I remember a sermon during the holidays when my pastor was talking about the difficult family member that every family seems to have. They come into focus at family gatherings and especially during the holidays when we don’t want someone rocking the boat. My pastor said, “If you are having trouble identifying that person in your family, it may be because it is you!”
Setting boundaries with other people—whether with relatives, friends, or neighbors—is often difficult; but it is often essential. When someone consistently takes advantage of us and we are feeling anger or resentment (or both), it is time to talk about boundaries. There are times we as husband and wife need to stand together and set boundaries with others in our lives.
Mike and Christy spent about a year with me in counseling working on their marriage. They made incredible progress and were really learning to embrace the blessings of the marriage God had given them. As we began meeting at the first of that year shortly after the Christmas holidays, I remembered them talking about an uncle who drank too much again on Christmas Eve in their home. We just left it there as we worked on other issues in their marriage, but now we were approaching Christmas again and it was time to deal with the uncle.
Apparently his annual drinking-too-much-at-Christmas routine was disrupting the rest of the family. A couple of people had talked to him, but nothing changed. Mike and Christy were determined to stop the cycle. They decided the boundary was that if he came to Christmas Eve dinner drunk, he would not be allowed in the house. He was Christy’s uncle, but Mike said he would talk to him and explain the boundary they were setting. The boundary was fair, and Mike communicated it to the uncle three weeks before Christmas. They felt good about setting the boundary but were nervous as Christmas Eve got closer.
Most of the family had arrived when the doorbell rang. Mike knew it was the uncle. As he opened the door, he knew at once the uncle was in no shape to come in. Mike stepped outside, closed the door behind him, called a cab, and sat on the front steps with the uncle until the cab arrived to take the uncle home. Mike and Christy set a boundary together. It was fair, and they held to the consequences. It redefined Christmas Eve for their family. I wish I could tell you that the uncle showed up the following year sober and excited to be there, but I don’t know if that happened or not. What I do know is that a couple standing together and setting boundaries together for the good of their family is a powerful thing. It was a huge win for Mike and Christy and their marriage.