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Marriage and Family

Fenced In

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07/01/2012 - If you were to look at the majority of homes in any residential setting you will see that most of them will be surrounded by a fence. Not all fences look the same and most will serve different purposes. Many fences, in fact, may be specifically designed for how the home owners want them to function. For example, some fences may be for privacy and do not allow for anything to be seen behind them. While others may be used to only mark a perimeter to a property; and others may be designed to be merely decorative. Like a home, we, as humans, need to have set boundaries within which we operate.

For the purposes of this article, I will argue that there are two primary functions of fences that we can use to illustrate the purpose of boundaries in our lives.

First, fences operate to keep what's important in. When Carla and I were looking to build the fence around our home, we checked all options to ensure that our little dog could not get out. Now that we have a child, it is even more important to us that our fence is secure and we will not have to worry about our child getting out where other dangers are present. Within circumstances, having healthy boundaries gives us parameters for which we allow ourselves to deal with them, ideally preventing ourselves from making things worse. Are you responding in a way you would usually say is morally wrong? Are you knowingly making a poor decision only because you feel your circumstance dictate it? Are you acting in a way you would previously have sworn you never would? If you can answer "yes" to these, you may be crossing your own parameters.

Second, fences are designed to keep certain threats out. Our world is full of dangers. This is the reason we have locks on all our doors. Sometimes, we allow certain things to enter our lives which have the potential of causing great harm. Out of "charity" we open our doors to people who desire to steal and rob. We enter intimate relationships with deeply troubled people thinking we can "save" or "change" them. Sometimes we allow ourselves to develop committed connections with people who we usually would say we want nothing to do with. An example of this is how many people willingly cosign on loans for people who historically do not pay their bills or maintain employment. Healthy boundaries will help keep your life clear from these threats.

Family issues can create some of the most challenging scenarios to gauge. If and when you find yourself dealing with some difficult family situations, knowing your boundaries is imperative. Becoming verbally or physically abusive with a spouse or child is never okay regardless of the circumstances. People usually don't start out with this intent but gradually cross little lines, leading them to more extreme reactions. You may not be abusive, but ask yourself how many times you have found yourself reacting in a way you always told yourself you never would. Extremes are usually reached through methodical steps, not giant leaps.

Our boundaries need to act like filters. They cannot be completely closed off not allowing anything in or out. This would suffocate us. They cannot be completely open allowing everything to cross. This would drown us. Rather, we need to allow some things to cross the barrier while filtering out the possible dangers. We need to be charitable, but healthy boundaries will keep us from being taken advantage of or sucked dry. We need to develop social relationships but healthy boundaries will keep us from betraying those we are most committed to.

For more depth on the concept of boundaries, please read the book entitled Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

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