How can I set up boundaries without generating turmoil between my boyfriend’s adult daughter who is 25 and myself? Her Dad always takes her side and she rules him/us when she comes and visits.
Thank you, Dr Zoe.
Dr. Zoe Answered:
It seems to me that you need to create better boundaries with two people—your boyfriend and his daughter.
It’s ironic that I often get the question, “how can I create boundaries without hurting someone’s feelings or without upsetting someone?” This is the very crux of the issue for pleasers. They are more concerned about upsetting anyone than they are about caring for themselves. As long as that remains the case, your boundaries will stay low.
Unfortunately, setting boundaries upsets people, especially if you have always allowed them to behave a certain way towards you and you choose to no longer allow it ( I hope you will no longer allow it).
Often your inability to set healthy boundaries in a relationship has to do with some core beliefs you have about yourself and your value.
You may fear being rejected and living a lonely, isolated life. You may feel that you aren’t worthy of love, care and respect (for various reasons). Or you may have a deep-seated belief that you can only get love if you put everyone before yourself. I don’t know what your core belief is, but I know that it probably doesn’t involve you caring deeply for yourself or possessing a strong confidence that your voice, desires and wants matter.
Sometimes we want a relationship to work out so badly, that we ignore the ways in which we are treated unwell, or even worse, we make ourselves responsible for the mistreatment: “If only I could approach them better, they wouldn’t treat me that way.”
So, the bad news is that you can’t set boundaries without people in your life having feelings about it—sometimes very negative ones that they openly express in a hurtful way. The good news is that when you hold a boundary firm, most people will gain a greater respect for you and ultimately treat you better.
Your job is to not become a sponge and soak up their feelings or co-sign the negative things they say about you.
Sit down and have a conversation with your boyfriend, explaining your experience regarding the two of them and the pain that it creates for you. Let him know what you need from him when you are interacting with her. Do not ask him to talk to her for you. Do not ask him to take on your torch. It’s your torch. Simply request that he will not undermine you in your relationship with her and will support you as necessary.
The goal is to de-triangulate; to remove him from the space between the two of you. Be open to hearing his point of view, while remaining firm that yours matters too.
As for her? I don’t know how close the two of you are. If you consider your relationship close, then you can sit down with her and let her know the behaviors that are causing distress in your relationship. Make her aware that you would like to have a healthier relationship and these behaviors are undermining it. If you relationship isn’t close, then no need for this conversation. Simply refuse to engage with her when she exhibits the disrespectful behaviors, making it clear which behaviors were not okay.
And your fear? That feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think about setting firm boundaries? That reduces with practice. Expect it to be there and know that the more you create and hold firm to your boundaries, the easier it will be to do so.
This is not easy and I encourage you to seek out some help as you navigate this journey. It’s possible for you to turn this around. You’ve got this!