Consider this when confronting someone else’s sin – understand boundaries
A common complaint people have with others is how they get called names or are yelled at, blamed or accused, or told what they think or believe. It doesn’t matter if it’s a boss, coworker, friend, spouse, or person you have raised, the unkind behaviors and crossing of respectful boundaries is rampant.
What do people do in response? I often hear of people “giving a boundary” to other people – ie, guy says to his wife, “If you yell at me again when we disagree, I’m going to leave the room,” or worse, “You can’t talk to me like that!” and storms off. What he doesn’t know is the threat or demand isn’t useful.
He should have just known how he would handle her losing emotional control, and at the moment said, “Hey, I love you, and I really want to talk about this, but let’s do that when we can both be calm. I’ll be back in about 20 minutes and we can try again.” Dr. John Gottman’s research out of the University of Washington shows that it takes about 20 minutes for a person to recover from “flooding.” Flooding is the physiological arousal state of fight, flight, or freeze, when our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes shallow, and we lose executive function. In effect, we are in survival mode.
In an absence of lions, tigers, and bears in our civilized cultures, we respond this way to the aggressive tones or emotionality of a loved one – especially when it is directed at us!
Choosing to take a break from a conversation can be wildly useful, however, basically putting a pause that helps us recover from fight, flight, or freeze. So we highly recommend taking a break!
That’s a totally different approach than announcing, “If you ever yell at me again, I’m going to walk out of the conversation!” People tend to not respond well to threats. Then when we execute the boundary, instead of seeing it as a reasonable consequence to their own bad behavior, they blame us for the threat and are focused on that instead of their own part. NOT what is useful. Instead of a simple, compassionate execution of your boundary, it’s now become a threat and about inflicting punishment on someone else. Now the relationship is about power, and that isn’t good. It’s also damaging to end a conversation and not return to it, so finish what is started, take small bites, and end while things are going well!
If we are dealing with someone who gets emotional, we don’t need to confront them on it – we simply need to execute our boundary. A rational person will respond to a respectful, “Hey, can we speak more calmly about this?” with a, “Yes, you’re right, I’m sorry, I AM getting heated. Let me try again.” If they aren’t rational, then execute the boundary by saying, “I love you, and I want to have this conversation when we can both be calm. I’m taking a break. I’ll be back in about a half hour,” then be done.
And of course, a half hour later, come back and finish! When I do couples coaching, this is one of the biggies people complain about – “Nothing ever gets resolved!” Know your spouse (or teenager) is going to feel abandoned when we leave a conversation. We can help them not feel anxious and we are more respectful of them, ourselves, and the relationship by finishing what we’ve started and actually coming back to resolve the issue. The biggest mistakes people make in conflict is either not resolving small issues or the “kitchen sink effect” where instead of a 5 minute conversation about a small issue, we dredge up everything they’ve ever done to hurt us over the last 3 weeks or 10 years and let loose.
That’s not loving, nor is it kind, nor is it Biblical.
Let’s do better.
Consider some of the things you or your friends may be dealing with…
Joe wondered if his boss was embezzling money from the company. Carol suspected her husband was having an affair. Mike wondered if his teenage daughter was taking drugs. Should they say something? Here are some things you should consider before you confront someone’s sin in today’s episode of What to Say & How to Say It!
If YOU have questions about how to handle some of your sticky situations, if you feel “stuck” in some of your relationships, consider joining us for coaching!