Beyond the Virus | How to Talk it Out & Set Boundaries

There are some people in life with whom you can talk about anything under the sun, like your sister, Mary. Mary is one of the most beloved people in your life. Then there’s Todd, the family friend with whom you’ve only ever talked about basketball.

Channels of Communication

You have varying levels of available communication channels with Mary and Todd. Communication channels are like TV channels. Channel 1 is talking about the weather. Channel 2 is talking about your feelings with each other. Channel 3 is communicating playfully. You get the idea.

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In a healthy relationship- like your relationship with Mary- there can be hundreds of open channels. But with Todd, only the weather and ESPN channels are available. 

Sometimes you may want to decrease the number of available channels. This is typically in response to the person hurting you, upsetting you, or making you uncomfortable.

Say, for example, you and Mary hold oppositional political views. During the pandemic, you started having conversations about what’s going on, resulting in heated discussions that leave both of you angry and emotionally exhausted. Sometimes the emotions become so intense that one of you physically leaves. Despite how hard both of you tried to see eye-to-eye and have respectful conversations, they always ended poorly.

This is a perfect example of when to modify or possibly turn off the “political dialogue” channel with Mary.

Setting Boundaries

Decreasing channels of communication is actually a form of setting boundaries. Boundaries are set to preserve your wellbeing and maintain a different but healthy relationship with the other.

So how do you set a boundary? First, you must think about why you want to set this boundary. There may be more going on than appears on the surface. Use the tools in last week’s article to sift through your feelings.

You must also think about how realistic the boundary is. You and Mary have a deep bond. Modifying the “political dialogue” channel likely will not derail your relationship.

Once you have a clear idea of what the boundary should be, you must communicate that boundary. This might sound like:

“Hey, I know we’ve had pretty heated discussions about politics recently, and they’ve left me feeling pretty upset. I want you to know that regardless of how upset I get, I still love you. Moving forward, I would like us to change the topic when either of us begins feeling too flustered so that we can still enjoy our time together.”

This kind of conversation doubly serves as a way to express feelings. Verbalizing the issue and putting it between you both, instead of holding onto it, can help prevent either person from developing feelings of resentment.

Be aware that you have to be consistent with your boundary in order for it to be effective. And be open to talking about the boundary- communication is key.

If you find that, even when you are exercising the boundary, you still feel upset after the political dialogues, perhaps consider turning off this channel of communication. This can sound like:

“Mary, I’ve noticed that I still feel really upset after our political conversations. I would like us to avoid talking about this particular topic for now. I don’t want anything else about our relationship to change; I am still open to talking about everything else.”

“For now” leaves the door open should you and Mary expand your capacity to listen and absorb down the road.

Key Takeaways

People have different views on things. If you feel that you’ve done your honest best to share and understand perspectives, but you are still left feeling upset, then you don’t have to talk about it in that same way anymore. But it will benefit you both to talk about your feelings and set a boundary to preserve your wellbeing and your relationship.

Now that you’ve repaired everything with Mary, perhaps try having a conversation with Todd about something other than sports. Maybe you two will bond over your political views!