This is part 2 of a 3-part series by Dana Nygaard, LPC. Before reading this blog post, we suggest you read part 1, Boundaries: why they matter.
Why people cross boundaries
Most people do not scheme to delve into your private life. For the most part, people think they are making small talk when they ask questions like, “When are you going to have kids?” or “Why haven’t you started a family yet?” What they don’t seem to recognize is that they are asking about your sex life. Simply put, your fertility is none of their business.
Why on earth do people give unsolicited advice if it is so off-putting? Some common reasons include:
they want to be helpful;
they get excited about their proposed solution;
they want to prove invaluable;
they want to be in control;
they think they know best;
they think you can’t be successful without them;
they want to reduce their anxiety about the situation because they feel powerless and at least want to feel like they are doing something;
they may be codependent (ie. they have an unhealthy focus on other people and their problems).
Intrusive questions and unsolicited advice all fall under the category of boundary violations. Couples struggling to conceive have the right to self-determination, to have their own opinions, and to discover their own solutions. There is no right or wrong way to set boundaries. The manner in which you create and effectuate your individual boundaries is something that only you can ascertain. Even so, there are some basic guidelines that will help you to set limits that others will respect.
You are entitled to your privacy. Period. Become empowered to clearly set limits on the sort of questions you will answer and from whom.
If you are contending with incessant questions about when you plan on having children, you may want to practice a ready response. Dr. B.J. Fogg, founder of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University, affirms the value of mental rehearsal on our ability to shape behavior.
Bear in mind that you can pick your battles. There may be times when you choose to allow clueless comments to roll off your back because you don’t want to expend the energy.
Your approach may be dependent upon who is giving you the advice and how often they are doing so.
Two key elements in forming boundaries are consistency and directness. Inconsistency sends the message that you do not actually mean what you say. Indirectness leads to assumptions being made about what you think, want, and need. (And you know what they say about making assumptions - wink, wink).
Great wisdom can be gained from seeking advice from a trusted individual, however advice-giving becomes problematic when it is unasked or unwanted. Such intrusions smack of superiority and can contribute to relationship problems due to the underlying disrespectful and presumptive nature. Unsolicited advice can actually undermine a couple's ability to determine what is right for them and how to figure out their own problems. You may recognize some of these impolite questions and harsh criticisms people too often feel justified in peppering couples with.
“Why” questions (just a roundabout way of offering advice)
Why don’t you use IVF?
Why don’t you just adopt?
Why don’t you just get over it?
Why don’t you move on with your life?
Why don’t you just do something about it?
Why didn’t you talk with us about this first?
“What if?” questions
What if getting pregnant doesn’t work out?
What if your attempts fail?
What if it takes a long time?
You need to stop wallowing.
You should use IVF.
You must listen to me.
There are worse tragedies on earth.
Consequences are a natural by-product of setting limits. The ramifications will vary depending upon the depth and frequency of the infraction and the person you are dealing with. For instance, it would be an overreaction to cut someone out of your life for asking a single intrusive question but not so for someone who continually attacks your choices.
Avoiding confrontational responses
Jesus teaches us to set boundaries in Matthew 5:37: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” However, 1 Peter 3:9 tells us: “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing.” As Christians we want to avoid confrontational responses such as, “How dare you ask us when we will have more children!” or “How rude!” Our faith teaches us to love our enemies. How are we defining love? St. Thomas Aquinas defines it as “willing the good of the other”. Love is therefore not necessarily just being nice, being a doormat, or being the peacemaker, which are hallmarks of enabling behavior. Jesus’ goal for our lives is not to make us “nice” but to make us holy.
To be continued…
Look out for part 3 in this series, Boundaries: building up your boundary muscles, which will cover the following areas:
Build up your boundary muscles