Resolution Skills and Boundary Setting

Usually the reasons for this process not yielding a working solution will be either failure to fully define the problem (you may have missed someone’s perspective or defined it too broadly or narrowly) or difficulty in thinking outside the box during the brainstorming process. In a minute I’ll give you a sample problem solving/resolution, but first I want to talk about where boundaries fit into this process.Boundaries, for anyone who doesn’t know, are the semi permeable barriers around us in many areas of life. Our skin is a clear example, but we have boundaries around our feelings and our likes/dislikes also. Semi permeable means they are solid enough to keep the bad out but permeable enough to let the good in. There are also times we are called to lay them down which falls under the discussion of loving our neighbor and laying down our life for them.

We are being given notice that a boundary is being crossed (or about to be crossed – the earlier you can identify this process the better you can deal with it) when we feel uncomfortable. It might be someone calling out of the blue and asking us to watch their children while they go somewhere when we have a busy day. We may feel a conflict between obligation to our family and our friend (and maybe ourselves).

We may feel overwhelmed when someone calls from the committee and tries to get us to take on the burden of someone else’s dropped ball. We may have rules that we play in our head on old tapes that get us into situations where we realize too late that we’ve allowed people to violate our boundaries. These rules may include (but are certainly not limited to): you can’t say ‘no’ to the pastor; a real friend would do . . .; if I love/like him/her I should . . . ; etc. We may believe we can’t say no to our mother or father, or that to do so would be to dishonor them. We may believe all sorts of things that leave us overextending ourselves and feeling like a martyr.

Personally I have come to realize that I do not deal well with change and I have an initial reaction of ‘no’ to many things. In the past the two ways I’ve dealt with this have included saying ‘no’ and missing out on many good things OR saying ‘yes’ despite my initial reaction and then regretting having committed myself to something I don’t want to do or overextending myself. To deal with this I’ve learned to do two things. The first is to reevaluate my decisions if I begin to feel uncomfortable and get myself out of them if that is feasible.

The second is to, if possible, not answer right away. I will ask for 5 or 10 minutes to process some new suggestion or idea. This gives me a chance to run it through the works and see how I really feel about it, beyond my initial reaction, and give myself some transition time. I work through all the potential outcomes—especially the negative ones—and determine if I can deal with those things at this time. I’ve found that usually I’m willing to do what I’ve been asked. Sometimes, however, I’m not and when that is the case I feel more confident now saying ‘no’ and not feeling guilty.

What does this have to do with problem solving? When we are identifying and defining the problem we need to be aware of our boundaries and what is making this a problem. The fact is, what is a problem for us might not be a problem for someone else. That’s okay—but this is often why real problems arise when we live with other people. Your spouse or your child might not share your boundary and not realize they are doing something that you are bothered by.

When you define the problem you are making everyone aware of your boundary and engaging everyone in finding a solution that will meet EVERYONE’S needs—including yours. Likewise you may need to be sensitive to other people’s boundaries that might be different from yours and areas where you may be violating their boundaries and causing their needs to go unmet. If anyone has a problem it’s time to have some resolution.

Also, during the step where you evaluate solutions and, ultimately, select one, you will need to make sure that you are evaluating them in light of everyone’s boundaries. For example, if your child has abandonment issues then “leaving the room” might not be the ideal solution when they begin doing something that bothers you—even if this idea best meets your goals in the situation.

And not only does a solution need to meet everyone’s boundary needs, it must not violate someone’s boundaries in order to meet someone else’s. For example, in a marriage where both spouses have incompatible sexual drives the ideal solutions will not include daily sex or once a month sex—neither will they include one person having no say in when sex occurs or attempts to induce guilt through Scripture or other means. This is not true resolution.

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