthy people, on the other hand, never meet a boundary that they like. If you are in a relationship with someone who does not respect the access they have to your life, you should try to avoid using external pressure to force them to change. Healthy boundaries are not about trying to control others; they are about exerting control over our own lives and needs. Remind yourself that reducing the access a difficult person has to your life is not selfish; it means acknowledging that you are human—you have limited time and resources, and cannot open yourself to everyone and anyone, much in the same way you would not give just anyone access to your bank account.
If you are not sure where to start, Lysa’s book Good Boundaries and Goodbyes: Loving Others Without Losing the Best of Who You Are also includes helpful scripts and practical strategies to help us communicate, maintain, and implement healthier patterns. Additionally, it discusses ways to say goodbye without guilt when a relationship has shifted from difficult to destructive and is no longer sustainable.
This process can be difficult, and that is okay. Many times, setting boundaries and changing a relationship can involve a certain amount of grief. This is especially the case with unhealthy people, who, in their mind, feel like we are changing the relational contract, and react negatively to this change.
The key thing to remember is that boundaries don’t have to be the end of the relationship, unless the other person chooses to walk away or doesn’t respect your wishes. Boundaries help you communicate more clearly in a relationship, helping you avoid the extreme of just giving up or just putting up with someone. Even though this process can be uncomfortable, it is also liberating, and can make a relationship so much stronger and more meaningful.
For more on healing after betrayal and setting healthy boundaries, listen to my podcast with Lysa (episode #503) and check out her amazing work. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Preorder my new book How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess before August 7th, 2023 to receive exclusive bonuses, including access to a 1-hour webinar + Q&A session on back-to-school tips and strategies to help your child mentally prepare for the year ahead! You can preorder here.
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1:38 Lysa’s story
6:10 Lysa’s amazing new book on boundaries & goodbyes
7:48 How healthy boundaries establish access & responsibility in a relationship
9:42 How to set healthy boundaries
10:50 Boundaries are not about changing other people
13:28 Examples of boundary conversations
17:00 The relationship between grief & boundaries
18:00 People pleasing & boundaries
22:22 How to avoid feeling guilt over setting boundaries
26:50 The difference between a difficult & destructive marriage
29:15 How a traumatic relationship can affect us mentally & physically
30:35 How boundaries help us avoid extremes
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